Cybermissions The Intentional Front-Line Use of Computers And The Internet To Facilitate the Great Commission.
The Use of “Means” • Frontier mission is always an adventure and a calling, in the words of William Carey, to “use means” for the completion of the Great Commission. • One of these means is the use of the Internet. • The Internet has many unique features that make it suited for missions.
The Internet Advantage The Internet reaches: • Many people – about 1 billion! • In many nations – simultaneously • And can build community • Reach a mass audience • Or communicate just one-to-one securely • Using text, graphics, ebooks, audio, video, email, conferencing, VOIP, forums, web pages, blogs…. • In a wide variety of languages • And can be regionally or culturally targeted.
More Advantages… • No airfares needed • No visas required • Less health problems • Greater personal safety • Enters “closed” countries • Reaches community leaders • Works even when you are asleep • Very cost effective • Ideal for retired missionaries
The BIGGEST Advantage • People arrive at websites because of purposeful behaviour - they clicked on a link or used a search engine. • Thus web visitors are there with a purpose and already have some interest. • Thus you are not dealing with cold, apathetic people. • You are ministering straight to the people you want to be ministering to. • To be able to minister to people who are already interested in what you have to say is the BIGGEST advantage of Cybermissions.
Seekers Use The Internet • People use the Internet to do private searching for information. • Whether it be conspiracy theories or health information people go online to find what they are afraid to ask out aloud publicly. • People considering adopting the Christian faith also use the Internet to find out information and to talk with Christians. • “Religion seekers” are a major Internet phenomenon with 40% of Internet users regularly searching for religious information online. • That is 400 million people seeking religious information. These are the people you want to contact!
The Religion Seekers Religion seekers: • Are not just “hits” or “visitors’ or “statistics” • Have names like Bob and Jane and Mohammed and Beng! • Live in a real country and do real work. • Are just as real as the people in the street! • Come to a website seeking answers about their deepest questions. • Are often very curious about Christianity.
Are We Seeker-Sensitive? • Surprisingly most mission websites are not targeted towards “religion seekers” • And do NOT answer key questions about Christianity asked by non-Christians. • Often they are just tools for the corporate image! • Some people think: “the harvest field is out there in Zimbabwe and this website is just where we put the pictures, and raise the funds for the real work.” • However the Harvest Field is also ONLINE!
Getting The Point! • Christian mission agencies need to get the point - of 400 million people with spiritual questions who are just a mouse click away from salvation. • Websites need to be Harvest Fields! Places of sowing and reaping for the gospel! • The website is one of your most strategic tools for evangelism! • Religion surfers can hear the gospel online just as they can hear it from a book, a tract or a pulpit and give their lives to Christ.
The Right Reason • The right reason for a missions website is to get spiritual results for Jesus. • You can explain the gospel, answer questions, exhort, reprove, instruct and disciple young people, train and counsel your workers and so much more! • Ask: “What would Jesus do with this website to build His Church and expand His Kingdom?”
The Possibilities • Web evangelism • Bible teaching • Online seminaries • Discipleship in discussion forums. • Online counselling and mentoring. • City-wide Christian web portals. • Target a specific people group. • Target a particular interest group • Offer practical help – such as how to purify water. • Coordinate and connect Christians and non-Christians, teachers and students, problems and solutions…
More Possibilities • Safely witness to Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. • Language and culture exposure. • Build friendships before going to the field. • Use websites to follow-up after crusades. • Tightly coordinate the website with your other outreach efforts - build relationships offline and put the information online. • Network widely scattered missions specialists. • Raise up informed intercessors by using websites and email lists.
EXAMPLE: Cybermissions And The Tsunami • Online databases coordinated massive relief efforts. • Millions of dollars were donated via websites. • Theological questions about justice, tragedy and suffering were answered in blogs, web pages and emails. • Short-term mission teams were pulled together using websites, emails and online recruitment tools. • People and locations were prayed for on Internet prayer boards. • The Internet made the Christian response to the tsunami far more timely and possible! • Those who knew how to use the Internet best, responded best, when the crisis came.
Strategy Section How to be effectiveGood missiologyAppropriate technology
The Word In Cyberspace • It is the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation – and not technology, methodology or personality! • The gospel can be encountered on a web page or in a chat room and a person can give their life to Jesus. • This can happen even when you are asleep! • The important thing is to connect religion seekers with the word of the gospel in a way that they can clearly understand.
Missiology Still Applies Online • You still need to think missiologically when doing online ministry. • You still need to learn the language and the culture and understand the worldview of the people. • The idea is to assist the implementation of a good missionary strategy by using powerful technology.
Thinking Strategically • Who are you aiming to reach? • What are they interested in? • What do they feel they need? • What sort of people do they want to meet online? • What are their questions about God? • What language do they use? • What is their communication style? • How can all these factors above be reflected in a well-designed and easy to use website?
More Questions.. • What security issues are there? • What is their bandwidth? • What is their level of technological understanding? • How patient are they with technology? • Are they group learners or individual learners? • Are they oral learners requiring lots of audio and video online? • How much time can you put in?
Meet A Pressing Need • Start with the need then build the website. • It is OK to have lots of different websites. • E.G. Do your grass-roots national pastors need free theological training? Can they get to an icafe once a week and download what they need? • Build a website to meet their basic training needs then follow up with occasional visits by trainers.
Use A Bridge Strategy • Build a website around a secular interest. • Then connect to testimonies and gospel presentations. • E.G. To reach Iraqis - “History of Babylon” • To reach Indians –“What Ghandi Learned From Jesus”
Tips On Strategy • Language group / interest group is far more important than nationality. • 2/3 of the Internet is non-English speaking. • Learning style is “almost everything” ! • Aim for the 2% who are most responsive to the Holy Spirit. • No one first visits a website because of the graphics. • Word of mouth and viral marketing drive the Internet - so connect with those who can connect with others. • The more specific the website is, the more visitors it often attracts. (For low to medium budget websites) • Command a niche market for maximum impact.
Specialized Websites Get The Most Hits • Specialized websites do much better in the search engines and so get many more hits. • For instance a general website on “God” will be lost on page 43 of Google and get almost no hits. • But a specific web page say on “A Christian Response To Human Cloning” will get many hits because it is a specialized website on a hot topic and will have few competitors. • Generic websites generally fail unless they have very big advertising budgets. • Specialized websites – rare books, vintage cars, specific medical problems are doing very well. • Websites targeted at Third World cities or less known UPGs may be among the only ones on that topic and will rate highly in the search engines.
Basic Web Design • The Internet is driven by seekers searching for information or for relationship (or both). • They start either at a link or at a search engine. • So you need to have:a) information that people are looking for b) relationships they can connect to c) many links pointing to your website d) be well-ranked in the search enginese) be clear, easy-to-use and to navigate
Be Clear! • Many people are easily confused by computers and the Internet. • You may need to train people in how to use your website. • Provide plenty of cues and lots of help. • Make it fast-loading, and not cluttered or unreadable. • Use high-contrast – e.g black text on white background. • Make links underlined, and avoid “junk” like rotating crosses that clutter the visual landscape.
Think Interaction Not Just Information • Interaction builds loyalty. • Interaction grows the relationship so you can ask the tough questions. • Interaction must be carefully nurtured. • Make numerous opportunities for people to respond, to contact you, to ask questions, to meet others, and to post their opinions. • Use web forms, bulletin boards, email links • When replying be POP: Prompt, On-Topic, and Personal • Do not commercialize the interaction unless given permission to do so.
Make It Easy To Spread The Word • Make web pages and articles easy to print out and take home. • Let them copy and distribute your materials for free. • Make them easy to download in an icafe - have online resources able to fit on a single floppy disk. • Use ebooks – they are compressed, download very quickly and can be emailed to others. • Provide “tell a friend” forms where they can tell others about you. • Have a web address that is easy to write down or remember. • Use “bring-em-back” technology such as Inspired Text browser plug-ins that they can download. • Give them an attractive screensaver with your website address on it.
But They Aren’t Online! • But their community leaders are, and often at least one extended family member is! • If you can reach one key person you can reach a whole community. • This is known as the “tunnel and blast” strategy. Use the Internet to “tunnel in” and find one “man of peace”, then build a relationship, equip this person to win the community - and “blast” the gospel. • Internet cafes also provide access for many people in developing nations. • You are not just contacting a person, you are contacting that person’s network. • Use the Internet to connect with people who can connect you to still more people.
But It Won’t Work Everywhere! • The fact that you can't do something everywhere is no reason to stop trying it somewhere. • Cybermissions works in the most surprising places e.g., Bhutan • Cybermissions can work via both online strategies and through establishing Internet cafes and student centers. • There is an enormous hunger for technology and free information in developing nations.
Set Up A Cybermissions Department An ideal cybermissions department has four kinds of people: • Technical staff, web designers, graphic artists • Content editors, writers, video producers • Field missionaries with language and cultural experience. • Evangelists, bible teachers and intercessors
Missions Should Be The Focus • Focus the team around the missiological objectives. • Keep the technology appropriate to the average end user you are trying to reach - who may have limited bandwidth. • Coordinate the goals of the Cybermissions team with the other objectives of the missions agency to create synergies. • Have a Field Director - Cyberspace
Select A Major People Group • Focus your efforts for maximum effectiveness. • China, Japan and the Middle East have hundreds of millions of people that can be reached by Cybermissions and in each`case have just one main language you need to use. • China has 90 million Internet users and is highly responsive to the gospel. • India has many English speakers and is increasingly tech savvy.
Places Where Cybermissions Might Be The Main Strategy • If the nation is difficult to reach by conventional missionary strategies. • But they have enough Internet connectivity to see people saved and to start a church-planting movement. • There are 43 nations where cybermissions could be used as the main outreach strategy:Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bhutan, Brunei, Burma, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Malaysia, Mali, Mongolia, Nepal, Niger, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan,Vietnam,Yemen
Dollars And Sense • You can set up low-cost icafes in unreached people groups using donated recycled computers. • Open source software can save you big bucks. • Major foundations are starting to look at funding Cybermissions. • Cybermissions is ideal for volunteers can work home. • It is often possible to get free web hosting. • On average Cybermissions costs less than $100 per new convert.
Final Comments • Cybermissionaries can work alongside conventional missionaries to generate synergies that spread the gospel. • The Internet is where many seekers doing their seeking and Christian missions needs to prioritize the 400 million relatively easy to reach religion surfers online.