Internet Evangelism Day and the Majority World

Guess how many mobile phones were sold since this time yesterday? Figures for mobile and web usage are mind-blowing. About 4 billion people own a mobile phone, and 1.29 million new phones were sold in the last 24 hours! Over 2 billion use the Web, and of these, 500+ million are regularly on Facebook.

Even more significant: over half these people are in the Majority World, often in very unreached areas.

Since 2005, Internet Evangelism Day (IE Day) has been promoting the potential of digital media evangelism through an annual worldwide focus day for Christians and a year-round online resource guide covering all aspects of web and mobile evangelism.

  

This year, IE Day is set for 15 May, with the added emphasis of May being Digital Outreach Month. Our hope is that individual Christians, churches, mission agencies, and other groups will examine the growing opportunities to share the good news online. Our free downloads—video clips, PowerPoints, and handouts—can create a group presentation of five minutes or fifty minutes.

Digital Evangelism from a Mission Perspective

Digital communication culture. The Web has changed communications forever. The new digital communication culture is very different from the linear, one-way print and broadcast cultures of previous years. Information, discussion, and relationships across continents are available in real time, 24/7.

Privacy and anonymous intimacy. For the first time, subject to availability in their language, inquirers can easily read evangelistic articles and scriptures in relative privacy. They may also ask deep questions—a web phenomenon called “anonymous intimacy.”

Evangelistic websites in multiple languages can explain the good news clearly, telling real stories of people who have found faith, creating the space to ask questions, and offering online help though e-mentors. The tragedy is that more than fifteen years after the mainstream Web began, there are many language groups in which there are few, if any, sites of this sort.

The Bridge Strategy can engage non-seekers by connecting within common interests, such as popular culture, sport, or felt needs.

Church websites. Church sites can be a window for the wider community. Unfortunately, many websites present the church (using insider language) as a building with a program of meetings, rather than a community of people on a journey who want others to join their family.

Mobile phones. For many in the Majority World, a mobile phone is the only digital device they will own. Increasingly, mobiles can access the Web. Across Africa and parts of Asia, Facebook access is free for pay-as-you-go phone users. Phones prices and call charges are surprisingly cheap in many countries, with good coverage in rural areas. Of course, people may supplement mobile web access with Internet Cafe visits. 
 

Mobile phones are transforming societies. You may have seen reports of Masai cattle-herders networking by mobile about the best water sources, Chadian nomads maintaining family contact across the miles, Kenyan traders using mobile cash transfers, or remote health diagnosis by mobile phone camera with microscope attachment. Distance-learning courses are springing up, both secular and Christian, mediated by mobile phone.

Smartphone and tablet sales are dramatically increasing. iPad sales for 2011 are predicted to be forty-eight million, and there are many cheaper tablets coming to the market, jostling for position. Phones can download apps such as Bibles and books and audio and video clips, thus enabling a phone to be both a personal library and one-to-one conversation-starting tool. Read more here.

Social networking. Social networking has become the predominant online behavior. Multilingual Facebook is global, with regional equivalents also used in some countries.

Even before the Web, people’s God-given desire to build/maintain non-local relationships found expression in dial-up bulletin boards and chat rooms. The Web enables this with zero technical knowledge, and is a major opportunity to share our faith. But this is only if we truly understand social networking—it’s not a pulpit to preach a message. Rather, it’s a café for conversations.

Facebook fan and group pages also have big potential in evangelism and discipleship (as well as mission advocacy for Christians).

Video clips. The advent of fast Internet access, coupled with cheap digital cameras, has fueled the incredible popularity of YouTube. Twenty-four hours of new video are posted to YouTube every minute. Many mobile phones, cheap digital cameras, camcorders, even webcams, can record video of sufficient quality to post on YouTube. Anyone with creativity, an appreciation of visual story, and free editing software, can now be a film clip producer.

In an increasingly visual culture, five-minute video clips are a powerful way of personalizing communication and starting discussion.

Pulling It Together
Don’t view these opportunities in isolation. Mobile phones, video clips, and social networking are a seamless garment within the wider context of the Web. They represent an incredible opportunity for world mission for at least three reasons.

  • Mobile phone ownership is high and growing.

  • Video clips share visual story (arguably the most memorable way of communicating).
  • Social networking is relationships (which have always been the bridge that the gospel flows over).


Some major tools are being developed include the following.

  1. Mobile Advance encourages mission agencies and national Christians to use mobiles for evangelism in many ways: downloading conversation-starting video clips onto mobiles to share one-to-one, SMS messaging, Bluetooth literature distribution, app creation, and much more.

  2. Kiosk Evangelism is an initiative to offer free audio Bibles, video clips, and other resources in multiple languages from a self-service “vending machine” in airports and other public places. A large touch-screen enables downloads direct onto SD-cards.
  3. Launching in 2011 is a new outreach tool—a browser toolbar which will enable any Facebook user to post video clips onto his or her page. With one click, he or she can choose evangelistic and conversation-starting video clips in multiple languages and about numerous subjects. Videos within the database go through an approval procedure. There is the opportunity to embed video clips into blogs and websites, or download to a mobile phone. The strategic significance of this tool cannot be underestimated. For the first time, this is a networking tool that any Christian can use, sensitively and in the arena of his or her existing relationships. Discussions about video clips that result on the Facebook page remain within the context of these existing relationships, rather than pointing people to third-party websites.

Helping You Connect
It is not the purpose of Internet Evangelism Day to oversell digital evangelism, or suggest that it is a pain-free alternative to costly long-term mission, evangelism, and discipleship. But we believe it is a God-given ministry multiplier and a digital word-of-mouth tool to share the good news through the biblical methods that have always worked best—relationships, discussion, and visual story.

It’s a vital opportunity for both mission teams and national believers, as our Open Letter to Mission Leaders outlines.

We can help you:

  • Connect with people in your language or region involved in mobile ministry, visual storying, and video clip production

  • Find Facebook tools and apps
  • Get news and ideas
  • Link with existing networks to draw together online evangelism with e-mentoring, teams on the ground, and other follow-up
  • Other advice
  • Find speakers for consultations or conferences

Tony Whittaker is the coordinator of Internet Evangelism Day and a moderator for Guide Network. He lives in Derby, United Kingdom, and is a member of WEC International. He co-edits the free, easy-English SOON outreach paper.