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The Internet Evangelism Coalition and Online Evangelism

By Sterling Huston
April 2006

The Internet is the fastest growing media form in the history of the world. Ten years ago there were only a few million users worldwide, mostly in developed Western nations; today, more than one billion people access the World Wide Web. Although it is estimated that the United States leads with nearly two hundred million people currently online, the greatest online growth has been in Asia where China has one hundred million users and Japan has seventy-eight million users. The Chinese language is fast becoming a dominant language online.

webevang_300
The purpose of IEC is to stimulate
and
accelerate web evangelism.

When the Internet first became popular in the public arena a decade ago, Christian ministries immediately took note. Individuals, churches, denominations and ministries recognized the potential of the web and created numerous Christian websites. Many of these sites, however, served only as electronic brochures to communicate information to the ministry’s constituency. 

But as the Internet matured, so did its use. Christians began to develop websites solely to share Jesus Christ with non-believers. The terms “seeker sensitive site,” “online evangelism” and “Internet evangelism” became more common as groups recognized the extraordinary opportunity to share the gospel of Christ on the web. 

These early pioneers who had caught a vision for the use of the web for ministry were often relatively unknown, underfunded and often unappreciated by the larger Christian Church. This led many to feel as though they were the only ones doing Internet evangelism. Many faced ongoing issues of discouragement, lack of financial and technical resources and limited ways to share materials with those coming to Christ online. 

History of the IEC
Recognizing the need for communication and collaboration among the early Internet users, the Billy Graham Center (Wheaton, Illinois, USA) hosted a consultation in 1997 on using the Internet for evangelism. More than one hundred participants from churches, denominations and ministries came together. At the close of the meeting attendees, sensing that their work had only begun, voted to establish the Internet Evangelism Facilitation Committee to help facilitate online collaborative evangelism. This committee, representing a broad cross-section of the Christian Church, immediately set out to establish major goals in the areas of communication, evangelism resources, seeker sites, training and Christian growth materials available through the web. 

Two years after the original consultation, an international conference was convened to focus on networking, equipping and mobilizing those involved and interested in Internet evangelism. Out of that conference came a permanent organization now known as the Internet Evangelism Coalition (IEC). Recognizing it would take time for the organization to become self-sustaining, the committee asked the Billy Graham Center to host its administration and provide 501(c)(3) status for contributions to the organization. 

About the IEC
The stated purpose of the IEC is to stimulate and accelerate web evangelism within the worldwide body of Christ. Part of its mission is to encourage collaborative efforts and to connect partners and resources for more extensive and effective Internet evangelism. 

Since its official forming in 1999, the IEC and its members have hosted additional international conferences to further collaborate and network with ministries using the Internet for evangelism. 

The IEC has also enhanced communication by producing a monthly e-newsletter and establishing a website which identifies resources created through IEC efforts. The monthly newsletter, available through the IEC website, shares relevant information about the web and web evangelism.

Recognizing the need for a quality gospel presentation which is culturally relevant to the Internet audience, IEC partners developed the seeker site Now Try God. The content of this presentation is available to churches and para-church ministries as an effective tool for sharing the gospel online. 

IEC partners have also developed The Evangelism Toolbox, which includes a database of effective Christian resources to help people share their faith in Jesus Christ. These resources, the work of many leading evangelical organizations worldwide, are provided in multiple languages in both online and offline formats.

Often when people come to Christ through the web there are no immediate Christian growth resources available. This motivated the establishment of Growing In Christ, which provides ways for new believers to get questions answered regarding Christianity and the life of Jesus Christ. It also helps connect new believers with more experienced Christians who will answer their questions.

The IEC also recognized that there were many offline training programs for sharing one’s faith with others, but that none were specifically geared to the unique environment of sharing one’s faith on the Internet. As a result, the program Online Training for Online Evangelists has been prepared and is available as a self-taught and self-graded training tool.

The IEC also recently developed a partnership with visionSynergy for the formation of the International Internet Evangelism Network (IIEN). IIEN seeks to bring together people pioneering in the area of non-English speaking web evangelism.

The Internet has some unique advantages for Christians who want to reach their world for Christ. With information available twenty-four hours a day and an instantaneous reach across time zones and national boundaries, believers can share the gospel from the privacy of their own homes with non-Christians halfway around the world. Note these examples:

  • A young woman in Michigan, USA, entered into a digital dialogue with a woman in China who knew nothing about Christianity and wanted to learn English. Through the Internet she arranged for the Chinese woman to download a Bible in her own language.

  • A North American church received an email from a man in Finland who had committed his life to Christ through the gospel presentation on their church’s website.

  • A college student at the University of Virginia, USA, who was searching for meaning stumbled across a website for students and got on her knees in her dorm room with tear-filled eyes and surrendered her life to Christ. 

The anonymity of the web allows seekers to be much more vulnerable in their spiritual search. The Internet’s accessibility permits these seekers to return again and again to explore biblical truths. The Internet Evangelism Coalition is committed to encouraging churches and para-church ministries to utilize the web as a strategic resource for sharing the good news of Christ and helping new believers begin their initial steps of Christian growth. To that end, the IEC continues to evaluate new technologies that use the web with one primary purpose in view: that we might enlarge and extend the presentation of the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ to a needy world.

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Sterling Huston is chair of the Internet Evangelism Coalition. He also serves as director of special ministries and senior team at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.



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