*** Reaching an Online Generation ***

In terms of size, the Internet is already very large. Let’s just take two figures: there are 1.5 billion Internet users with 350 million of them on Facebook.  The new generation is online! The number of users is exploding and is going to grow to three billion in the coming years thanks to mobile phones with Internet access. The potential to spread the good news is phenomenal (click here to read more about this).

It has been twelve years since I started using the Internet to share the gospel. In 1997, I launched a website to promote the church I was planting in the south of France. Then, in 1998, I launched a Christian portal (www.topchretien.com), and in 2003, a multi-lingual evangelistic website called www.LookingforGod.com. Since that time, sixty million people have visited the websites and millions have accepted the Lord or rededicated their lives to him. I am blessed and amazed to be a laborer in his harvest! But one laborer alone cannot make a big difference. Jesus said, “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers [plural] into his harvest.”

Therefore, together with other laborers representing different Christian organizations in about fifteen countries, we developed the Jesus Internet Project to strategically position websites on the Internet, in the main languages of the Internet. Some websites act as bridges to the main websites (landing pages), others present the gospel, others are entirely dedicated to the follow-up of seekers who want to learn more about Jesus. We are calling it the “stepping stones strategy.”

Together, we want to use and promote a common brand: Jesus.net. We invite every person or organization on the Internet to join us. Our goal is simple: make Jesus famous on the Internet! We will develop and offer a tool which is able to transform every website into an evangelistic one. The real strength of Christians is revealed when they overcome their differences to work in unity.

For many, the Internet is an additional audience for their ministry. For others, it is a way to earn money. I believe the Internet is the best opportunity for Christians to work together to make Jesus and his message known.

We need to understand that the Internet is far bigger than any organization and that building one’s “own little kingdom” is not the solution. Together we can do what no one can do alone!

What Are Christians Doing on the Internet?
Christians have launched websites to present their services and their message. As a result, there are a huge number of sites, most of which receive very few visits. If you type the word “God” in Google, you will find 365,000,000 pages—one million pages to visit each day during one whole year.

Christian use the Internet in many different ways:

Type of Website Goal Stats Examples The Challenge
Institutional communication website Make one’s organization or church known From a couple dozen to thousands of visits per day BillyGraham.org, LifeChurch.tv Presenting the message instead of promoting the organization/founder
Personal website Share one’s point of view in a blog, a personal site, myspace.com, etc. From a couple dozen to thousands of visits per day PhilCooke.com, TheDigitalSanctuary.org Visibility is essential; the site needs real differentiating to stand out from the rest
Evangelistic website Share the good news From a couple dozen to thousands of visits per day LookingForGod.com, Jesus2020.com Being well positioned in well-known search engines in order to reach seekers in spiritual need
Content website Make one’s content known From a couple hundred to a few thousand visits per day ChristianityToday.com, FocusOnTheFamily.com Navigation, because the richer the content, the easier you can get lost
Commercial website Sell products and services From a couple hundred to a few thousand visits per day ChristianBook.com Having each item well referenced by search engines
Free resources website Offer a free service, such as a directory, an online community, a search engine, an online Bible, an online church service, etc. From a couple hundred to a few thousand visits per day BibleGateway.com, YouVersion.com, ChristianGo.com Having a simple and effective concept, because the new trend is no more the global portal but the specialized website, concentrating on one main function
Community website To create one’s own website by using existing social networks, in particular Facebook and Twitter From a couple hundred to a few thousand visits per day The group called “I-Love-Jesus” in Facebook already has more than one million members Being able to answer the question, “Now, what am I going to do with all those members?”

These different ways of using the Internet combine with more or less success. But what is really trendy today is simplification. KISS (Keep It Short and Simple) applies well to the Internet. Even Microsoft, which just launched their search engine (Bing.com), finally understands this. Lots of Christian organizations try to mix everything in one website. As a result, very few succeed (considering the Internet scale). Moreover, the most visited religious website happens to be a Muslim one!

Measuring the “Success” of a Website
Some people think success shouldn’t be measured. In 2007, Brown Governance and the Internet Evangelism Coalition compiled an excellent survey called “International Internet Evangelism Performance Measurement Report.” Below is part of the report:

Two respondents articulated that measurement should be “left to God.” While God will no doubt take the final and ultimate measures of the efforts of individual Christians and Christian organizations, should this keep us from creating, implementing, measuring, adjusting, and reporting on our strategies and efforts? We believe that Christian organizations should not feel threatened by an expectation of results. Results are important to God—if they weren’t, he would not have given us a mission to begin with. We believe that the Church needs to be reproducing and it should therefore engage in measurement to ensure that it is.

There are many ways to measure success for a website. As a missionary on the Internet, my best tool to measure effectiveness goes beyond figures. A ministry CEO once said, “Eric, all these figures are just virtual! It’s only figures and behind them there is probably nothing more!” On that same day, a friend of mine who is a French pastor sent me a short message while he was visiting Algeria. It said, “Eric, guess what I’m doing? I’m baptizing someone who accepted Jesus on one of your evangelistic websites!” Or, consider Mariana, who is living in the Palestinian territories. When we launched MaarifatAllah.com (LookingforGod in Arabic language) in December 2006, she was the first seeker to write us. She said, “I would like to have Jesus in my life!” Since that date, more than fifty thousand Arabs (most from a Muslim background) wrote to tell us the same thing!

A successful website is one which has a lot of visits, a continuing high growth, a worldwide audience, a high conversion rate, is very visible in search engines—and which has very high offline results. To keep being successful in the long term on the Internet, we need to cleverly use not only the best existing tools, but also be ready to start new ways and approaches.

Are New Approaches Possible to Reach the Online Generation?
I think so! Last year we participated in a brainstorming session with other pioneers of the church-planting movement (CPM) and Internet evangelism. One of the results was the launch of a blog called “reachingtheonlinegeneration.com” by Paul Watson to try to apply the principles of CPM multiplication to the Internet. With partners and friends, we are exploring the following avenues:

  1. A new online follow-up service for seekers. The method used by most organizations involved in Internet evangelism comes from evangelistic campaigns; we ask a spiritual counsellor to take care of the “new convert” and we measure the result. But another approach is possible with Internet: using a PUSH instead of PULL approach.
  2. E-learning applied to discipleship. For the last eight years, EO (a Dutch Christian organization) has gotten incredible results by using E-learning. For example, in Poland, fifty percent of the people following the five-week lessons of the E-learning course are joining a local church or an Alpha course.
  3. Artificial intelligence applied to evangelization and discipleship. Why not use artificial intelligence to present the Bible in a more attractive way that is based upon the seeker’s need? It’s now possible.
  4. Viral effect of CPM applied to the Internet. A real viral movement can occur on the Internet. To do so, we need to help new believers to reach their “Oikos” online.
  5. An interactive Facebook application. What do you think of an application that would present the gospel according to your Facebook profile and that would help you testify to your online friends?
  6. An online church. I am not talking about broadcasting church services online as many churches actually do. I am thinking about a church with services, pastors, sermons, prayer rooms, and spiritual growth resources especially dedicated to online people who don’t have a church. This online church would have two main goals: make disciples and start offline churches.
  7. Using the Internet to reach cities. It is possible to target cities according to the needs of the Internet users living in those cities. Did you know that the town where the word “depression” is the most searched on the Internet is Melbourne, Australia? And that the city where the word “suicide” is the most searched is Portland, Oregon, USA?

If you are interested in one of the projects above—and if you want to know more about it—or if you want to be involved in the Jesus Internet Project, please send us a comment. Innovative ideas are also very welcome! Please be praying about how you can be involved in Internet evangelism.