Regardless of whether the bump in internet traffic is permanent or temporary, it’s clear that online evangelism’s reach is global. During one week in March, Cru’s digital resources were accessed from every country in the world, Cru vice president Mark Gauthier said.
Thanks to online tools, the body of Christ “has the ability to plant churches in every unreached people group” with less expenditure of resources than ever, he said. “This is one of the greatest moments in the history of the church for the fulfillment of the Great Commission.”
COVID-19 hot spots have received particular online evangelistic focus. BGEA launched a Spanish social media campaign aimed at Spain, where about 120,000 have tested positive for the coronavirus and nearly 11,000 have died. During the campaign’s first week, 93,000 people viewed targeted Facebook posts for at least 10 seconds. More than 1,000 people had social messaging conversations in a single week with BGEA volunteers in English and Spanish.
Southern Baptist evangelist Sammy Tippit has plans for gospel witnessing during the coming months in Iran, where 45,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported. At age 72, Tippit has experienced the power of internet evangelism only in the past four years. His journey online began by preaching evangelistic sermons to villages in India via Skype. That led to a Skype event where 10,000 Indians gathered to watch Tippit preach via video, and 5,000 indicated a desire to commit their lives to Christ.
To follow up with those new believers, Tippit began making three-minute discipleship videos and distributing them on social media. The videos took off, and now a global network of his ministry partners is preparing to distribute videos of two Tippit sermons to their non-Christian friends on May 30 and 31. The sermons will be translated into 10 languages and distributed via the messaging application WhatsApp in nearly 70 countries, with an anticipated audience of 10 million
Only a “handful” of evangelists are doing online ministry on that scale, said Tippit, president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists. But “a lot of people I know” are “doing something on Facebook” and reaching hundreds. Tippit plans to train other evangelists in expanding their reach through the internet.
The greatest difficulty with online evangelism is follow-up. While 60,000 people per day last year indicated on GMO’s websites that they had made decisions for Christ (either first-time commitments or rededications), the ministry was only able to track 5,244 people all year who connected with a local church after beginning their journey with Christ. “This has been our biggest challenge,” Diedrich said.
Of the 10,000 people indicating salvation decisions during BGEA’s COVID-19 campaign, about 2,030 requested follow-up. For BGEA, funneling new converts into online discipleship courses is a major part of the follow-up process, along with encouraging new believers to plug into a local church. In March, the ministry saw 3,043 people enroll in discipleship courses, up 37 percent from the average monthly enrollment. Cru sees about 40 percent of the individuals who register salvation decisions through EveryStudent.com proceed to online follow-up. This includes working through a series of discipleship lessons and being offered an opportunity to interact with someone over chat to discuss what they’re learning.
“This has been everybody’s weak point for the last hundred years,” he said. However, “we shouldn’t pull away because this is the challenge. We should try to address it” with “stronger bonds to local churches.”
Despite the follow-up challenge, the benefits of online evangelism seem to outweigh its drawbacks. Missiologists note seekers’ willingness to discuss spiritual matters in greater depth because of the anonymity afforded online. People also generally will trust the biblical counsel on websites that look reputable and professional. Internet witnessing additionally creates a lower-stress opportunity for initial evangelism attempts by Christians who may feel hesitant to share their faith in person.
A BGEA online volunteer reported, “I have lived across the street from my neighbor for 10 years, and I just went and shared the gospel with him for the first time ever because I started to do this internet evangelism, and I learned how to actually have conversations with people,” Appleton said.
Among the next frontiers in online gospel sharing is Global Outreach Day 2020. Set for May 30, the day has largely been driven online by COVID-19 and the increasingly digital nature of the world. An international coalition of organizers has set a goal of mobilizing 100 million believers to share the gospel with 1 billion people worldwide in May.
Among the main evangelistic methods will be posting personal testimonies online and then sharing them with friends via text or social media. (The Southern Baptist Convention has launched a similar campaign as the pandemic forced adjustments to its Who’s Your One? evangelistic push.)
If every Christian would send a gospel presentation to one person online and ask that person’s opinion of it, Gauthier said, “you would see a lot of people having a chance to know Christ and a lot of fruit.”