Using the Internet in Evangelism
By Rich Robinson, Jews for Jesus
The World Wide Web has become a commonplace of modern life for many people, including Christians who seek to use the medium for outreach. The following principles of Internet evangelism were take from an interview I did with Moishe Rosen, founder of Jews for Jesus. Interspersed with these principles are stories of actual online interactions reported by some of our chat room volunteers. Though the stories are not in a particular sequence, together they illustrate some of the principles given below.
Principle One: We have access to a large number of people online -who are often anonymous.
In some ways, Internet evangelism is different than other approaches. Online, we have access to a huge number of people, and they have access to us. This access is what we might call "horizontal" or geographical (it's not unusual that we find people have come to our web site from Malaysia or the United Arab Emirates); and "vertical," that is in a given area, it cuts across the demographic lines (we get people from various age groups; and people using different media, e.g. the office worker in front of his PC and the teenager using her wireless web device). It allows us access across political borders as well.
As part of this increase in access, the Internet can expand the opportunities that ordinary Christians have to meet Jewish people. Moishe Rosen recalls a woman in Texas with many Jewish friends, none of whom she knew before she got on the Internet.
In other ways, the Internet shares similarities with other forms of outreach. According to Moishe Rosen, "It's similar in that when a Jewish person wants to know about the Lord, they don't usually go to church or to a missionary. Probably they will go to the library or the bookstore where they are in control of things. They don't want to be a worshipper and they might not even open up to a friend. But because of the anonymity of cyber evangelsm, they will come and participate in a chat room or a message board or by surfing a web site. And sometimes if they've asked a dumb question, it's the anonymity that makes them comfortable."
From our chat host Cheryl:
Anna had come into the chat a few times after September 11, letting me know she was looking for peace in this mixed-up world. She also told me about her Jewish friend, Carl, who was in the hospital dying of liver failure. After several conversations in the chat room, she agreed to converse with me via e-mail. Also, during the first or second visit, we (the whole chat room) prayed for the healing of her friend Carl, who is also Jewish. We exchanged e-mails for a few months, as I told her about Jesus and how she could continue to be Jewish and believe in him. Then she told me she had made a deal with God: if he would heal Carl (who was not supposed to live past Christmas) she would accept Jesus as Messiah. I tried to explain to her that you don't make deals with God, but she was just not hearing me. Christmas came and went, and so did New Year's. I e-mailed Anna several times to see what had been happening, concerned that it might be the worst.
Then on a Monday night early in January, I was hosting the chat room. Anna came in, and told me that Carl was now out of the hospital and his wife said he was as good as new. Evidently, the doctors had no explanation. Then, Anna said, she had promised God, that if I were hosting that night, she would pray to accept Y'shua as her Messiah. Needless to say, I was thrilled and amazed. We went into private chat then and I led her in the prayer for salvation. Immediately afterward, Anna remarked at how much peace she felt for the first time.
We have kept in contact via e-mail in which I am helping to disciple her. But the story has continued. This spring, Anna found out that her best friend, Carl's wife, had also become a believer. When Carl had been in the hospital, a Christian preacher "accidentally" came into Carl's room while looking for someone else. He was able to witness to them and this spring Nancy accepted Y'shua. We are not sure about Carl yet and are praying for Anna's husband and children also. But the two new believers are into the word of God and growing greatly. It is so exciting to see God working in this manner.
Since then we have had more Orthodox come to be saved through the chat room. I think the anonymity of the internet is a wonderful freedom for them in coming to ask about and meet Y'shua.
Principle Two: There are various ways to measure "success" on the Internet. In chat room ministry, one measure of success is having one "redemptive conversation" with a Jewish person for every four hours spent online.
People can measure "success" online in many different ways. Some count "hits" to their web site, which is never a good measure because one page of text and three pictures equals four "hits"! We have often measured number of "unique users" which gives a very rough approximation of the number of people visiting. Measuring unique users is somewhat comparable to measuring how many tracts have been distributed, or homes visited. We also measure how many contacts we get who submit names and addresses to receive literature.
There is also the more personal online ministry of chat room evangelism. Moishe spends a good deal of time in online chat rooms and has trained a coterie of volunteers to host the chat room on the Jews for Jesus web site. As far as this kind of evangelism is concerned, Moishe says: "Immanuel Gittell led a mission in Los Angeles in the 1940s or thereabout. He would say that he was happy if he'd have one solid convert a year - and he had several. I used to have 24 or 25 a year with the American Board of Missions to the Jews. Then in the beginning of the Jews for Jesus work in San Francisco, one could get 7 responses or reactions per 1000 tracts distributed. Now it's down to 3 or even less. Now what I'm satisfied with is if I spend four hours online and talk to one new Jewish person, in other words two people for 8 hours. Notice that I am not saying 'converts' but 'people to whom I effectively communicate.' And like in an in-person missionary visit, you have to open the Scripture in a meaningful way. I call it a redemptive conversation when I can make one solid point to a person in the space of four hours."
From our chat host Nancy:
Ed is a Jewish man I met in my chat room one night, actually in the early hours of the morning. He had just recently married a Japanese Buddhist woman, who had converted to Judaism to marry him. He said he believed Jesus was the Messiah, but didn't know what to do about it. I took him aside in private chat and explained the plan of salvation to him, asking him if he had ever prayed to ask Jesus into his life. He said no, but indicated that he wanted to. So I led him in an online prayer to give his life to Jesus. Afterwards, we corresponded by e-mail, and he sent me a link to pictures of his wedding, which was a very multi-ethnic event. I then sent him a package of Jews for Jesus materials designed for new believers, as well as materials to help him share the gospel with his wife. I was able to connect him with a local messianic congregation in his area for discipleship. What a wonderful experience, to be able to be there for someone with such an open heart and desire to know God!
"Hy" is another Jewish man I met in my chat room this past week. He is a searcher, wondering if Jesus is the Messiah, because if He is, "Hy" does not want to anger God by not acknowledging Him. The room was too busy for private chat, so I gave "Hy" my e-mail address and told him to write me with whatever questions he has. I hope to hear from him soon, and pray that he too will soon become part of God's family through the medium of chat room evangelism.
Principle Three: There are "come" and "go" ministries: people come into online communities and we can go fishing
Though usually many think of the Internet as more of a "come" than a "go" type of outreach, both aspects really play a role online. As far as come ministry is concerned, in Jews for Jesus we've found that the chat rooms we open develop their own constituency, their own community. Moishe often uses Paltalk, which is a program whereby you can speak and hear others online if you have a headset and microphone, as well as typing in the usual way. Then, there are chat rooms on America Online, Yahoo, and many other online places. Most of the people who come into the Jews for Jesus Paltalk room aren't Jewish but they are believers and the regulars "own" the room as their community. The room fills up quickly, and, says Moishe, "the regulars explain the gospel as well as I would."
On the Internet, there's also "go" ministry. Moishe describes this as "fishing," going not into our own Jews for Jesus chat room, but into a mainstream Jewish chat, for instance. Rather than proclaiming the gospel outright, which would generally not be productive in such a setting (and would not be welcome in that community), one can put out a feeler or two. Moishe relates several creative approaches he uses in such situations. Perhaps you can think of others.
It's also possible to be in several chat rooms at once, on America Online and on Paltalk, for instance - if you have the computer power and enough screen space for that.'
From our chat host Laura:
One well-studied young man came in to ask questions. He said that he was a Muslim who had been deeply affected by the events of September 11, and that he had been seeking the Christian God, as he had come to find the Muslim god unable to meet his needs. I was impressed with his willingness to dig deep into the meaning of scripture, and it was evident that he was seeking for truth rather then a band-aid.
One Orthodox Jewish man has been visiting my chat time since I started. At first he was quite hostile, but after long chats and much intelligent discourse this man (friend) had to tell me that he could not just dismiss what I said. I've been absent from my hosting responsibilities for awhile, so I don't know what he has done with all our conversations, but the Lord knows what and when friend will hear.
Principle Four: On the Internet, we invest time in sowing seeds and leaving impressions.
Much of our ministry online is seed-sowing. It takes time, and often we are just one step in a series of encounters that eventually leads someone to the Lord. This in fact is typical of evangelism in general. Moishe recalls his own coming to faith: "It often takes several impressions until someone receives the Lord. I took several impressions that were seeds but it wasn't any one of them that impressed me all the way. I remember a preacher, who would stand in front of the May Company on 16th Street in Denver and he'd sing and preach and nobody ever stopped to listen to him. At least I never saw anybody. I would pass by him almost every Sunday afternoon when my girlfriend, who is now my wife, and I went to the movies. And I told Ceil, I wished I believed in something enough to stand up and make a fool of myself on a street corner. The one thing that impressed me was the depth of the person, he was trying to make it known the best way he could. But it was one impression among many. Online, you get a chance to make many impressions."
Sometimes it may be our web sites that are a "link in the chain" of someone's coming to faith. A chat room or message board might be another link. Often the online outreach will work in tandem with personal encounters that people have offline. And whether online or off, all ministry requires an investment of time. The Internet might allow for "instant" messaging, but that doesn't mean someone's faith journey is instant! Because so much online information is available immediately, the Internet has a tendency to make people impatient, but online ministry requires patience and perseverance. Like Jewish evangelism in general, it is a ministry of sowing seeds as well as reaping fruit.
From chat host Suzanne:
Samuel started coming to the chat, curious about Y'shua. He was not antagonistic, but just sat back and observed, then asked questions - really good questions. After a couple of weeks, he was openly answering remarks made by those who were seeking, which made us think that Samuel was a believer in Y'shua deep down in his heart but wasn't quite ready yet to profess openly. Then he said that he wanted to tell his fiancée of his interest in Y'shua. And so, Sarah started coming to the chat as well.
At first she was very hesitant to speak and just wanted to observe. She was wary, but soon began asking questions too. After a few weeks Samuel was ready to pray to receive Y'shua, but he wanted to wait for Sarah to be ready. Then, he concluded that he wanted to be the one to help Sarah come to faith in Y'shua, so together Samuel and I prayed the Sinner's Prayer. That was on Shavuot. That weekend he went to visit his 86-year-old Grandma and he led her in the Sinner's Prayer. Then two weeks to the day of Samuel's 'second birth,' Sarah wanted to pray. That evening, just as she wanted to pray, Samuel showed up in the library where she was using the computer - so he and I together prayed with Sarah. Samuel and Sarah are both Orthodox, and both are doctors in residence. Cheryl and I have been discipling him and Sarah. They are studying the New Testament; they pray and read the Bible, taking notes and sharing their notes with each other. Already they have a good grasp of where in the Gospels one can find which parables, and they are studying the Armor of God.
Principle Five: Don't make your web site try to do too much.
Moishe uses a metaphor many will relate to: "Jews for Jesus and most organizations try to make their web site do too many things. Like a kid in a cafeteria, the web site becomes a tray. And everything looks good, so you keep piling on food without taking into account what you can eat. And on the very top you have all the sweets, custard and cake and so on. In contrast, the best web sites are those that are pointed."
One can think of this in another way. In Jews for Jesus we broke our single web site into two sites, one for Jewish seekers and one for Christians. Christians come for information. They want to learn, they want to see in which churches people are speaking, they want help in witnessing. A web site for Christians is useful in that we can be consultants online. We can explain how to do things and point people to material on the web site that is helpful for them.
In contrast, Jewish seekers are not generally looking for lots of information, except for hearing reasons for faith and responses to Jewish objections. If they are seeking, they also welcome reading testimonies.
People also enjoy it when we use some humor and don't take ourselves so seriously. It might be an interesting experiment to have an evangelistic web site pared down to just a few items and a serious yet humorous response device, to see what happens. Perhaps one day we will post a very simple front page with something like this:
SURVEY FOR JEWISH PEOPLE
__ I like surveys.
__ I hate surveys.
__ I hate surveys, but I'm Jewish and interested in finding out more about Y'shua (Jesus). I'd like to know what he can mean for my life. I live in a city where you have a branch and I'd like someone to write or phone or e-mail me. (followed by a place to fill out their information).
One thing we can say about the Internet: it is a flexible medium that offers a lot of scope to be creative! Maybe after reading this article, you can think of other ways to go about doing chat room and web evangelism, ways that fit the style and methods of your own mission!