Internet Evangelism: Sharing the Gospel in a Digital Age
BY MARK KELLNER, assistant director for news, General Conference Communication Department
here is the Internet taking the church?
That's just one of the probing questions discussed at the second Global Internet Evangelism Forum (GIEN), which met September 1 to 4 in Bangkok, Thailand.
The meeting drew 170 people to Southern Asia to discuss and share information on how the Seventh-day Adventist Church may better utilize the ever-burgeoning Internet.
Coordinated by the church's online committee, the forum "is an example of laity working together with the leadership," said Dan Houghton, an Adventist lay person and co-chair of the GIEN organizing committee. Houghton pointed out that this year's event is indicative of much interest in Internet use in many sectors of the church, and involvement in making it an effective tool in the church's mission.
Referring to church organizations, Ron Vyhmeister, director of the business program at the Adventist International Institute for Advanced Studies (AIIAS) in Salang, Philippines, said. "If somebody can't find you on the Internet, you don't exist." In his keynote address, he appealed for the church to be present on the Web and accept the change technology imposes. "The Internet requires change. But do not be afraid of change. Make technology a priority."
"It's the same globe, but a different world," said Matthias Dorn, a research scientist from Hannover, Germany.
|The Second Global Internet Evangelism Forum (GIEN), in Bangkok, Thailand, drew 170 people to discuss how the church can further use the Internet for evangelism. [Photo: Ray Dabrowski/ANN]|
Christian outreach in a world of diverse religions and cultures occupied much discussion among participants, who are interested in making evangelism effective in targeting specific people groups. The Internet platform offers easy access to resources and experts within the online community.
Scott Griswold, director of the church's Buddhist Study Center in Bangkok, addressed the issues his center confronts in interfacing the worlds of Buddhism and Christianity. Development of "new content" in the language of the Internet was a topic of discussion, and other presentations pointed out a need to recognize the church's place in the community at large through the use of the Internet. Martin Haase and Stephan Brass, representatives of the German STA-Online network, which is celebrating a decade of serving the German-speaking church, spoke of the Web as a "local passion" with virtual contacts leading to relationships for life.
Making that transition can sometimes be challenging, said Ray Dabrowski, communication director of the world church. "If we create a Web presence for our faith community, will it truly be also reflected in reality when the online user visits our church and meets Adventists in real life?" he asked.
The workshops presented a variety of practical aspects of involving technology in the church's outreach. Participants offered recommendations for implementation by both the church's headquarters and regional offices. It was recommended that a central database be established for resources, such as Web sites, professional photography and graphics, and networking purposes for GIEN participants. A manual for church leaders on how to establish an Internet ministry and developing an Internet evangelism course was also recommended.
Nancy Lamoreaux, director of Information Technology Services for the church in North America, said she is "returning home renewed and energized" from the meetings. Similar comments were heard from the participants representing the church in Asian countries, led by regional directors in the Southern and Northern Asia-Pacific church regions, Jonathan Catolico and Glenn Mitchell. Reports from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, and Singapore testified to a creative use of new technologies.
"The forum attendance exceeded our expectation," said John Banks, associate director for communication at the church's world headquarters and organizer of the event. "At first we wondered if the location will provide us with a challenge in attracting many participants. But we had 170 persons in attendance representing diverse cultures, mostly representing a fast-developing region in utilizing new technologies."
The event's main presentations were captured for distribution as "Podcasts," downloadable broadcasts available via Apple Computer's iTunes service at www.apple.com/podcasting.