The self-defeating nature of Internet Evangelism

This article excitedly declares that internet evangelism will be the next big thing. It lists five very specific reasons.

  1. Technology is affordable
  2. Millions can be reached
  3. It’s cheap
  4. People love to share
  5. Non-Christians are searching for God

Suppose all of these are true. I’m skeptical of the author’s interpretation of the data on the last one but let’s let it pass. Even if this is all true, what do we have? We have the opportunity for a complete stranger to interact with millions of complete strangers and pass along a set of propositions that they claim are true.

How is this different from Atheism? As this article shares, most Atheists who have been drawn from the faith were primarily influenced by folks on the internet.

When our participants were asked to cite key influences in their conversion to atheism–people, books, seminars, etc. — we expected to hear frequent references to the names of the “New Atheists.” We did not. Not once. Instead, we heard vague references to videos they had watched on YouTube or website forums.

How is this different from Islam? Indeed there are numerous Islamic outreach websites on the internet. Buddhism and New Age thinking are all over the place. The reality is that this is hardly new territory for religious discussions and if Christianity is only now getting into the game then we are woefully far behind the rest of the competition.

I have to agree that Internet Evangelism is probably about to explode in previously unheard of ways and extents, but I predict the number of conversions relative to the effort that is exerted will be disappointingly low. And I have my suspicions about those conversions for the same reason as one of the commenters at the article brings up, discipleship. If “being a Christian” were merely about reciting some prayer then it would certainly make sense to flood the internet with as many websites and advertisements as possible in the hopes that absolute strangers, completely isolated from any church community and any further discipleship opportunities, would say the prayer and get their “fire insurance.” But if that is “faith” then I say it is a cheap faith.

Christianity is supposed to be so much more than that. Christianity involves Church. Christianity involves discipleship. The “lone ranger” style Christian either ends up failing eventually, or if it succeeds it is a far cry from what Jesus envisioned a relationship with him would look like. It is also supposed to involve relationships with other Christians. If Internet Evangelism succeeds then it is a small success indeed unless the person who said the sinner’s prayer moves beyond a one-time act of mental ascent.

For these reasons alone I doubt the effectiveness of this new Internet Evangelism. But I have to add to that some other reasons as well. First, having anonymous conversations with online strangers is hardly the right way to go about investigating life’s most prevalent questions. Second, internet discussions can… how shall I say this in some way I have not previously said on this blog… go poorly.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, talk to real people in real time in each other’s physical presence. Don’t rely on some mass-marketed, anonymous, web-based outreach program. Get off your butt, get out to a coffee shop with friends and hash through the big issues of life. My biggest hope for Internet Evangelism is that it inspires people to ask the questions so that they move from there to discussing those questions with friends in real life. If that happens then I would consider Internet Evangelism a resounding success.

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5 thoughts on “The self-defeating nature of Internet Evangelism

    • Indeed you may. I would say it’s something along the lines of making the most of the potential God has given us in all areas of our life, giving him the glory in everything we do, orienting every aspect of our lives to his lordship by submitting to his rule in our lives, working (with his guidance and strength) to impact the world around us on every level, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, making disciples of all nations, etc. I have tried more than once to capture the meaning of life in a single catch phrase but I find that something important always gets left out. Even in what I just brainstormed I’m sure I missed something important.

      With respect to evangelism (which I assume is somehow underlying your question) I see it fitting naturally into a number of the aspects of life’s purpose that I just described, most specifically the part about making disciples.

      Thoughts? By the way, thanks for stopping by; I appreciate the engagement.

      • You’re welcome Paul, you wrote a very interesting article. I would agree with your assessment on why we are here as well as on evangelism. It’s an interesting book that you wrote by the way, I have to find out more about it.

        • If you end up reading it do let me know what you think. I am looking for feedback of every kind, positive and negative. I welcome it from every source I can get it.

          How would you answer the question of the purpose of life?

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