It is imperative as we go out to fulfill the Great Commission that we go to where people are. And if we are going to reach the emerging generation, then that means that we must go on the internet, particularly onto social networks to engage them in conversation aout the gospel.
Finding ways in which we can do this successfully is one of the main goals of my work in developing creative evangelism strategies for our campuses.
In July we took three students from Hong Kong to New Zealand for V20, a conference of 600 students from all over the Asia-Pacific region. Usually at conferences like these in New Zealand we would have a day of outreach in the local community. However, with 600 students, this would have been overwhelming for the small local community where we were situated. Therefore we explored the possibility of running an online component to our outreach. We ended up with 200 students – a third of those at the conference participating in our online outreach. All of them were crowded into a small chapel with about 50 computers, creating a buzz like the floor of a stock exchange or a telethon, as people yelled out that they got a response to a message they had posted to their friends, or saw the screen up the front as it showed the number of views we had tick over 1000, or 5000.
We set up a website (www.watchthinkchat.com) which included the latest anime short film produced by the Jesus film (My Last Day) followed by a short gospel presentation and an opportunity for visitors to then have a live chat with one of our students.
Each of the students involved in the outreach posted a link to the website, and we also did some promotion through some Facebook fan pages. Over the course of the afternoon we had 10,000 people watch the short film, including visitors from Saudi Arabia and Iran. 2000 of those who viewed the film were friends of our students, from which we were abe to have 200 live chats about the gospel leading to two people indicating decisions to trust Christ.
The best thing about this outreach though, was that the vast majority of spiritual conversations that were initiated were with people that the students already knew, and would be in contact with again after the conference. I believe that the gospel spreads most quickly and effectively along relational networks, and an outreach like this, although at first it may seem less personal, actually maximizes the use of our students’ personal networks, as well as helping them to initiate those often hard-to-start spiritual conversations with their friends.
On the Facebook group for the conference there have been posts by students about follow-up conversations they have been able to have like this one: “I’ll meet up with a girl who became a Christian through the internet outreach at v20 tomorrow lunch time!!”
Another win was seeing many students eyes opened as to how they can use the internet to share their faith: “Just used Yahoo Answers for evangelism. If anyone has some spare time and wants people to talk about about God, there are hundreds of people asking questions about God on it all the time.”
On a more technical note, it was encouraging to see that we had a high click-through rate for the link we posted with approximately one of of every six people who saw the link clicking through to watch the video. This is a very high rate for Facebook (or anything on the internet actually!)
Our challenge now is to take the lessons that we have learned from this experience to refine our strategy to be more effective, and also to recreate this experience on our campuses around the world. Please pray for this as we are in the process of developing GodChat, a tool to help us run online outreaches like these more effectively, taking advantage of the unique opportunities that social networks give us. We hope to have this up and running and available for people to use around the world by the end of the year.