This post is part 19 in the series 20 Ways to Share Your Faith Online leading up to and following Internet Evangelism Day on April 25. We encourage you to tweet, share, blog & discuss these ideas in your church & circle of influence.
As this wonderful series of Internet Evangelism Ideas winds down, I want to commend Paul and all those who contributed to this series. Let’s hope that this will spark continued innovation and excitement in this area.
If you are considering becoming an online evangelist, however, reading all of these ideas might be a little overwhelming. Which idea do you start with? How do you determine the best way for us or our organization? Should we just pick one and go? No – there are some preliminary steps that you should consider before you get started.
During 2007 and 2008, I undertook a research project to find out what the “best practices” in online ministry were. The goal of the project was to find successful online ministries and then determine what those ministries had in common. From that, I developed a set of “best practices” for online ministry. You can find the full report at my web site here. Though this research was directed at the use of the Internet by ministry organizations and churches, many of the lessons learned are applicable to individuals pursuing online evangelism as well.
Of all the best practices found in the research, one of the most significant was a proper planning process. Taking the time to slow down and take a few key planning steps will lead to a much more fruitful online evangelism effort.
According to my research, there were three key planning steps that need to be included in any online ministry effort:
- A specific mission statement for use of the Internet.
- Research on the target audience.
- Measurable goals to determine your progress.
A specific mission statement for your use of the Internet
You most likely have a mission statement, vision statement, or set of objectives for your organization. You should also have one for your online ministry. This statement should specifically state what you are trying to accomplish at a high level and should be more than “to fulfill the mission of [your organization].” It should be specific to the online environment while still be directly related to what your organization does. When evaluating the direction your project should take, you can use this mission statement to help guide your decision-making.
I have seen this in action. During my research, I talked with one of the founders of an online ministry. He told me that over 80% of the ideas for new features are not implemented because they are not in line with the ministry’s vision. When asked about the one key factor that made their ministry a success, he replied: “Understanding the mission of the organization and sticking to one key mission instead of trying to do too much.”
Do you know your audience?
Once you have defined your primary objectives, the next focus should be to get some clarity on who you are trying to reach. We were told by our Saviour to spread the gospel to “all nations”, but we don’t have to do it all at once! To use the online environment strategically, we need to understand just who we want to reach on the other side of that screen. Of course, you may have more than one type of person you want to reach. That’s great! But my suggestion is that you develop different strategies for each type of person you want to reach.
Once you have identified your target audience, you then need to consider what you know about them. Our tendency here is to simply assume we already know them and can figure out the best way to interact with them online. But many times we do not. If we are going to make a real effort to reach a particular group of people, doesn’t it make sense to be sure we have a clear understanding of them?
Here’s an example: I was working with my church to put up a new website and we wanted to take a look at the online habits of our congregation. One of our concerns was alienating the older members of our church by moving some of our previously paper-based communications online. To our surprise, we found that our seniors were using email and visiting web sites at the same rate as the rest of the church! That valuable information enabled us to make some decisions more easily. You can find a full writeup of this research, including a copy of the survey form and results, on my blog here.
Setting Measurable Goals
One final step you should undertake during the planning process is to set goals. It is important to set goals so that you can keep yourself accountable. What should these goals look like? While it is admirable to have a goal such as “to reach every student at my local high school” or “to see all my Facebook friends become Christians”, these goals are too vague and will not hold you accountable.
Instead, try to develop specific goals that can be measured and that you can evaluate yourself against on a regular basis. Some simple goals would be: one hundred hits on a web page per month, ten emails received per day, or getting 500 people to “like” your Facebook page during the school year. These can all be captured using tools provided at no cost. Notice that the goals are all statistical measures over time; simply stating a number without putting a timeframe on it is not useful.
Finally, you should plan regular review sessions where the statistics are reviewed and, if necessary, modifications to the project are made.
It’s still all about people
I hope you find these planning steps to be encouraging and provide you with direction. I realize that many times our inclination is to immediately jump in and “let God lead”. But we are also called to be good stewards of the resources God has given us. Let’s make the best of our online evangelism opportunities by taking the time to do some planning before we get started.
Dr. David Bourgeois is an Associate Professor of Information Systems at Biola University, where he teaches, conducts research, and writes about the use of the Internet and social media for ministry. For more about Dave and his work, go to his web site, Lessons From Babel, which he maintains as a resource for those who are doing online ministry.