Growth of the Web for evangelism marked by Internet Evangelism Day on April 24th
The world is approaching a billion people on the Web, if we haven't already surpassed that number this year. The Computer Industry Almanac projects that 1.07 billion people will be online in 2005; 1.21 billion in 2006, and 1.35 billion in 2007.
A site that tracks such things has a fascinating country-by-country breakdown of numbers of Web users, and some of the numbers are mind-boggling: In the US, 185.5 million - maybe a number to be expected, but look at these: 78M in Japan, 99M in China, 31M in South Korea, 37M in India, 2.4M in Egypt, 22M in Brazil, and 20,000 in Ethiopia!
I like the humorous but accurate way Women's Biz News described this growth: "Things Are Changing On The Internet Faster Than You Can Say 'Here Comes India.'"
So what's the Church to do with such an explosion of internet connectivity?
Well, harness it for the glory of God, of course! Just like we Christians have done with all emerging technologies. (Witness how the printing of books took off with the Gutenberg Bible put to press.)
I've come across The Internet Evangelism Coalition (IEC), an umbrella group of outreach ministries who share a vision for online outreach. In fact, I attended a meeting of its leaders recently as a guest, and I'm impressed with their vision.
The IEC has initiated a worldwide focus day on Sunday, April 24, called Internet Evangelism Day, simply to raise an awareness of 'web evangelism.' The purpose of Internet Evangelism Day, leaders say, is to communicate the outreach potential of the Web among the worldwide Church.
The chair of the IEC, Dr. Sterling Huston of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, describes in an article the potential of the Web for evangelism: "The Internet offers churches, Christian organizations and individuals an amazing and rapidly expanding opportunity to share the 'Good News' of the gospel with a world in need. I pray that Internet Evangelism Day will inspire many more to utilize this dynamic media to extend and enlarge their witness for Christ."
The Web's growth comes at a time when the use of other kinds of media for faith purposes in the US is slipping. The Barna research organization reports that "The Internet is the only mass medium among those tested whose audience share has grown during the past decade. The proportion of the population using the Internet for faith purposes has increased by two-thirds since 1998."
English now accounts for about (only) 35.2% of the languages used on the Web, according to widely reported figures from Global Reach. The percentage of English use on the Web has been slipping every year since 2001 when, according to one chart it was 43%.
But it's surprising how persistent English is as the defacto language of the Web - which means that English-speaking Christians interested in Web evangelism still have lots of access to people around the world.
Knight Ridder Newspapers' March 21, 2005 article quoted language expert Susan Herring, a researcher at Indiana University, saying that "More than 90 percent of the conversations on the Internet in Europe are conducted in English...For the foreseeable future, English will be the lingua franca of the Internet."
I think we Presbyterians and other Christian brothers and sisters would do well to catch up to this growing phenomena of the Web, and faithfully explore how we can make it an instrument of God's peace and Christian witness. Take a look at Internet Evangelism Day, April 24th, because, as the saying goes, "Things Are Changing On The Internet Faster Than You Can Say 'Here Comes India'"!-- Dave Hackett