Chapter One – Casting an Electronic Net
I am in the habit of staying up late at night, talking to friends on instant messenger, and checking e-mail.”
Kristi is one of the 3.4 billion people in the world who currently use the Internet on a regular basis.  Like millions of young people, she uses the Web not only for information but primarily as a way of staying in touch with her friends.
When Kristi first encountered God on the Web, she was a smart, successful young lady, beginning her college career at the prestigious University of Virginia. She loved to chat with friends on the Internet—and she had little time for church or Christianity.
“I didn’t think that organized religion was an important thing. It wasn’t necessary and I had no interest whatsoever.”
Like so many others, Kristi had been disappointed by overzealous believers in the past. “I had some bad experiences with people saying, ‘Oh, you’re going to hell.’ I would have been very turned off if someone would have come up and tried to evangelize me on the street.”
But despite her suspicions of organized religion, she did have questions about God and the meaning of life. “I was too scared to find someone at a church to ask questions.”
Kristi was lost, yet she sailed through her existence, ignoring the nagging questions within. That is, until she began seeing “the T-shirt message”—an ad for an Internet evangelism site promoted by young believers on college campuses.
“I went to visit James Madison University where my best friend was attending. When I was there, I saw a lot of EveryStudent.com posters in dorm room windows and on dorm-room doors. I had seen the EveryStudent address many times. My friend, Adam, actually had an EveryStudent.com T-shirt that he would wear.
“So I just decided, ‘Why not—I might as well go to this site.’ I read one article after another. I have no clue how much time I spent the first time I was on the site—an hour or more.”
Kristi read about issues relevant to her life and concepts she struggled to understand. Her heart was touched. “It really spoke to me as a seeker, someone who was searching. It was directive, right where I was. And it answered very real issues—things that had been troubling me.”
Like so many young people, Kristi was asking the big questions:
• “How can there be only one truth?”
• “How does religion and Christianity impact my life?”
• “Is there hope for a lasting marriage?”
“I also went to some of the articles that were more intellectual, discussing the differences between other world religions, and why I should choose the God of the Bible.”
Then she found the prayer to invite Jesus into her heart.
Up to that point, Kristi had never known that a person could pray such a prayer. “It was something I had never thought about, that God could be living within me. I was blown away that I could actually have a relationship with God.”
And so, sitting by herself in her dorm room, staring at a Web site on her computer, Kristi invited Jesus Christ to be her Lord and Savior.
“I remember sitting there in my pajamas at my desk chair, just praying and crying. I was so happy.”
A Virtual Tidal Wave
Today millions of people like Kristi are active Internet users around the world. Remarkably it is now possible for any Bible-believing Christian to potentially reach nearly half (46.4%) of the world’s population from their dining room table.  And someone with a mobile phone, PDA, or another portable digital device is now linked electronically to half of the people living on planet Earth.
The world is connected like never before.
The Internet is a new and dynamic tool for bringing the Good News to the masses. The world is now meeting and talking on the World Wide Web—and so the potential to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with seekers like Kristi is enormous.
Some of the recent breakthroughs in the Internet and digital technology paint an exciting picture:
• Microsoft and other leading computer experts have called the social network explosion the second phase of the Internet’s development—or Web 2.0.
• According to Alexa Web Search, Facebook, YouTube, Blogger, MySpace, Twitter, and WordPress—some of the leading social networks in the world—are among the top twenty most-viewed Web sites.  They are now more popular than eBay, Amazon, AOL, and Hotmail.
• According to Reuters, approximately 80 percent of the U.S. population is online. 4
• According to a May 2009 report by The Radicati Group, there were 1.4 billion e-mail users in 2009. That number is expected to rise to 1.9 billion by 2013. The same study found that approximately 247 billion e-mails are sent each day. 5
• Nearly 100 percent of college graduates are online and 90 percent use e-mail daily, according to a study conducted by the Pew organization. 6
• More than 81 percent of teens are online (Pew). 7
We are witnessing an explosion of social networks online—Web sites that allow people to post a Web page for free (or for a minimal cost) and connect with people around the world.
• Facebook is the fastest-growing Web site in the world according to the Web traffic tracking site hitgeist.com. 8
• News Corp., the giant media company owned by Rupert Murdoch, acquired MySpace in the fall of 2005 for $580 million. Industry experts say MySpace was worth $6.5 billion in 2009. Facebook was valued at $10 billion at the same time. 9
J. C. R. Licklider, one of the pioneers of the Internet, peered into the future in 1960 and made this remarkable prophetic observation: “In due course [the computer] will be part of the formulation of problems: part of real-time thinking, problem-solving, doing of research, conducting of experiments, getting into the literature and finding references.”
While this first part of Licklider’s quote predicted the initial stage of Internet growth, the second part predicted what has come to be known as Web 2.0: “And it will mediate and facilitate communication among human beings.” 10 His amazing prediction is coming true today in ways that Licklider likely never dreamed possible, drawing the world together into one electronic global community.
This new connectivity could not have come at a more strategic moment in history. Around the world people are moving from the countryside into the wired megacities—and they are hungry for God like never before. The terms God and religion continue to rank in the top five Web searches (sex and pornography topics are usually number one).
People like Kristi are eagerly logging on to find answers to their questions about God, religion, and spirituality.
• According to Pew, 64 percent of Americans are seeking spiritual information on the Internet. 11
• George Barna believes that currently fifty million people may rely on the Internet to provide their faith-based experiences. 12
• Heidi Campbell, a Texas A&M professor who studies religion on the Internet, said, “Almost two-thirds of people that go online at some point have done so . . . to seek out religious information, or to get involved in a religious conversation or for other [religious] purposes.” 13
There have never been more people yearning for spiritual truth in the history of the world. The time is ripe for Bible-believing Christians to go online with a compelling, professional presentation that greets these seekers with biblical truth.
The gospel message never changes—our presentation of it must evolve and adapt constantly to the ever-changing culture.
Spirituality is in—but not necessarily Christianity. In this postmodern era, it’s cool to be a seeker, but the exclusivity of following Jesus Christ, “the way, the truth and the life,” is more difficult for postmodern thinkers.
As this new era dawns, people are flocking to the Internet to learn about spirituality. Reggie McNeal wrote in The Present Future, “Although intrigue with institutional religion is down, interest in spirituality is up. A 2003 Gallup poll indicates that a vast majority of Americans say that religion has an impact on every area of their life.” 14
What’s Up Ahead?
In his book The Road Ahead, Bill Gates, founder and chairman of Microsoft, explained, “We are watching something historic happen, and it will affect the world seismically.” Gates said that he was “thrilled” to be able to squint “into the future and [catch] that first revealing hint of revolutionary possibilities” at this “beginning of an epochal change,” the most massive economic shift since the Industrial Revolution. 15
I found an interesting quote regarding change in the world of communication:
An incredible new technology enables the transmission of text on a worldwide basis. It rapidly reduces production and distribution costs and for the first time allows large numbers of people to access text and pictures in their own homes. 16
You might suppose this quote referred to the Internet, but you would be wrong. It’s describing the Gutenberg printing press—an invention that revolutionized the world and led to the Reformation in the church and the Enlightenment in the secular world.
Using the latest technology to spread the gospel has been part of God’s evangelism strategy for the church since the beginning. Paul gave us insight into this concept when he wrote to the Corinthian church:
For although I am free from all people, I have made myself a slave to all, in order to win more people. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win those under the law. To those who are outside the law, like one outside the law—not being outside God’s law, but under the law of Christ—to win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by all means save some. (1 Cor. 9:19–22)
The Internet has become a twenty-first-century Roman road. But it is also a worldwide marketplace, a theater, front porch and backyard fence, and an office watercooler. The World Wide Web can be like an electronic train terminal connecting all the various parts of your evangelism strategy and providing the crucial means for people to respond directly to the gospel message.
Digital devices and the Internet represent a convergence of media in one delivery mechanism—including video, print, telephone, video games, e-mail, social networks, blogs, online television, audio and video phone—the list goes on and on. As a result, Internet evangelists are putting these tools to use while harnessing the energy of exploding social networks to connect with searching souls all over the world.
Waking the Fishermen
But the church has yet to fully embrace this Internet revolution—especially regarding evangelism on the Web. Leonard Sweet expressed his frustration with the church’s apparent technophobia:
At a time when science and technology are having an adrenaline rush, few in the church get IT (with IT referring to Information Technology). The notoriously technophobic mainline (then old line) church has drifted beyond the “sidelines.” 17
But there is a stirring taking place among the NetCasters who sense that the Internet waters are rolling with fish. The fishers of men are beginning to recognize the immense potential for harvest that exists through the World Wide Web. They are mending their nets, fitting out their vessels, and sending out the call for NetCasters to rise up and seize this glorious day for the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
A Safe Place to Go
Our friend Kristi from the University of Virginia says the Internet provided the comfortable environment she needed to get answers to her spiritual questions.
“I don’t know that I would have explored matters and issues as deeply if I hadn’t had that safe place to go where I didn’t feel silly asking questions and seeking out answers. It guided me to Christ and presented the gospel in such a real way.
“I continued to visit EveryStudent.com and dialogued with a few people through the Web site. I was so excited to get their responses. I was checking my e-mail several times a day because I wanted to know what these new friends had to say—I wanted these questions answered. The people who responded were so kind and joyful, and they told me they would be praying for me. I was amazed that they loved me so much through these e-mails.
“After I went to the site and I became a Christian, I wanted to share EveryStudent.com with other people; and I wanted my friends to ask about it, so I actually borrowed Adam’s T-shirt and started wearing it around my school. People would stop and ask me about it.
“EveryStudent.com led me to the most important decision I have ever made and the best thing that has ever happened to me in my whole life. I didn’t think that anything on the Web could actually change my life. But it did, and I now realize that was just God directing me to what would be the best way to reach me.
“That was God—using this tool that I was on every single day—to reach me.”
There are millions of people like Kristi, searching for God, seeking truth and answers on the Internet. And Jesus commands us to go and meet them where they are—taking a never-changing message into an ever-changing world.
It is clear that on the one hand, traditional church membership is in sharp decline, and on the other hand, the adoption of communication through the Internet and Web-based communication is rapidly growing around the world. I believe the time has come for the church to adopt an Internet evangelism strategy, train individual saints in online outreach and encourage creative Internet ministry, and harness the tremendous power of the Internet to take the gospel to this burgeoning online population.
It is time for the NetCasters to arise!
Like the man from Macedonia in the apostle Paul’s vision (see Acts 16:9–10), the sea of humanity is calling to you, “Come online and help us.” Jesus said He would make us fishers of men. Are you ready to become a NetCaster?