Reports released Tuesday show that in 2013, record numbers of people made a commitment to follow Jesus thanks to Billy Graham's online evangelism ministry.
PeaceWithGod.net, which uses Scripture, video and live chats to share the gospel, has helped 4 million people become believers since 2011 - but half of those commitments came last year. Additionally, more than 55 percent of the site's 19 million visitors came in 2013.
"The numbers are hard to fathom, frankly," said John Cass, the director of Internet evangelism at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. "They're exciting, but difficult to really grasp or comprehend. However, on a daily basis I get the opportunity to read through transcripts of chats taking place between visitors to our site and our trained volunteer counselors, and I can tell you that the world is being impacted for Christ."
Billy Graham founded his evangelistic association in 1950. From the start, books, radio broadcasts and newspaper columns were a key part of his work. But as technology has changed, so too has evangelism.
People go to the Internet for answers. Tim Tebow famously spurred 90 million Google searches for "John 3:16" simply by wearing the verse on his eye black during the 2009 national college football championship,
Out of 7 billion people on the planet, 2.4 billion have Internet access. According to data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 85 percent of American adults use the Internet, and more than a third of them use the Internet to look for information about religion and spirituality.
In a 2009 article for Lausanne World Pulse, Danish theologian and Internet scholar Peter Fischer-Nielsen wrote about the potential for online mission.
"In countries where traditional mission approaches are difficult because of the religious or political climate, the Internet can be an easy, safe, and cheap way in," he wrote. "Although some regimes try to control which websites a population can visit, it is almost impossible to suppress unwanted information altogether given the fluent and decentralized character of the Internet combined with the receiver's possibility of surfing the Internet in privacy."
Indeed, so-called online missionaries worldwide have been able to reach people in places such as Iran, China and Pakistan.
To Fischer-Nielsen, the Internet can be particularly effective because, in contrast to more traditional medias such as radio, television or print, it allows for more than just the dissemination of information.
"A church in mission will always try to call people into community with God and with other people. When it comes to media, the Church is often better at distributing the Christian message than creating Christian communities," he wrote. "Internet mission is interesting in that regard, since it, more than other media is able to provide a social space where people can interact in various ways and meet as a church."
John Cass agrees, and he believes it is in part the more than 300 volunteers who work with PeaceWithGod.net that have made the website such a successful evangelism tool.
"They take the online interaction and make it a much more personal one-on-one experience. They chat with people on PeaceWithGod.net, guide them through a free online discipleship course, and respond to spiritual questions by email."