Reaching The Online Generation

An Initiative of CityTeam Ministries

Developing an Online Strategy to Reach Nations

Posted on | March 13, 2009 |

Chris and Dana Byers are good, sharp people.  They founded Blue Door Ministries and live in the UK with their two children.  They partner with LifeChurch.tv to add an international flavor (or flavour) to their online experiences.  Tony Steward, the online community organizer for LifeChurch.tv, talked about them (and me!) in his blog a few weeks ago.  

Simply put, Chris and Dana want to use online tools to connect with lost people and build relationships that encourage people to fall in love with Jesus.  They have a global vision and want to live in ways that have HUGE Kingdom impact. 

They’re my kind of people. 

We talked yesterday on Skype.  Like any good conversation, ours got me thinking. 

How would I combine online and offline activity to reach people, meet their needs, and disciple them to Christ? 

So, here is what I would do.  (Chris, Dana, anybody doing church and missions online, feel free to jump in and offer suggestions and/or course corrections.) 

Run the Numbers 

I went on over to Alexa.com to get some facts about internet usage and the UK.  Alexa allows you to search by category and region, so I like starting a lot of my searches there. 

I learned some things about the UK.  (I picked the UK because that is what we talked about on Skype.)  There are five social media sites/tools in the top 20 sites for the UK - Facebook (#2), Bebo (#11), Blogger (#12), MySpace (#13), and Flicker (#17).  (Wordpress was # 21.)  I went to each of those sites to see what percentage of their users live in the UK.  Here is what I learned:

  • 7.5% of Facebook users live in the UK.
  • 45.1% of Bebo users live in the UK.
  • 3.1% of MySpace users live in the UK.
  • 2.8% of Blogger users live in the UK.
  • 4.8% of Flickr users live in the UK. 

Then I decided to run the numbers for Twitter, Plurk, and Second Life - great places to meet new people online.

  • 7.3% of Twitter users live in the UK.  Twitter is #93 in the UK Top 100 sites.
  • 2.3% of Plurk users live in the UK.  Plurk is not in the UK Top 100 sites.  (#12,823)
  • 6.9% of Second Life users live in the UK.  Second Life is not in the UK Top 100 sites. (#2,075) 

I also learned that there are two porn sites in the UK Top 100. 

If you were running the numbers for your target area, you would probably want to consider other data sources.  Since this is just an example exercise, I’m going to stop with my Alexa search.  Additional sources would increase the accuracy of my conclusions, strategy, and tactics. 

What does the research mean? 

Unfortunately this data isn’t the best.  You cannot tell how many people in the UK actually use these sites.  Number that indicated the percentage and numbers of people in the UK who have a Facebook profile, for example, would be better. 

But, the numbers do tell me that I need to have an active online presence in each of the social media sites in the UK Top 20 sites.  Also, they tell me that it is probably better to spend time more time on Twitter than on Plurk - especially since Search.Twitter.Com has an advanced search feature that lets you search for Twitter-ers living in a specific geographical region.  

Other social media sites, like Second Life, shouldn’t be ignored.  I wouldn’t include them in your initial online engagement plan unless you are already a user or have a partnership with someone who is a user.  You can hit these down the line as you find people passionate about these additional social media services or encounter online communities you want to reach.  For example, if you find a community of people talking on Twitter about their activities in Second Life and you decide it’s worth the time to learn Second Life to connect with that community. 

Also, porn is everywhere.  Any online strategy must deal with the reality of porn - on the consumer, computer, and producer levels.  Chances are, as leaders emerge from the Harvest, they might have porn addictions or might have been involved in the creation of porn.  It’s probably a good idea to go ahead and develop an accountability system for your online ministers.  Additionally, you are going to want to start building relationships with people and ministries who can counsel people who suffer from porn addiction, people coming out of the adult industry, and the spouses of the addicted to porn.  These partnerships should be local, if possible, but they don’t have to be. 

Once you have enough data, you need to establish your strategic and tactical questions to help you make SMART goals and outline daily ministry activities.  I wrote a little about Strategy and Tactics here but I will go into detail in the following paragraphs. 

Establish a Strategy Question 

The strategy question has to be bigger than what you and your team can accomplish alone.  It establishes the vision for everything you do. 

For the purposes of this example, here is my strategy question: 

“What will it take to use online and offline tools to catalyze a Gospel Planting Movement (link) that results in starting 100,000 new discovery groups among lost communities in the UK in the next 10 years?” 

There are several follow-up questions to this one:

  • What resources are necessary…?
  • What partnerships are necessary…?
  • What information is necessary…?
  • What activities (macro-level) are necessary…? 

The focus of the overall strategy is to give you and your team a big picture of all the things that need to be in place and working to mobilize everything necessary to accomplish the vision. 

Establish a Tactical Question 

The tactical question is only slightly different from the strategy question, but it focuses on what you and your team need to do to fulfill the vision cast by the strategy question. 

“What do we (you and your team) need to do to use online and offline tools to catalyze a Gospel Planting Movement that results in starting 100,000 new discovery groups among lost communities in the UK in the next 10 years?” 

And, like the strategy questions, there are follow-ups.  There are many, many follow-up questions, so I will list just a few here.

  • What resources does my team need to gather so that we can …?
  • What does my team need to do to meet people and build relationships to…?
  • What does my team need to learn to …?
  • What online activities does my team need to participate in to…?
  • How will my team link online connections and offline activities to establish real-time relationships?

 Establish S.M.A.R.T. Goals 

As you develop and answer strategic and tactical questions, you need to set S.M.A.R.T. goals for your team and each team member should set their own.  

SMART Goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely 

“I will talk to lost people.” is not a SMART goal.  “I will go to the park three times a week and try to have 3 conversations with lost people each week.” is a much better goal.  It describes a specific activity, it’s measurable, it’s attainable, it’s realistic, and it’s timely. 

Within the context of this exercise, however, some good SMART goals might be:

  • I will have 30 daily prayer partners by June 30, 2009 to pray for lost people in online communities who live in the UK.  I will replicate this prayer strategy within two others committed to church planting and reaching other online communities by June 30, 2009.
  • I will mobilize and train 20 people to look for persons of peace online and start online or offline Discovery Bible Studies by the end of 2009.
  • I will form two partnerships with organizations who want to implement small group planting methodologies as a pilot project within their organization or as part of their strategy to reach the lost people in the UK by the end of 2009.
  • I will train people who start, at minimum, a total of five Discovery Bible Studies with lost people in online communities in the UK by the end of 2009.  These studies may be online or offline.
  • I will raise $25,000 to fund ongoing activities to reach the lost people in the UK who live in online communities by January 31, 2010.

It is real easy to go crazy here, but I would suggest that you limit each team member to five to six goals.  You don’t want team members to take on more goals than they can handle.  That will lead to frustration and burnout.  Goals are designed to help team members do what they would normally do when they get to those frustrated, overwhelming moments when they don’t know what to do - if that makes sense.  Good SMART goals make sure you never wake up wondering, “What am I going to do today?” 

Remember, SMART goals are designed to serve the team member.  Team members do not serve SMART goals.  Be flexible.  Work in time to evaluate goals and see if they really are realistic. (This is especially important if you are involved in pioneer ministries.)  Remember that team members have different skills, abilities, and responsibilities.  For example, a stay-at-home mom or dad must set SMART goals that take into account their responsibilities in the home and raising their children.  Depending on life stage and capacity, some team members may have six SMART goals and others may have two.  Bi-vocational leaders and volunteers need to remember the time constraints on activities outside their job and their home.  

Make sure your goals point to activities that answer the tactical questions for the team and the strategic questions for the mission. 

Here is a link for more info on S.M.A.R.T. goals.  http://www.topachievement.com/smart.html 

Daily Activity 

Once you’ve stated your SMART goals, you need to identify the activities that help you reach your goals.  If done well, this step will save your life, your family, your ministry, and your sanity.  

There are three ’sticking points’ for ministry.

  • Knowing when you’ve actually finished work for the day.
  • Knowing when you’ve put in a successful day’s work.
  • Measuring progress when it doesn’t seem that you are reaching any of your goals. 

That is why David Watson wrote this article  on his blog.  Read it.

Here is the bottom line:  You establish goals to help you identify what you need to do each day, each week, and each month.  Then you measure what you do.  Your team holds you accountable for what you said you would do daily, weekly, and monthly. 

Some goals require consistent effort over a long period of time to reach.  If you, your team, and your partners measure your success compared to your goals, you are going to feel like a failure.  Especially in pioneer ministries!  In pioneer settings, most mission agencies allow two to four years of ramp-up time before they really start looking for significant results.  That doesn’t mean you have two to four years of inactivity!  It just means that it often takes two to four years to lay the foundation for significant transformational ministry.  If you identify the daily activities you need to do to reach your goals, then you won’t feel like a total failure at the end of the day.  You won’t be surprised by a deadline on a SMART goal because you would have been working to reach that goal every day. 

For example, my SMART goal may be: “I will have 30 daily prayer partners by June 30, 2009 to pray for lost people in online communities who live in the UK.  I will replicate this prayer strategy within two others committed to church planting and reaching other online communities by June 30, 2009.” 

Here are the activities I need to do to reach that goal:

  • I need to make a list of thirty people that I can call, Skype, ooVoo, or Tokbox.
  • I need to write one name on each day of this month along with the method I will use to contact that person.
  • Each day, I will call the person for that day.  I will ask them how I can pray for them.  I will pray for them right then, if possible.
  • At the end of the conversation, I will ask them to pray for a specific personal request and for God to reveal persons of peace (link) as my team engages lost people online.
  • I will share this strategy as I encounter other people in ministry and encourage them to adopt it in their ministry. 

That is one example.  I also wrote a post about using Twitter daily to identify needs within a particular geographic region.  You could what’s in that post to establish a daily routine for finding online communities that live in your region.  That article is here.

Accountability 

Journal your strategic questions, tactical questions, SMART goals, and daily activities online, if possible.  Make this journal available for team members, prayer partners, and donors.  Tell stories about what happened as you worked toward your daily goals.  Share successes and failures.  When you identify course-corrections, talk about them in this public journal and discuss why and how you made those corrections. 

I’m working on making my journal public on http://www.reachingtheonlinegeneration.com.  There are still a lot of holes in what I share, but I want to get to a point where I share everything. 

Your prayer partners and donors will appreciate the transparency.  Other people wanting to do what you’re doing will appreciate your experiences.  It will also create a level of credibility as you try to form relationships with other ministries. 

By the way - if you are worried about security, you may want to post yours on a password protected site.  Be careful when sharing stories about the people you are trying to reach.  Everything is tag-able and searchable now-a-days.  Make up names, if you need to. 

Prayer Strategy 

If you are in ministry and you don’t have a prayer strategy, you are crazy.  You cannot do anything without prayer.  Use what I wrote above as a guide to establish your own prayer strategy.  You can also look here and here

Conclusion 

Whew!  That was a lot of thinking!  I’m glad to get it out of my head!  It’s only the tip of the iceberg, but I hope it helps you and your ministry launch a plan that uses cyberspace to reach the lost.  Please ask questions in the comments and let me know of areas in which you want me to elaborate. 

Thank you, Chris and Dana, for sparking this idea train.  I appreciate your indulgence as I used the UK, your mission field, as an extended example in this document.  You are doing great work and I can wait to see what God is going to do through you.  Please add to the conversation here in the comments or on your own blogs so that the few of us engaging in missions online can learn from you.

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Comments

3 Responses to “Developing an Online Strategy to Reach Nations”

  1. Jon Dodson
    March 13th, 2009 @ 3:55 pm

    Great post and thought provoking! Extremely helpful as I wrestle the same Kingdom questions. Love to be a part of processing this with you and others. Look forward to your future posts along with so many others that are resonating with this concerted effort all over the globe!

  2. Byers Family Blog » Blog Archive » Reaching the Online Generation
    March 15th, 2009 @ 11:08 pm

    [...] it really explains much of what we’re currently experiencing and trying to understand more. CLICK HERE to read Paul’s blog [...]

  3. Reaching the Online Generation at neoLeader
    March 24th, 2009 @ 12:19 am

    [...] “services” with 3,100 attending and 153 people trusting in Christ! Paul Watson from the Reaching the Online Generation blog inspires people to do online evangelism strategically by asking… “What will it [...]

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    Who is God?' was one of the top three sentences googled in 2007, according to Google Zeitgeist. According to Alexa, the top two religious websites are Muslim, with BibleGateway coming in at a close third. The Online Generation is spiritual. They are seeking. And the church is the last place they would go to find spiritual fulfillment. This site is dedicated to those walking with The Online Generation and living lives of obedience to all the commands of Jesus Christ.
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