How We Started

‘Who is God?’ is one of the most profound questions anyone can ask.  Instead of turning to a pastor or Christian friend, over one million people turned to the one source they felt they could trust – Google.   According to Google Zeitgeist, ‘Who is God?’ is one of the top three sentences searched in 2007. [1]

The Online Generation turns to Google for answers to their deepest spiritual questions.  Unfortunately, Google is a search engine – a filter, not a discerning spiritual guide. It points Seekers to thousands – and sometimes millions – of different paths ranked by popularity. And, according to Alexa[2], the top two religious sites accessed on the internet in 2007 were Muslim.[3] The third was BibleGateway.com[4] , a popular Bible resource for Christians. Although a search for ‘church’ results in 310,000,000 hits in Google, and most modern churches have websites, this trend indicates that relatively few Seekers go to church websites to begin their search for God.

But, as one French pastor discovered, Google can also be a powerful tool to introduce Seekers to Christ. Nine years ago, Eric Celerier launched a web portal called Top Chretien (Top Mission).[5] This website reaches one million internet users every month. Originally, Eric designed this website for Christians, but a burden for evangelism soon took over. Three years ago, Eric and his team at Top Mission launched a new website[6] to address the questions of Seekers on the internet and guide them through a web journey to invite Jesus Christ into their lives. In addition to state of the art technology and search engine optimization, Eric uses Google AdWords to have his site appear as one of the top search options when Seekers google ‘Who is God?’

The original French site is now available in ten languages – English, Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, French, German, Dutch, Polish, Italian, and Farsi. Two thousand Seekers a day choose to follow Christ through these websites – 700,000 people per year! Thousands of men and women volunteers from major organizations around the world labor to follow up with these new Believers and get them involved in local churches to be discipled. Top Mission’s goal is to have an additional 35 languages available by 2012 to reach 90% of all internet users.

Yet the success of these sites and the enormity of Top Mission’s vision create a couple of problems. First, there are too many people coming to Christ per month for all the volunteers to contact personally and connect them with local churches. Second, many of the Seekers come from restricted access countries, like the Middle East and China, where connecting them with local bodies of Believers is difficult at best. At worst, connecting these new Believers with other Christians in their community is impossible because they are the first Christians in the area.

Divine Appointments

Early in 2008, Eric crossed paths with Pat Robertson, President of CityTeam Ministries. Five years ago, CityTeam Ministries refocused their mission to include discipleship methodologies from the Gospel Movement among the Bhojpuri people of North India – a movement that resulted in 40,000 new churches and approximately two million Believers over 14 years in an area known as ‘the graveyard of missions and missionaries.’ Since then, CityTeam has trained catalysts in several countries around the world. They’ve seen significant results in East and West Africa – over four thousand new churches in thirty eight months.[7] Some of these churches are in their fourth generation. Additionally, CityTeam is seeing Discovery Bible Study groups multiply among the urban poor in the Bay Area in California – they started 25 groups that reproduced 26 additional groups within two and a half months. CityTeam’s success in Africa and in the Bay Area comes from their application of Gospel Movement principles – particularly, find the Persons of Peace, discipling Persons of Peace and their communities to become obedient followers of Christ, and teaching them to do the same in other communities and multiply. In Gospel Movement methodologies, workers come out of the harvest with a commitment to obedience and multiplication that transforms entire communities – beginning with the Person of Peace and his or her family. Eric and Pat discovered that CityTeam Ministries has the experience Top Mission needs to keep up with the flood of new Believers coming through their sites. They worked together to schedule a time for teams from Top Mission and CityTeam to gather and brainstorm how they might partner to reach an Online Generation.

Significant Discoveries

In May 2008, teams from Top Mission and CityTeam Ministries met at CityTeam headquarters in San Jose, California. Over the weekend they examined the process used by Top Mission to find Seekers online and lead them to Christ. They also looked at ways to integrate Gospel Movement methodologies into the process. Their time together resulted in several significant discoveries.

The first focused on the Gospel Movement principle of the Person of Peace. The Person of Peace is the one God’s Holy Spirit prepares in advance to receive the Gospel and bring the Gospel to his or her entire community.[8] The hardest part of finding a Person of Peace is filtering the noise – looking beyond all the people clamoring for attention – to find the one God prepared. The internet – and Google – is the greatest filter ever invented. No other tool on the planet is as unencumbered by geography as the internet. No other tool allows over 700,000[9] potential persons of peace to identify themselves to those carrying the Gospel. And no other tool on the planet opens doors into a million communities and paves the way for a Gospel Movement on a scale and pace without precedent.

The second involved reaching entire communities with the Gospel. Although a Person of Peace might take the first step of their spiritual journey alone, Gospel Movement experience indicates they must immediately involve their community in the discovery process. This step is essential to rapid multiplication. Together, Top Mission and CityTeam realized the internet provides the tools needed for a Person of Peace to quickly invite their community into an online discovery process. Social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and others are collections of overlapping online communities. Email, Instant Messaging (IM), and Short Messenger Service (SMS) become the media for inviting online friends to join the Person of Peace in the discovery process. Services like Talkshoe[10], Skype[11] and ooVoo[12] allow those in the discovery process to interact with Scripture and one another to discover God through Creation-to-Christ Guided Discovery Bible Studies.

Community Organizers lead the first few Discovery Bible Studies and encourage group members to share what they have learned with others before the next meeting – that day if possible. Each Discovery Bible Study ends with the question, “Who do you know who needs to hear this story?” The overlapping nature of communities and the speed of communication online means that group members might share what they learned multiple times in multiple communities within a couple of hours of the original study. If one of their friends or family responds to the story, the facilitator starts another group in that community, around the initial point of contact. Thus, one group starts another, perhaps hours or days after the first group. This pattern – one person sharing information with someone, who shares with another, and so on – is called an idea virus.[13] Because communicating online is so effortless, remarkable ideas bounce from person to person. Since the internet doesn’t acknowledge geographical restraints or time zones, an idea may bounce around the globe several times in a twenty-four hour period. Since nothing is more remarkable than choosing to follow Christ, the potential of the Gospel passing from person to person, with an invitation into a discovery group, is astounding! Additionally, since group members are not told where they should share, it is conceivable that some would share with their offline community. Team members in Top Mission and CityTeam sat in stunned silence when they realized that what began as a single online engagement could spark online and offline Gospel Movements that circumnavigate the globe.

Running the Numbers

Eric Celerier, David Watson and other team members started assigning numbers to each phase of the process. Underneath Discovering God Groups, they wrote ‘10.’

“So, that has us starting ten Discovering God groups a month.” Pat said. “Not bad. That’s one hundred twenty new groups in a year.”

“No,” David and Eric said in unison. They grinned as they leaned across the table. “That’s ten new Discovering God groups per day!”

The room was quiet as that number soaked in.

Pat did the rough math. “That’s about three hundred to three hundred ten groups per month – about 3,650 new groups in one year! Is that even possible?”

“I think so,” said David. “We know the kind of multiplication we have in no-tech oral cultures and we know how many go through the Know God website and receive Christ. If only a fraction of those are Persons of Peace, then these projections are possible.”

The online world moves much faster than the world offline. One year online is the equivalent of seven years offline. While that timeframe compound opportunities, it compounds obstacles as well. As the group considered the enormity of these projections, obstacles revealed themselves, one-by-one.

  • Training enough Human (or Community) Catalysts to keep up with the demand for new groups. One full time Community Catalyst can interact with approximately ten to fifteen groups per week. Unpaid staff can interact with two to three groups per week.
  • Training emerging leaders fast enough to care for the needs of people in rapidly multiplying groups.
  • Finding enough partners to help meet the felt needs of people online. These include recovery programs for different forms of addiction and counseling for those in various crises.
  • Developing training curricula for all levels of Believers and leaders.

Conclusion

After the meeting with Top Mission and CityTeam Ministries, someone in the group made a passing remark, “Do you think God started the movement among the Bhojpuri and sparked the idea of the internet to eventually bring the Gospel to the whole world?”

“Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think – according to the power that works within you – to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21(HCSB)


[6] http://www.connaitredieu.com - ‘Connaitre Dieu’ means ‘Know God’ in French.

[7] SSA CP Master Summary Report dated June 7, 2008.

[8] Matthew 9, Luke 9 & 10

[9] The number of people who received the Gospel through Top Mission’s websites

[13] ‘Unleashing The Idea Virus’ by Seth Godin

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