Proposal: To equip leaders for mission and evangelism in an ever-changing world through a degree program in “Cyber-Missions and Internet Evangelism”. With the growth of the Internet and web ministries, the Christian educational establishment needs to provide global-level leadership in this developing area of missiology. Although formal programs exist for communication, radio evangelism, writing, journalism, and media-strategy, no curriculum exists covering this emerging ministry field.
Cyber-Missions refers to
the front-line use of the Internet in missions – for networking, team-building,
counseling and education.
Internet Evangelism is the specific application of the Web for outreach, through evangelistic websites, church pages, chat rooms, and email. It has great potential both in the West and the 10-40 Window. Internet Evangelism is an effective method of reaching unreached people groups in the 10-40 Window, and can also target very specific groups in the Western world.
There two disciplines overlap, and terms may be used interchangeably in this document.
Although the curriculum outlined here could be taught within a residential establishment, the developments in online education would enable such a course to be offered online, though validated and overseen by a recognized educational center. Advantages:
· Low cost
· Students can be located anywhere in the world
· Course can be self-paced, and studied on a part-time/evening basis
· There are a limited number of qualified practitioners qualified to be the faculty teachers and supervisors for this course, and they are in a range of locations around the world.
Online education has come of age with many of the software, security and pedagogical issues being ironed out over the last two years. Discussion in online forums and the use of email between student and supervisor have proven practical and useful in facilitating graduate degree courses requiring reflection on practice. It is therefore the optimal method of delivery for many subjects. This is especially true for a discipline focused on the online environment and where the participants may be dispersed geographically with many prospective students living internationally.
Current practitioners in cyber-missions and web-evangelism and those wishing to enter this area, as well as field-missionaries seeking new methods to evangelize and disciple unreached people groups.
Is This A Needed Area Of Study?
Internet evangelism and cyber-missions are rapidly emerging areas of missions. Even though there are relatively few full-time practitioners, Internet ministries are gaining acceptance in the missions community. Cyber-missions departments in major missions organizations are developing. In Web Evangelism, some post-modern churches find most new members coming in through their websites. The Internet has enormous potential for reaching closed countries, for targeting unreached people groups, for training of lay leaders and for evangelizing those who cannot or will not approach a local church. As the potential of this discipline becomes recognized, trained and equipped leaders will be needed, who can in turn train and envision others.
What Is The Size Of The Potential Student Population For This Course?
Formal research does not exist at this time, however this is an emerging area and journal articles on cyber-missions and Internet evangelism have a high level of interest. The concept of such a post-graduate course was considered by some Internet Evangelism Coalition leaders recently and generated a high level of enthusiasm.
What Other Courses Such as This Exist?
IEC (Internet Evangelism Coalition) and Campus Crusade both offer brief non-formal courses. Some courses on post-modernism address the Internet extensively as a cultural medium. However there do not seem to be any regionally-accredited graduate level course designed to equip full-time practitioners and strategists in cyber-missions and Internet evangelism.
Are There Any Text-Books Available?
Many textbooks have been published exploring sociological aspects of the Internet and general evangelistic and missionary communication. Andrew Careaga and others have wrien on E-vangelism and Tony Whiaker has compiled an online resource web-evangelism.com which includes study questions. Many secular books and online resources cover technical, design, and usability issues.
Who Would Comprise the Faculty?
There are perhaps 50 key people available in this area at the moment with perhaps a dozen of these having suitable doctorates and about the same number with M.Div. / M.A. degrees and extensive online experience. The originator of this course proposal, John Edmiston, is available to be a course administrator, and has contacts with many other potential faculty.
What About The Technical Aspects?
Students could develop an emphasis on content, or on the technological aspects, but all students would be required to know something of both sides of the discipline. Issues such as accessibility, online security, types of websites, the strategic use of web databases, bandwidth limitations and designing with the end-user in mind should be part of the training of all students.
The areas of cyber-missions and Internet evangelism have so far evolved in an ad hoc fashion. Practitioners have now accumulated a sizable body of common practice and knowledge. As this field grows, there is a clear need for formal training and for systematization. Any Christian establishment developing such a course now will have the opportunity to pioneer formal training in an emerging ministry field.
Minimal as classes would be online.
Could possibly be funded by tapping into the Christian business and technology community.
Anticipated Course Structure
1. Preferably an entirely online course using adult-learning strategies. Local proctoring of tests by an on-the-spot supervisor can ensure student work integrity. Much of the course will be on a practical project-learning basis.
2. If some residency is required, this may be able to be achieved with regional residency programs.
3. The course would accept both M.Div. and M.S. (and other suitable) graduates. M.Div. graduates would be required to acquire some I.T. competencies and M.S. graduates some theological and missiological understandings.
4. The modules would include topics such as: Research Methodologies, Dissertation Writing, A Theology of Cyber-Space, Ministry-Focused Website Construction, Cross-cultural Communication and Cultural Sensitivity, Online Communication, Approaches To Internet Evangelism, Targeting Special Interest/Affinity Groups by the Bridge Strategy, Website Architecture and Usability, Understanding HTML and CSS, Effective Graphic Design, Content Management, Reaching Members of World Religions, Overview of Cyber-Missions, Database Construction and Management, Virtual Teams, Reaching Post-Moderns Via The Internet, Counseling In Cyber-Space, Website Promotion Strategies, Building Online Community, The Construction and Funding of Christian Community Internet Cafes, Issues in Cyber-Ethics, Catering For Accessibility, Poverty and the Digital Divide, Developing A Cyber-Missions/Internet Evangelism Department In Your Organization, Email/Web Security for Missions.
5. Dissertation – either research-based or project-based.
6. Cyber-Missions dissertations would be expected to have a strong missiological and developing world emphasis.
7. As an online course it could be taught using adjunct faculty within USA and the West.
Implications For Missions/Evangelism
As a Whole
Development of an M.A./Ph.D. qualification in this emerging area of missions would help to both validate and systematize the areas of Cyber-Missions and Internet Evangelism. It would produce a group of highly trained leaders who could implement Cyber-Missions departments in mission agencies and Internet Evangelism departments within mega-churches and denominational evangelism divisions. This unleashing of the power of the Internet to serve the Gospel would enable a major leap forward to be made in the achievement of the Great Commission.
This paper is a brief overview and a starting point for further discussion and reflection, rather than a final formulation. Its originator, John Edmiston, and other qualified commentators, are very happy to enter into dialogue to develop an optimal course structure.