'Where Are Youth? They're Online'
September 1, 2004 - On July 2, 2004, "Steppz" e-mailed a question to passageway.org, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's youth Web site. ¦ "I'm a new convert, and I'm 15," wrote the young student. "I want to become an evangelist when I grow up, but I don't know how to go about starting it from now. What should I do?"
by Blaine Howard
Questions like this are common at passageway.org. BGEA's Christian Guidance department, which responds to thousands of requests for spiritual help each month, soon sent "Steppz" a reply with sound advice, encouragement and Scripture.
But for young people who live much of their lives in front of computer screens, there is vast potential to provide more than an e-mailed answer to questions about personal evangelism. And the Billy Graham Training Center is readying materials that will meet that need where it is most prominent.
"Where are youth? They're online," said Mike Beresford, ministry manager of Strategic Ventures at the Training Center. Research backs him up. According to a joint study conducted in 2003 by Yahoo! Inc. and Carat North America (an independent media research company), the Internet has replaced television as the number one media outlet for people age 13 to 24 in North America.
Anticipating this shift, BGEA launched passageway.org in 2000 to meet the growing need for a trustworthy online Christian resource for youth. The site is updated regularly with articles on spiritual growth and popular culture, as well as testimonies and answers to more than 200 questions submitted by visitors. Each month passageway.org sees an average of about 40,000 visits, and hundreds of young people have registered commitments to Christ online since the site's inception.
Those numbers could increase dramatically with the introduction of online youth evangelism resources. "There are young people who are hungry for this type of training," Beresford said. "They want to know exactly how to share their faith. They're ready to be challenged to do something that goes beyond 'commitment' to 'surrender'—giving themselves completely to God's will."
Several national youth leadership organizations and denominations are interested in using the training materials on a large scale as soon as they become available.
"A significant need that has come up over and over again is the need for solid, immediate follow-up—both for brand-new Christians and for kids who have grown up in the church without getting serious about their faith," Beresford said. The online training will incorporate this early guidance along with a simple, powerful course that will challenge teens to be bold in sharing Christ with a hurting world.
Millions of young people like "Steppz" log on each day using screen names to keep their identities anonymous. They surf the Internet, looking for meaning and purpose, each one alone behind a screen. At passageway.org, the ultimate desire is to connect them with the Lord Jesus Christ and show them how to share their faith with others—one screen at a time.