“Years ago, I struggled with fear of rejection when sharing Christ with others,” wrote June. “I would have never guessed in my wildest imaginations that one day God would use me to share with people from all over the world.”
June is a “chat coach” who now eagerly shares the gospel as a volunteer with Search for Jesus, an innovative Internet outreach of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Participating in global outreach was once accomplished one of two ways – give money or pick up, pack up, and carry the gospel worldwide. Now volunteers with SFJ are trained and equipped to be world missionaries without leaving the comfort of home. (Visit searchforjesus.net.)
“We hear many times from those who’ve done this ministry that they feel more comfortable sharing the gospel in general,” said Mark Appleton, director of Internet evangelism for BGEA.
The Great Commission
“People who won’t open the door when you knock will converse with you online for an hour or with questions by email,” Appleton told AFA Journal. “This is where the world interacts now, the new public square. It’s where people are, and we need to be there with the gospel.”
“People are searching for answers, communication, and contact in cyberspace,” added Will Graham. “With Search for Jesus, we’re meeting people right where they are with the answers they’re seeking. In many ways, Search for Jesus has become our biggest arena yet as we proclaim the Good News of Jesus,” Graham, grandson of the late Billy Graham, is vice president and associate evangelist at BGEA.
With resources available in the top five online languages, BGEA has the potential to share the gospel with 60% of online users and more than one-third of the world’s population. SFJ is presently most active in the U.S., Brazil, Algeria, Thailand, Egypt, Syria, Nepal, Colombia, Morocco, and Myanmar.
SFJ’s mission is to engage people with the gospel, creating online opportunities for them to access, understand, and apply it to their lives. The SFJ website is the anchor site for volunteers, while those seeking help or answers to spiritual questions go to Peace With God (peacewithgod.net). At this site, visitors can interact live with trained volunteers by chat, text, email, or a discipleship course.
The great need
Any online visitor can view videos or read the text of a clear presentation of the gospel in four steps. Some videos combine music with engaging sound bites from BGEA staff members.
For instance, one video includes Billy and Franklin Graham making statements such as, “God loves you. And He loves you with a love that you don’t even know anything about, because there is no human love comparable to divine love,” and “You have to repent of your sins. That means be willing to change your way of living. You may have no power to do it, but if you surrender to Christ, He’ll give you the power.”
If visitors to the site click “Yes,” indicating they have prayed a prayer of salvation, then they will be given an opportunity to have an online coach for five weeks, during which they will become more grounded in God’s Word and eventually be led to a local church. If they click “No,” they have the opportunity to send email questions.
At any time while on peacewithgod.net, they can click on a chat button to speak live with a trained volunteer coach. Other sites are designed specifically for other language or culture-driven contexts.
For instance, one Middle Eastern woman whose mother still teaches Sharia (Islamic) law came to know Jesus through an SFJ site designed specifically for those in Middle Eastern countries. She began to read the digital Bible link offered during an online chat, and she came to realize the truth of Jesus as her Savior.
“When people go online to search for these elusive elements, we’re able to meet them there,” Graham said. “We’ve been able to carry the gospel to areas where I would never be allowed to go preach, areas where people are desperate for the hope that can be found only in Jesus Christ.”
The great opportunity
“This is probably not something a new Christian would want to commit to,” suggested Appleton. “We want to make sure people are demonstrating a consistent walk with the Lord and wanting to serve while articulating how the gospel has affected them.”
The process to become a volunteer may be as rigorous as some readers’ last job interview. But SFJ welcomes applications from those 18 or older.
First, an applicant must decide which aspect of the ministry he/she would like to participate in: live chat/text coach, email response, discipleship through the online five-week course, prayer ministry, or church ministry.
The SFJ candidate then completes an online application, which includes character references. Next, a phone interview may last up to 30 minutes. Applicants pay a small fee for an outside service to do a background check.
Finally, if approved, the applicant begins training, which includes both online videos and hands-on training with simulated scenarios common to the appropriate position as an SFJ volunteer.
Though they are thoroughly trained, volunteers are never left alone to sink or swim.
“We train people in what to do,” said Appleton. “Even after training is complete, we do quarterly reviews with volunteers to encourage them.
In addition, we have geographically spread meetings where you can meet and train with other volunteers, and a national meeting every other year.”
Not all volunteer choices require live online interaction with visitors. Other choices include email coach, discipleship coach, prayer volunteer, and volunteer church coordinator.
Just as with BGEA’s Crusades, Will Graham emphasized that the SFJ experience is designed to connect new believers to a local church as quickly as possible and to help them start their new life in Christ on a solid foundation.
The great harvest
Jesus said in John 4:35, “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.”
Search for Jesus evangelistic websites and volunteers harvest in these fields daily. The passion to love others and point them to Jesus Christ drives SFJ’s mission through its volunteers.
In the first half of 2019:
- 4,624,813 people explored the gospel on their websites.
- 137,537 people from the U.S. and around the world requested personal follow-up about making a decision for Christ.
From April 2011 to July 8, 2019, there have been 13,479,278 indicated decisions for Christ via the work of Search for Jesus websites and ministry volunteers.
Luke 10:2 teaches, “And he said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into this harvest.’”
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the September 2019 print edition of The AFA Journal. It is also found online here.