This article first appeared in the Effective Evangelism column of the Christian Research Journal, volume31, number3 (2008). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org
One of the most gratifying aspects of using the Internet is being able to have immediate access to the writings of thousands of talented, informed authors, whether they are scholars or novices, Christians or non-Christians. The Internet has made it possible for any person to have a public voice and a following. Web sites can be started for little or no cost, and maintained with a minimum of effort. The Christian with an evangelistic mission is faced with many questions in terms of deciding how to best take advantage of what the Web has to offer.
Choose: Blog or Web site? You can engage in evangelism or discipleship in the form of personal, interactive communication online through electronic mail (e-mail), newsletters, or forums (such as theologyweb.com or christiandiscussionforums.org). If you’re interested in communicating to a wider audience, you may consider two alternatives: a “blog” (short for Web log) or a Web site.
A blog is a type of Web site on which a person (called a “user”) publishes recurring entries, with the most recent entries appearing first. Blogs have become exceptionally popular recently. As of early 2008, the Internet-based journal Technorati had reported that it tracks nearly 113 million blogs, with more than 175,000 new blogs starting every day.1 A blog offers a unique opportunity for the Christian apologist to act as an online columnist commenting on issues of the day.2
Blog entries may be of any length. Most readers, however, will expect an entry to be no shorter than a few sentences but no longer than a magazine article.
If you wish to offer longer articles, a full Web site would better suit reader expectations. A Web site offers broader functions and opportunities for communication. (If you own a Web site, of course, you can also use it to host your own blog.)3
Learn the Technical Details. Blogs are easy to use. Anyone who is familiar with a word processing program, such as Microsoft Word, can easily master the functions of a blog. Blogging services offer “control panels” with instructions that allow the user to tailor a blog’s appearance and manage its content. Starting a blog is a simple matter of signing up and publishing at your leisure.
Operating a Web site, in contrast, may require you to train yourself in certain programming features. If you are a programming novice, there are several software products available that allow you to create a Web site using “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) technology, without learning technical code. Inputting text with a WYSIWYG program is little more complex than inputting with a standard word processing program. Importing images into your design is as simple as using a “drag and drop” method, the same way you move icons on your desktop or main computer screen display. A WYSIWYG editor will be sufficient if you plan to keep your online presence small and your updates infrequent, and do not plan to make use of flashy Web site functions like streaming audio and video.
If you are comfortable with trying more advanced programming, or wish to maintain a more robust Web site, you should acquire instructional materials on hyper-text markup language (HTML), the programming code that governs a Web site’s appearance. I initially learned HTML by copying a predecessor’s work, but later found helpful books4 that explained more advanced functions in a non-technical way. If you work directly in HTML, you will need HTML editing software. You can try both WYSIWYG and direct HTML editing with a program like CoffeeCup that allows you to work in either format.
You will also need a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) program to transfer documents from your computer to the Internet. I find that an FTP program like CuteFTP, which looks and functions like a Microsoft Windows environment and allows the user to drag and drop files from one location to another, is the most user-friendly.
Consider the Cost. Creating an online presence is not expensive if you are willing to do the work yourself. Users no longer even need to pay for monthly Internet service; some manage their online presence from free terminals at public libraries. Of course, the maxim “you get what you pay for” applies: spending more allows for more flexibility and freedom.
If you choose to blog, you may do so for free on many blogging services, such as Blogger and WordPress. If you prefer a Web site, many Internet providers offer free Web space as part of their package. If you anticipate a significant amount of Web site content or traffic, however, you may surpass restrictions on space and use offered by your provider. At that point you should contract with a Web hosting service. A typical personal Web site can be hosted for as little as $3–5 per month, while a full-fledged ministry Web site can be had for as little as $7 per month. Web hosts may also offer a money-saving bonus by providing you with their own HTML and FTP programs to use. If these are not available, you may obtain HTML editing and FTP programs for as little as $20 each, or you may seek out free or low-cost programs that are downloadable from the Internet.
Unless you plan to start a major ministry like the Christian Research Institute, there is no need to hire someone to create a Web site for you and manage its functions. The mere design of a Web site through such a service will cost at least $200, and maintenance will cost at least $50 per month. If your goal is simply to reach an audience, hiring professionals is unnecessary.
A final cost to consider is the investment of your time. An online presence means not just writing articles, but also receiving feedback. Blogs allow readers to post comments that appear instantly, and there are no restrictions on the content of posts. You will need to decide whether you have time to act as a watchdog for offensive comments, and whether you have time to respond to honest inquiries. Alternatively, you can set up your blog to disallow comments. If you set up any Web site, you will need to consider whether to allow feedback through e-mail. As your own online presence grows, so will the amount of mail you receive.
Name Your Domain. Once you have acquired the tools to create a Web site, the next consideration is to name and publicize it. Every Web site will have a uniform resource locator (URL), or “Web address.” Your choice of a blog address will be limited by your blogging service. For example, a blog hosted by WordPress will always end with the signature, “wordpress.com.” You will be able to choose only the designation, or what precedes that signature; many people elect to use their names as designations (e.g., jpholding.wordpress.com). Similar constraints will apply to a Web site that a user may create when taking advantage of free Web space offered by his or her provider.
A user who wishes to establish a more reputable online presence should purchase a domain name, a completely unique URL associated with a Web site. The Christian Research Institute, for example, owns the domain name “equip.org,” while my own ministry, Tekton Apologetics, has the domain name “tektonics.org.” Domains may be purchased from online brokers, such as Network Solutions and GoDaddy, for as little as $10 per year, for up to ten years at a time. Choose a “.org” address if you wish to start a non-profit organization, and a “.com” address if you wish to start a commercial one. A domain name should be as short and memorable as possible. Sometimes creativity is required if a domain name that you want is already taken. I had originally wished to purchase the domain “tekton.org,” but at the time it had already been taken by a Catholic ministry that sponsored tours to Medjugorje!
Once your blog or Web site is online and you have begun publishing, you will need to get the word out to others that it exists. Start by seeking out blogs or Web sites with similar interests, and write to the owners asking for a link exchange, or a mutual agreement to post each others’ URLs on your respective Web sites. This kind of agreement is common and helps a new site owner establish an online presence and reputation with other site owners and their readers. Also register your site with free indexing services such as CrossDaily (a Christian site) or Yahoo (a secular site). You can promote interaction with your material by posting your site URL in various places, like your e-mail signature line, or by starting your own forum, which can be done for free through indexing sites. (There are also ways to promote your site through paid advertising, but this is not necessary and is often seen in a negative light.) Here again, be wary of whether you are able to invest the time required.
If you learn how to do your own HTML, you can use special coding features to attract the attention of search engines like Google that aid users in finding articles on specific topics. For example, my article on Mithraism and its alleged influences on Christianity, as of this writing, comes up first in Google rankings with a search of the terms “Mithraism” and “Christianity.” One way this has been accomplished has been by inserting the title, “Mithraism. Not an influence on Christianity,” into a section of the HTML code that names the title of the document.
Receive the Technological Blessing. Blogs and Web sites can be an exciting path toward the practice of online apologetics and evangelism. With a few simple steps, it is now possible for any of us to reach a worldwide audience with the message of the gospel and with reasons to believe in it. As Christians, it is our blessing to be able take advantage of this growing medium to further the Great Commission (Matt.8:18–20) and make disciples of all nations.5
— J. P. Holding
1. “Welcome to Technorati,” About Us, Technorati, http://technorati.com/about/.
2. Several Christian scholars and apologists, such as Ben Witherington (http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/), offer or participate in blogs. A couple of the blogs that I have enjoyed by lay authors include Christian Freethought (http://christianfreethought.blogspot.com/) and Confident Christianity (http://www.confidentchristianity.blogspot.com/).
3. One of the more prominent apologetics Web sites run by individuals is Glenn Miller’s Christian Thinktank (http://www.christian-thinktank.com).
4. See, for example, Ruth Maran, Teach Yourself Visually HTML (Toronto: Visual, 2005).
5. The following are URLs for programs noted in this article: http://www.coffeecup.com; http://www.cuteftp.com; http://www.blogger.com; http://www.wordpress.com; http://www.networksolutions.com; http://www.godaddy.com; http://www.crossdaily.com; http://www.yahoo.com.