When Faith, Technology, Culture, and Communication Collide: Football and Internet Evangelism (Part 1)

internet evangelism, tim tebow, john 3:16Let’s be honest.  There aren’t a whole lot of occasions that find the main stream media quoting from the Bible.

Interestingly, one such occasion took place not long ago, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Internet Evangelism team was smart enough to seize upon the opportunity for evangelism.

I’d like to take a deeper look at what they did, and why it might have been effective, because this situation provides a very good example of leveraging the connection between faith and culture through the use of technology and effective communication in order to bring people to Christ.

The Who

In this case, the first piece of the puzzle is Denver Broncos quarterback, Tim Tebow.  In case you might be unaware, Tebow has quickly become one of the most popular athletes in America.  He has received tremendous media coverage for not only his play on the field, but also his commitment to sharing Jesus Christ.  That coverage has been sometimes positive and sometimes negative (on both topics).  Through all the controversy, Tebow has remained steadfast and has vowed to continue sharing his love for Jesus.

The next piece of the puzzle is Tebow’s significant fan base (especially Christians), and their penchant for supporting Tebow on the Internet and through various social media channels.  Tebow’s vans are a very vocal bunch.  In fact, even his detractors can’t help but comment on what he does.

Then we come to the media.  The media has been giving considerable coverage to Tebow since his football heroics lead the Broncos to victories in 4 of his first 5 games, basically turning around their season and putting them in position to make it to the playoffs.  The NFL is the undisputed king of major American sports.  Being the most popular player in the most popular sport in the country leads to a lot of media coverage and a lot of attention for everything he does.

Finally, we have the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA).  Specifically, their Internet Evangelism team.  These are the folks who carry out evangelism through the medium of the Internet.  In so doing, they must have their fingers on the pulse of popular culture and what is trending on the Internet.  Those trends change daily, and keeping up can be tough, but once the opportunities can be realized, the results can be powerful, as we will now see. . .

The What

On Jan. 8th, 2012, the Denver Broncos defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the NFL playoffs.  Once again, Tebow lead the team to victory in spectacular fashion.  This time, the spectacular play was the 80-yard touchdown pass thrown by Tebow on the very first play of overtime.

That is just part of the story, however.  Things really got going when Tebow’s stat line was released for the game.  He threw 10 completions for 316 yards, and an average of 31.6 yards per completion.

This is the moment when faith and culture converged.

Very soon after the game ended, sites like twitter were instantly abuzz with tweets noting the the 316 yards corresponded to a very special Bible verse, John 3:16 (Tebow has long been known for writing the verse on his eye-black when he plays).  The next day, the mainstream media immediately picked up on the buzz, and we starting seeing articles like this one from USAToday explaining the connection between the numbers and the Bible.

The buzz got so big that “John 3:16″ became a trending search in Google on the day of, and the days after, the game.  In fact, on the day of the game, “John 3:16″ was the #1 most searched term on Google.  If you’re trying to guess how often a Bible verse appears in the Google search trends, it’s somewhere between very rarely and almost never.

The folks at BGEA must have been paying attention, because they immediately seized upon the opportunity presented by all of this internet buzz and turned it into an opportunity for evangelism.  They created a John 3:16 landing page as part of their PeaceWithGod.net ministry.  The page informs visitors about the verse and what it means.  It then encourages them to “Find Peace With God,” which takes them to a page where they can begin their journey towards conversion.

In case you’re wondering how effective something like this might be, consider this:  according to the BGEA,

there have been 11,000 views of the page and 207 people indicating, by way of filling out a short contact form, that they had made decisions to follow Jesus. (via ChristianPost.com)

Honestly, as we all know, getting one person to take action and begin a relationship with Jesus is significant; getting 207 people to act based on a landing page spawned by the play of a football athlete is nothing short of astounding.

The How and the Why

Ahhh, “how?” and “why?” are the important questions for church and ministry leaders, aren’t they?  If the BGEA had success with something like this, how did they do it?  Why did it work?  Can it be replicated?

Those are all questions that I’ll address in Part 2 of, “When Faith, Technology, Culture, and Communication Collide: Football and Internet Evangelism.”

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