Online Evangelists Tap Millions Looking for God

God

Two million people look for God each day -- not in church, but in a search.

"The number is staggering," said Mark Weimer, a self-described techie evangelist whose ministry has tapped the Internet to capture those looking for spiritual answers.

Weimer is CEO of Global Media Outreach, the technology arm of Campus Crusade for Christ International (CCCI), which hosts 91 Web sites in 11 languages to spread the "good news."

Weimer, who previously ran his own Silicon Valley start-up, insists this is not virtual proselytizing.

"We are always up front about the fact that we are presenting the Christian message," he told ABCNews.com. "We don't want to deceive anyone. That would be offensive."

Global Outreach estimates that 1 in 1,000 Internet searchers is looking for information about God. Just last year, their sites had 3 million visitors.

On an average day, sites like Jesus2020 get 150,000 visitors, and about 25,000 of them click a button to say they want to learn more. Of those about 5,000 a day fill in a form so an online missionary can contact them via e-mail.

Their questions are often surprising, according to Weimer: "Now that I have accepted Christ, what do I do next? Do I need to be perfect now? How do I pray?"

Internet Provides 'Anonymous Intimacy'

"One of the great things about being on the Internet is you feel comfortable sharing things you might not otherwise," said Michelle Diedrich, communication director for Global Media. "It's anonymous intimacy."

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project more "religious surfers" are turning to the Internet.

But the vast majority are "not hurting for God," according to project director Lee Rainie. Most are Sunday school teachers planning lessons, ministers writing sermons and "church shoppers."

"It's a time saver," said Manuela Castro, 20, a marketing major at University of Florida who was raised a Catholic but hasn't been to church in years. She has been exploring alternatives online.

"You can Google God in your pajamas," she told ABCNews.com.

For those who are testing the waters of faith, going online has advantages.

It protects against religious leaders who are overzealous or judge, according to Rev. A. K. M. Adam, a Biblical scholar, technologist and blogger.

Shopping for God

"I don't think that online spiritual inquiry is fundamentally different from online dating or buying shoes online," he told ABCNews.com.

Going online avoids seekers from feeling self-conscious and they can get answers without risking an "awkward, potentially guilt-inducing" interaction with a minister.

And, according to Adam, it's "just plain more convenient than hopping in the car and going to Sunday morning worship, or making an appointment with Pastor Jones."

Religious groups, especially evangelicals, have been "savvy" at using media like radio and television to spread their message, so it's no surprise that they have also tapped into the Internet, according to Michael Kress, managing editor of Beliefnet, which offers information on all the world's major religions and draws 3 million unique visitors per month.

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"We have always looked to books, magazines and other media to find meaning and deepen our faith," Kress told ABCNews.com. "And the first book off the Guttenberg press was the Bible."

'In its breadth, it can feel impersonal, but it's there to help you find what you want," he said. "Whatever you want, you can find there. The Internet experience is tailor-made for you."

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