Beth and Robert* walked into a Seventh-day Adventist church one Saturday morning, eager to worship on the Sabbath. After studying the Bible, they realized the seventh-day Sabbath was still relevant. For a full year they worshipped and spent much time with their new Adventist friends.
One day Robert went online to find out more about Seventh-day Adventists and their beliefs. Google search results instantly showed dozens of websites and videos denouncing Adventism as a cult. Some websites claimed that members followed a false prophet and that the doctrines of the church were unbiblical.
By the time members noticed that Beth and Robert had stopped attending services and Bible study, the damage was done. The couple wanted nothing more to do with the Adventist Church. They believed church members held back information from them, and the negative online content they encountered made a stronger impression than a full year of studying and interacting with Adventists.
This is only one of countless stories with similar outcomes. In this digital age people naturally turn to Google for reviews about a business, product, service, or church. So when a canvasser shows up at a door with The Great Controversy, or when an Adventist ministry’s local mission work is featured in the newspaper, what often follows is a quick online search about Adventists or Ellen White. Unfortunately, negative and inaccurate content can easily outrank the truth.
Additionally, many people Google questions related to faith, the Bible, and Jesus Christ. Others facing hopeless circumstances often go online to find answers or comfort. This presents an opportune moment to share how the gospel changes lives. But according to Google’s search results, a thriving Adventist presence is lacking.
Because of this, the Center for Online Evangelism is dedicated to supporting and bolstering work in the digital mission field. We launched Project Caleb, a special initiative designed to help counter misleading online content and help stop the bleed of prospective members. Project Caleb’s major step forward was signing a memorandum of understanding with the Ellen G. White Estate during ASI’s 2018 convention. This collaboration is crucial to moving our work ahead.
Every Adventist ministry runs the risk of being incorrectly labeled because of defaming online content. Whether ministries are focused on health, sharing literature, education, empowering inmates, or feeding the homeless, they can easily be negatively affected by what people read about Adventists online. To ignore the problem is to ignore thousands of those who could know the truth about Jesus Christ.
Project Caleb teaches ministries how to improve their online presence while reaching more people for Christ. It also gives hope to church members who have felt the results of inaccurate online information.
We have listened to heartbreaking accounts of people who have seen friends or family members reject sound doctrine after going online to research Adventists. One sadly recounted the story of a young woman named Sharon.* She was convicted of the truth but stopped attending church after reading defaming information about Ellen White. When a member followed up with her, Sharon said, “I will never join that church.”
“They’re a cult,” her husband added.
This couple might have been faithful members had they encountered accurate information about our church beliefs instead of false content.
Through ASI’s annual convention, this individual along with other church members and leaders were given hope that God is working through online evangelism. Many were inspired with creative ideas to help promote the gospel online.
Because the Center for Online Evangelism is the only ministry specifically focused on strengthening the Adventist presence in the digital space through online reputation management, digital marketing, and professional training, our work impacts every single Adventist church and ministry. We want to see all of our denomination’s evangelistic and service efforts succeed.
Managing the online reputation of the Adventist Church is a challenge. When it seems like an impossible task, we remember those we’ve encountered through our work: digital missionaries such as Michael Farris and Tim Perenick, who are dedicated to sharing the truth online; and church members like Juan, who perseveres in his faith despite his family’s objections. We are also encouraged to continue this work for church members such as Denise and Catherine,* who lost friends and fellow members because of false information online.
Millions of people go online to know about forgiveness, hope, and gaining victory over sin. Our church has these answers, and we know how to direct seekers to the Bible and to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s our mission at the Center for Online Evangelism, along with our partners, to empower our members with the guidance, content, and training to reach the online mission field with this life-changing message.
Felecia Datus writes from the Center for Online Evangelism, a missionary project devoted to developing online mission stations.