It took the lifetimes of the apostles Peter and Paul to plant the gospel throughout the ancient Roman Empire. Two millennia later, the good news of Jesus can reach the planet's most far-flung outposts in seconds, borne not on sandals worn thin on roads of dirt and stone, but by the globe-spanning Internet with the click of a mouse.
That was the dream behind the 1998 launching of the Assemblies of God's Network211 as a border-skirting, Web-based evangelism and discipleship mission. In 2015, that goal has never been closer, with more than seven billion mobile devices worldwide capable of browsing in the Internet, according to a recent International Telecommunication Union study.
In other words, smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers, and other connected devices roughly match the total number of humans on earth. That technology has led to nearly 17 million visits so far to Network211's online family of sites, resulting in nearly 850,000 "evangelism responses," or commitments to Jesus.
Although Network211's ministries are presented in English and a dozen other languages reaching more than 240 countries and territories, it has been the program's Spanish language offerings that have provided the greatest response of foreign language (non-English) sites. The feedback isn't just from nations one might expect.
Network211 (the numbers are pronounced "twenty-one/one") seems especially attractive to Hispanics in countries where evangelical churches are few.
"Countries with the greatest response from our Spanish-language sites are Colombia, Venezuela, and Mexico, in that order," says Flynn Clanton, director of Network211's Spanish outreach. India, Indonesia, and Morocco are the top nations where Spanish isn't a primary language but that have a high response from Network 211 sites.
"Hispanic people are hungry for the truth," Clanton says. "They are searching for the answers to life, the needs of their hearts."
Network211 offers an online church, "Global Christian Center," both as an alternative for Christians in hostile environments, and a sort of spiritual halfway fellowship eventually connecting new believers to a local Assemblies of God congregation.
"Our main goal is not to just build an online church," Clanton says, "But we want to provide visitors with opportunities, wherever they are in their own journeys of faith, to hear the gospel perhaps for the first time."
Efraim Espinoza, director of Hispanic Relations for the Assemblies of God, also celebrates Network211's success, especially among Latinos who have either found their traditional upbringings to be unfulfilling, or a newer, more secular generation that has never darkened a church door.
"The most phenomenal response has been from the nonchurch people," Espinoza says. "This ministry is filling the gap to people who have not been reached with the gospel before by meeting people at their point of need."
That commitment, Clanton and Espinoza believe, will help Network211 reach its target of 100 million visitors by 2023 -- if not sooner. The effort focuses on two primary evangelism websites, JourneyAnswers.com and WhoJesusIs.com. JourneyAnswers.com provides biblical responses for 13 universal life issues such as shame, brokenness, guilt, fear, and anxiety; WhoJesusIs.com includes video explanations of Jesus' divinity and role as savior to a lost world.
Network211 buys Google ad words related to those themes, putting the ministry's websites near the top of search results.
"Our goals are to cast a wide nest to have as many hurting and lost people come to our website as possible, then to present Christ as the ultimate answer to the life need they have search for online," Clanton says.