A new report found that as the coronavirus spread, worldwide Google searches for “prayer” skyrocketed. Christian organizations are responding by providing more online and telephone prayer, support and resources.
Jeanet Sinding Bentzen is an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen and the executive director of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture. She issued a preliminary draft of the paper, “In Crisis, We Pray: Religiosity and the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
Looking at data from 75 countries, she found: “In March 2020, internet searches for the topic “prayer” surged to the highest level during the past 5 years for which comparative Google search data is available.” While religious holidays such as Christmas, Easter and Ramadan typically lead to more internet searches for prayer, Bentzen says the increase surpassed those major events.
She also notes, “The rising interest in information on prayer started around mid-March, coinciding with the spread of the COVID-19.” Her findings are familiar to people of faith, who know that in times of trouble, many people look to God.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) is one Christian ministry responding to the crisis. The organization has an online evangelism ministry called Search for Jesus. The ministry works with more than 70 different ministries to engage in online evangelism and discipleship, through the BGEA evangelistic website, PeaceWithGod.net.
The ministry created coronavirus-related web pages in English, Spanish, Korean, Arabic, Mandarin and Portuguese. BGEA says: “More than 191,000 people have visited these sites, with over 11,000 people indicating decisions for Jesus Christ and 2,200-plus requesting follow-up. Thousands are connecting one-on-one with trained Search for Jesus (SFJ) volunteers ready to listen, encourage and guide.”
Franklin Graham, President and CEO of the organization, announced in March that the ministry would be airing evangelistic television advertisements across the U.S., inviting people to call in and receive prayer.
In a Facebook post with the ad that has received more than 823,000 views, Graham says: “Maybe your heart has been gripped by fear as millions of others have because of the coronavirus pandemic. But I want you to know that God loves you, He made you, He created you, He knows everything about your life.” The association says it has received thousands of calls as a result.
Global Ministries Outreach is another Christian ministry using online tools to reach people with the gospel. The group “began as an internet ministry for Campus Crusade for Christ International (Cru) in 2004 and spun-off in 2011 to become independent, yet remains a partner ministry with Cru.”
Christianity Today reports on the growth the ministry has seen, which it attributes to the coronavirus pandemic: “Between mid-March and late March, GMO saw a 170 percent increase in clicks on search engine ads about finding hope. Clicks on ads about fear increased 57 percent, and about worry 39 percent. The ministry’s 12.4 million gospel presentations in March represented a 16 percent increase over the average month in 2019.”
Like these other ministries, Focus on the Family is also using the internet to provide resources and hope during the pandemic. Planned broadcasts were postponed, and new programs were created with experts such as Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams.
One listener who wrote Focus on the Family said: “Thank you so much for the broadcast ‘An Update on the Coronavirus from the U.S. Surgeon General.’ It was good to hear his comments devoid of media spin and little sound bites. The questions he was asked to address reflect a lot of the questions that people have. His faith in our Lord Jesus Christ combined with his expertise are so encouraging.”
Focus also created a webpage with articles, activities for children and broadcast links, “Help for Families During the Coronavirus Crisis”; launched “ Focus@Home,” a free on-demand streaming service; and offered its “Adventures in Odyssey Club Membership” for a free 28-day trial period.
More than 76,000 new members have joined the Adventures in Odyssey Club (AIO) through the free membership. One foster mom wrote to share that she introduced her young foster daughter to AIO, and they listen to episodes together while out walking. The mom writes: “At first she was resistant, but now that we have the free trial of AIO, she looks forward to the time outside. We start an episode and walk until it ends. The time goes by quickly and it has opened up some great opportunities to talk about God and relationships and choices. Thank you for making this available to us!”
Focus on the Family receives thousands of contacts every month, and the coronavirus pandemic and quarantine have increased opportunities to provide help. Those reaching out to the ministry are dealing with many difficult and painful issues, including: marital conflict exacerbated by the quarantine; anxiety and fear about the virus; financial difficulties and uncertainty about employment; parents having to teach their children while working from home; and questions about God and faith.
Staff members listen, pray with and offer helpful resources. As COVID-19 takes its toll on individuals, families and our society, and as more people look for answers, it’s good to know Christian ministries are responding with biblical truth and hope.
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