E-mail ministry sees daily converts to Christianity through inspirational messages


SAN CLEMENTE, Calif. — More than 25 years after AT&T used its "Reach Out and Touch Someone" slogan to promote telephone communications, Dick Innes is using Internet technology to do the same.

Innes is the founder of ACTS International, a publications ministry he launched nearly 40 years ago in Australia. Since 1981—the year AT&T launched the marketing campaign that eventually landed it in the ad slogan Hall of Fame—Innes has been operating the ministry from San Clemente, his post-Australia home.

During its first three decades, ACTS majored in literature and direct mail evangelism, publishing more than 40 million Encounter outreach brochures, which were distributed by individuals, businesses, churches, ministries and military, hospital and prison chaplains.

With the advent of the information superhighway, however, Innes quickly discovered how cost effective the Internet is when trying to distribute spiritual literature to masses of people.

"The potential is really unlimited for reaching people around the world," Innes said.

As a result, the ordained pastor has launched a weekday e-mail called Daily Encounter. Every issue of Daily Encounter provides a brief word of inspiration and food for thought and is written for anybody who would appreciate an inspirational moment each weekday. Articles are brief, practical and apply the Christian message to the everyday issues of life.

The ministry also operates a weekend edition, a prayer volume and issues in Spanish and French. Combined, the ministry sends out 166,000 newsletters each week.

Although the print literature division remains, it is operated out of the ministry's Australia and New Zealand offices.

Holistic approach
Whether online or in print, Innes said ACTS specializes in producing literature and articles that apply the gospel and Christian message in a holistic approach. That means ministry topics tackled by ACTS include helping people become healthy and whole spiritually, emotionally, relationally and physically.

"We believe that God is not concerned so much about religion as He is about relationships," Innes said. "That is, He not only wants us to have a right relationship with himself through Jesus Christ, but also with each other—and ourselves.

"Furthermore, we believe that God's goal isn't to make people good simply for goodness' sake, but to make people whole, for only to the degree that we are made whole will our lifestyle, actions, attitudes, behavior and relationships be wholesome."

More than a creed
In promoting the concept of healthy relationships, Innes said his ministry is trying to help people see Christianity as something more than a creed.

"While the creed is very important, Christianity is more than intellectually believing in a creed," he said. "It is experiencing divine love, divine acceptance and divine forgiveness, and communicating these to every life we touch."

That work, however, could be in jeopardy.

As with other ministries, ACTS is dealing with a significant drop-off in contributions this year, prompting Innes and his wife, Joy, to post a plea on their Web site. The couple is seeking 120 supporters who can help to underwrite the ministry with a $30 a month donation.

The money, he said, will be used to help offset rising costs, especially secular advertising, which costs about $3,500 a month. Although costly, Innes said the advertising has helped to increase the e-mail readership by 8,000 to 10,000 a month.

"You've got to spend money on advertising," he said. "The 'If you build it, they will come' works in the movies, but not in the real world."

Intangible returns
The intangible returns, he said, are the 1,000 or so e-mails the ministry receives daily. As a pastor, he's also been able to do some pastoral counseling with people who read the newsletters.

"We get e-mails every day from people who have been helped or encouraged by the ministry," he said, adding they are receiving up to 14 notes a day from people who have accepted Christ after reading one of their editions or others who have rededicated their lives.

"Some are about theology, but most are about relationships. I think the anonymity makes people feel safe," he said.

Not content with the status quo, Innes said he is in the finishing stages of creating a new ministry for churches to help them with their outreach to nonbelievers. Innes said he believes churches need to operate two Web sites, one for their members and a second one to reach the unsaved. As a result, he's designed goodnewsfor.com to help churches reach every home in their entire community as part of a direct mail Web evangelism.

The Web site, he said, would tie in with personalized postcards and business-sized witness cards that church members can distribute within the community to encourage people to visit the good news Web site.

"(It would be) one designed specifically to reach their nonchurched community with articles that 'scratch people where they itch,'" Innes said. "That is, articles that address the everyday felt needs of readers—the most effective way to communicate any message—and to reach every family in their area of ministry with a clear gospel message."

For more information, visit www.actsweb.org.

Michael Ireland, with Assist News Service, contributed to this report.