When the Rev. Tony "The Tiger" Mavrakos became a minister three decades ago, evangelism meant Bible-thumping sermons, visits with parishioners and sharing the word of God with folks on the street.
But today, when the 58-year-old evangelist for the Seventh-day Adventist Church spreads the gospel, he opens a laptop, clicks to his own Web site and delivers sermons, takes prayer requests via e-mail and ministers to a worldwide congregation in cyberspace.
"Folks, the Internet is God's way of picking the church up," Mavrakos preached to the members of Hyattsville Seventh-day Adventist Church one day last week. "We have to come to grips with the fact that we are in an information age. We have to get with the program."
Mavrakos is a member of a new generation of evangelists who are exchanging cordless microphones and glass pulpits for computerized video screens, laptops and Web sites that help expand their ministries far beyond the congregation they can see in church every week.
Mavrakos, who lives in Glenn Dale, said he is reaching people around the world that he never would have been in contact with a few years ago. He already had a high profile in the Potomac Conference of Seventh-day Adventist Church, which includes all of the Adventist congregations in the District, Virginia and Southern Maryland.
Mavrakos, former pastor of Wheaton Seventh-day Adventist Church, has worn the title of "Evangelist" for the Potomac Conference since 1991. His primary role is to conduct gospel meetings across the conference, which has 116 churches and 23,000 parishioners.
Mavrakos, a bodybuilder with a New England accent, said he never had a problem making strong points in the pulpit when he preached. But to get his message across even more crisply, he said, he uses a laptop fixed on a music stand that allows him to project scriptures onto a big screen set up in the pulpit.
"A person's heart and home are together," Mavrakos told the Hyattsville congregation as the words "Christ in Cyberspace" zipped onto the big screen behind him. "Jesus will come back when the gospel is preached to all nations Matthew 24:14. The church is much bigger than anything in our mind, Amen!"
For younger members of this multiracial congregation of 230 Adventists, such as Christine Anders, 20, seeing a laptop in the pulpit wasn't so extraordinary. In her history class at George Mason University in Fairfax, her professor uses "Power Point" software and a big screen for lectures just like Mavrakos.
"At school this is essential," Anders said. It helps her keep connected with her spiritual life in a secular environment.
Anders, a Seventh-day Adventist, said she doesn't believe in going to parties on Friday night because she observes the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
"It is kind of lonely as an Adventist on a college campus on Friday nights, so I click on sdanet.org," Anders said, referring to a church-sponsored Web site and chat room for young Adventists. "The Internet is not just a fad. It is here to stay."
But Marilynn Powell, pianist for Hyattsville Seventh-day Adventist Church, wasn't quite ready to start surfing the Net. Powell, a retiree who has been at the church since its founding in 1939, said that when it comes to computers in the pulpit, "I don't know. I feel that we have to use what is available for the cause of the Lord."
Roger A. Brown, 61, an elder at the Hyattsville church, has embraced the technology, calling it "God's gift to the church to quickly spread the gospel of Jesus Christ."
Mavrakos didn't always hold such a high-tech perch in the Adventist church. Mavrakos, a native of Salem, Mass., first was ordained as a minister in the Southern Baptist Church while he was on active duty in the Air Force. In those days, Mavrakos preached on the streets to anyone who would listen.
Now Mavrakos is trying to spread the gospel through the Web. Although his message sounded more like a sales pitch than a sermon, he insisted that everything he is doing is free to church folks and that he is not profiting financially from his ministry.
Mavrakos predicts that by "witnessing through the Web," he will have more than 1 million followers by 2002. Although Mavrakos's predictions may raise a few eyebrows, he pointed to the remarkable growth of the Internet in the last few years.
Those who click on Mavrakos's Web site, www.rtm.org, will get a menu of icons offering sermons, commentaries and Bible studies. There are audio tapes, Christian games and activities available for teenagers. There also is information about the beliefs and doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which has its world headquarters in Silver Spring.
"If you don't think that this is a medium for us, the devil does," Mavrakos said. "Let's look at Christ in cyberspace."
CAPTION: "The Internet is God's way of picking the church up," said the Rev. Tony "The Tiger" Mavrakos, of Hyattsville Seventh-day Adventist Church.