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A case study: a tale of two sites

Comparison of two Christian online magazines for women

Some Christians might look at Christian Women Today, notice the comfortable familiar Christian words on front and inner pages: ‘prayer’, ‘repentance’, ‘saved’, etc., and say, “Ah, this is an evangelistic site. This must preach the Gospel.”

But no! Christian Women Today is designed for Christians. All those Christian words are ‘insider’ terms which exclude rather than enlighten. No doubt some non-Christians visit, as they will any site. In fact, Women Today Magazine is the site that has been carefully written for non-Christians. Because both sites have been produced by the same team, and have many similarities, we have a unique opportunity to understand why it is so important to target each audience in a different way.

Editor Claire Colvin writes:
“It seems so obvious that a Christian site is not necessarily an evangelistic site. One of the biggest barriers that stops a site from being truly evangelistic is language. One thing you’ll notice on the Women Today site is a lack of Christian terminology. You don’t see words like ‘church’, ‘pray’, ‘salvation’, ‘holy’, ‘sanctified’, ‘born again̵, ‘repent’. Instead, you find articles written from a Christian perspective but presented in regular English.

How can you expect people to hear your message if you speak a language they don’t understand? I think this is hard for many of us who were raised in the church because these words are so familiar. It’s important to remember that an evangelistic website is not about us, or what is comfortable and familiar to us. An outreach site is all about helping the Gospel make sense to our audience, using the words and examples, format and tone that make it easy for them to listen and understand. I think we have a great example of this in Christ (big surprise!). When He preached he could have pulled out every theology term in the book and made Himself sound very learned in the process, but that’s not what He did. He told stories, He used simple parables to explain the wonders of God to human beings. He didn’t change the truth, He spoke it plainly. And people responded.

This is why we have two separate websites. On Christian Women Today we can have a section called Prayer and Online Bible Studies and it’s very effective because we are speaking to an audience for whom these terms have meaning. On Women Today Magazine we approach things differently. We give people a reason to want to listen to us, to speak to them where they are and as we are speaking to their situation we will tell them about Christ in words that they understand. (1 Cor 9:19-23 backs that up nicely.)

I was reminded of this just yesterday as I sat in a rehearsal for the Christmas production at my church. We had tried to make the text highly accessible to an unchurched audience – a process that required much revision – and we thought we’d done a pretty good job. As one of the women in the play read her lines she paused. “It says here ‘swaddling clothes’? What is that?” The woman who was reading the lines has been a Christian for many years and hadn’t come across the word before. As soon as someone explained, “Oh, that just means the Baby was wrapped snug in blankets, it makes them feel safe,” the actress said, “Oh yeah, we did that to my kids when they were little, okay.” The line was changed. There are words so familiar that we honestly don’t notice them. Evangelism requires learning to notice.

I think that as Christians we need to get away from the idea that a person can just walk into a church, or log on to a church’s website and bam! – find Jesus just like that. We forget that for many people, churches are unfamiliar places – the symbols don’t mean anything, the language can be strange and often it seems like everyone else in the room knows what is going on. Evangelism doesn’t just happen when a non-Christian comes in contact with Christian content, at least not very often. We need to be much more intentional in the way we present the Gospel. There’s the classic line “Jesus is the answer, but what’s the question?” To be effective, evangelism has to know what the question is, and to address the real felt needs that people have.

For example, as editor of Women Today Magazine, I spend a lot of time looking at Oprah Winfrey’s site. Do I think that Oprah is the sum of all wisdom? Far from it, but there’s no denying that she knows, and to a certain extent controls, what women are talking about and that makes her someone worth paying attention to. Oprah talks a lot about “living your best life”, speaking to women who suffer from low self-esteem, to women with unfulfilled dreams. We ran two articles on self-esteem – one from a talk that a CCC staffer gives and the other incorporating my own testimony (about overcoming low self-esteem and finding out that I have value). Both articles have been extremely popular. Both are evangelistic.

On Christian Women Today, the issue of self-esteem takes on a different tone. Because we can use Christian terms, we created a different article for this site that focused on being a confident woman knowing that Jesus is a foundation we can be confident in. This page has also proved to be quite popular.

Same topic but two different audiences, so we wrote targeted articles and both groups responded. It is a vital strategy that we always use.

Here are recent email responses from readers which demonstrate that each site is reaching a different target audience.

Women Today Magazine readers:

“I want to give my life over to God in his power and faith – please show me the way.”

“I just thought I would write and let you know I prayed the prayer on your website to ask Jesus to come into my life and take over on the throne. My life has been a real mess and I came so close to ending it all tonight but then I saw your website and thought I would give Jesus a try.”

“I really don't know where to go from here so will you please pray for me, that I will be able to get some kind of guidance. Thank you!”

Christian Women Today readers:

“I don't really have a question – just wanted you to know that I’ve been a Christian for more than 26 years and have really walked in condemnation for most of them. I wanted to tell you that your website is making a great difference in my life.”

“I’ve been saved for 22 years, but have only recently begun to REALLY work on exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit. This article was VERY helpful.”

“I found myself wondering ‘How do I know that I have received the Holy Spirit?’ I practically laughed out loud when I saw the following section titled ‘How do you know if you have been empowered by the Holy Spirit’. God anticipates our every need! I pray that I also can be an instrument to fulfill God's will in this world.“

Claire sums up the wonderful visitor levels:

Women Today Magazine gets roughly 320,000 page views and 105,000 unique visitors each month, with an average of about a thousand decisions monthly. Christian Women Today is seeing an average of 310,000 page views per month and 52,000 unique visitors. The chat room on CWT continues to grow with scheduled chats occurring almost every day and a trained hostess team of 20 or so volunteers.”

gray matrix comparison

Readership analyzed with the Gray Matrix

The Gray Matrix helps us to understand further why it is important to write differently for each target audience.

This graphic superimposes the intended readership of each website onto the Matrix. See how Women Today Magazine is designed to reach right down to those who know nothing of the Gospel and common Christian language, and may also be indifferent or even antagonistic.

It is also possible to define the positioning of different websites in relation to their target audience, using the X-Spectrum.

Take time to visit each site, and observe how each has been carefully and sensitively written for a completely different readership:

There is a big shortage of such effective sites – a situation we can call the 99 percent problem.