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The challenge of ‘The 99% Problem’
A mismatch of resources?
“Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell,
I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell”
– Pioneer evangelist C. T. Studd
It’s almost like there's a rule: 99% to us, 1% for them. We can see it reflected in Christian bookshops, where a search of the book titles and videos will reveal that the vast majority of material is produced entirely for Christians, in terms of language, content and underlying assumptions. Just how many books and videos are truly evangelistic and accessible to unchurched people who do not know the language and the concepts?
We can see it often reflected in churches’ support or awareness for evangelism outside their own countries, in particular the needs of the non-Western world.
And the situation is the same online. The overwhelming majority of Christian websites are aimed at Christian readers.
Please don’t misunderstand me. We Christians need teaching, discipleship, encouragement, and it is a wonderful blessing to have these things so accessible online. I praise God for the many resources which are ministering to the Body of Christ worldwide, providing accessible 24/7 support and blessing.
But the lack of truly evangelistic websites in the English language (let alone other languages) is tragic. The situation becomes clearer if we understand the process by which people become Christians, as described by the Gray Matrix.
Seeing the problem visuallyIf you are not familiar with the Engel Scale and its very helpful modification, the Gray Matrix, check the Matrix page to understand how it is possible to broadly identify the spiritual position of a person or a whole population.
Then study the Mismatch Chart below. On the vertical side, you will see a range of spiritual understandings as defined in the Engel Scale. Set against these are percentages of people at any particular point on the scale, and of Christian media effectively targeting them, in a typical country.
PeopleThe left-hand yellow shading displays the percentage of people within a typical population, on each position on the Engel Scale. You can see that at any one time, only a small number of people are at the point of commitment. More people are at +2, +3 and +4 because those are positions of slower movement. Less people are at +5 because of course, not all Christians make it to real maturity.
We can see that in this notional country (in fact reasonably healthy from a spiritual viewpoint), the Christians make up perhaps 10% of the population.
Websites/other mediaThe red shaded area indicates the percentage of websites (and other media) which actually effectively relate to people at each level of the Engel Scale. Of course, carefully produced sites and other media can target a range of levels. To see how two apparently similar websites target different groups of women on the Gray Matrix, read our case study.
It is possible to define roughly what position on the Gray Matrix any website is targeting, using
We see clearly that only a tiny percentage of Christian sites and other media are successfully targeting those people with no knowledge of the Gospel. More of them are available to explain the Gospel to an inquirer, but the bulk are all busy ministering to the needs of believers.
There is an even bigger lack of sites targeting non-Western countries.
This is the scale and challenge of the ‘99 per cent problem’.
Why the problem?Here are some possible causes.
- Some Christians may perhaps believe that any type of Christian material is somehow
evangelistic through a ’trickle-down’ effect. And of course, it is true that non-Christians
will sometimes find sites that are aimed at Christians (even such as this one). Therefore all such
sites should carry a link to a gospel explanation page. Of course, God in his sovereign
mercy can speak through anything. Even a page on, for example, “My favorite Moody and Sankey hymns”
may get an occasional non-Christian visitor. But we
do not propose that as a useful strategy for an evangelistic page. I have never yet found by accident
a website which would entice me to have any interest in, say, hockey.
- We often have so little meaningful contact with non-Christians that we forget how they
think and what their needs are. It is very easy to have a ghetto mentality and it becomes much
easier to stick to what we know – ministering to other believers.
- We also may assume that non-Christians can easily understand the evangelical jargon we know
so well. In fact, the only ones who do understand it are those with a Christian background. We
may therefore manage to reach ‘once-churched ’ people with some success, but fail to communicate with the ‘un-churched ’.
This partial success will in fact mask the fact that we are only touching a limited section of people –
as the Gray Matrix can help us to visualize.
It is helpful to understand how non-Christians think –
read Jay’s thoughts.
It is possible – and necessary – to rephrase every Christian jargon word into a neutral secular equivalent.
- Research suggests that in many societies, about 2% of the population at any one time are particularly
open to the Gospel. Expressed in terms of the Gray Matrix or
such people are near the line of decision and have already come to understand the issues and challenges of the Gospel.
These are the sort of unusual people who may drop in to a church service unasked, visit a Christian bookstore looking
for spiritual help, or start reading an old childhood Bible. God has been calling them, and they
are responding. They have probably ‘moved up’ the Gray Matrix following previous exposures to the
Gospel, prayers of Christian friends, or major life-changes which have challenged their thinking.
Many may also have a church background.
For such people, there is indeed a wealth of helpful websites. Those who enter ‘how to become a Christian’ or ‘how to find God’ in a search engine will certainly find the help they need. Many websites are geared to help them.
But 2% is a small pool to fish in. In any case, the command of Jesus was not “wait for people to come to you”, but “go out and find them”. These 2% are in a sense the easy ones. Success in reaching the 2% may blind us to the fact that we are not reaching the rest. That will be much harder – see the short story Emlyn and the Far Ponds. Online or offline, it will require creative strategies. Conventional ‘Christian’ websites will not often relate to them – indeed will not usually even be found by them.
- There seem to be specific reasons why there are sadly so few evangelistic pages for children.
- It may be more difficult for evangelistic agencies to raise finance and support for ‘virtual’ online evangelism, as compared with face-to-face ministry. And of course, an online evangelistic site is free, whereas production of evangelistic tracts or videos does create income.
related pages within the Problems in evangelism menu links
recommended books on reaching outsiders, including free downloads
valuable online videos about web ministry