Making websites that are evangelistic
Websites offer us incredible power to share the Good News. But to make use of this potential, we must understand these six issues:
- The nature of the Internet
- using a search engine
- following a link from another website
- by a personal recommendation – in an email, on a contact card, in print, TV/radio etc.
- The Web is non-linear and interactive
- Most people are not seeking for God
- Most Christian websites are designed for Christians
- Insider language excludes others
- Wise web communication
It is a pull medium. There is no automatic audience for any website. There are only three ways that someone will find a site:
The majority of website visits start through a search engine. Most other visits result from following recommended links on websites.
Because people are in control of which pages they visit, in general they only find sites they are searching for – those which correspond to their particular interests and needs. Only rarely do people find sites by accident about topics which do not interest them, and even more rarely will they linger at them. (If you have no interest in chess, when did you last accidentally find a chess website?)
The outreach potential of the Web should not be seen primarily as ‘tracts online’. The Internet is a medium where people want choice, interaction, and a sense of community.
Although research shows that a surprising number of people do search the Web on broadly ‘religious’ topics, we must assume that these relate to all types of religions, including searches for horoscopes, fortune telling, and similar New Age issues.
It is said that in any population at any one time, only about 2% of the people are knowingly seeking for God.
The Gray Matrix is a valuable visual tool which helps us to understand the spiritual position of a person or group.
The overwhelming majority of Christian websites are written purely for Christians, in terms of language and issues addressed. This can be called the 99 percent problem. The Body of Christ seems to spend most of its energies ministering to itself. Check the target audience of books and videos in any Christian bookshop, and do a count! Yes, of course we need feeding too – but to the end that we will have more to give than a ‘few crumbs under the table’.
Many Christian websites, even those which hope to be evangelistic, tend to use Christian jargon. This may be incomprehensible to many non-Christians, and perceived as ‘church’ or ‘preachy’ by others. The result is that we tend to communicate well only to the ‘churched’ people (that is, those with some degree of church exposure in their lives), and fail to communicate with the much larger numbers of ‘unchurched’.
Jesus, by contrast, adjusted his language to his listeners, and most of his group evangelism took the form of stories in everyday language.
It is in fact possible – and highly preferable – to communicate the Gospel in easy neutral language. Arguably, the only religious words we need to use are ‘God’, ‘Jesus’, ‘Spirit’, ‘Bible’ and ‘heaven’. Everything else can be rephrased.
• Avoiding Jargon – the words to avoid
• When Words Get in the Way – valuable advice from OnMission Magazine
• Free training video clips – TruthMedia.com resource on effective evangelistic writing and followup
Effective web communication needs the gifts of a journalist, not a preacher or evangelist. You do not have a captive audience. Site visitors can leave at the click of a mouse. The Press has learned over many years how to engage with and retain an audience. Learn their secrets!
StrategiesSo what strategies can we use to reach non-Christians effectively on the Internet? First let’s look at two types of outreach site: ‘gospel presentations’ and ‘evangelistic sites’.
- Gospel Presentations
- Evangelistic sites
We define these as sites which focus mainly on the essentials of the Gospel. They may include some element of lead-in, but the primary focus is to explain the way of salvation. It is surprisingly hard to communicate the Gospel in a balanced biblical way, avoiding a cost-free ‘easy-believism’, while explaining the true nature of salvation by grace alone.
Gospel presentations can be easily found on search engines by people who are already seeking for the way of salvation. But in order to be read by a wider range of people, other strategies are needed. For instance, they are an ideal ‘find out more’ weblink for tracts, contact cards or radio/TV broadcasts.
They can also serve as ready-made gospel links for Christian pages. For instance church or other Christian websites can link directly to an existing presentation, rather than creating their own. Even sites with a Christian target readership such as this one, can link (see our page footer) to an existing gospel presentation. available for any non-Christians who happen to visit. Because there are so many good gospel presentations available, it is not always necessary to ‘reinvent the wheel’.
These are distinguished from gospel presentations, by having content on a broader range of topics. They may well lead into a gospel presentation at their core, or they may link out to an existing presentation.
The big need is for many more sites of this type. But how can we draw visitors in to reach them?
The Bridge Strategy
“Bait the hook according to what the fish likes, not what the fisherman likes.”Here’s the logic:
- Most non-Christians are not seeking for God.
- Most online non-Christians have no wish to search for Christian websites.
- All online non-Christians are searching for websites on needs they have, and topics that interest them.
- Therefore to reach non-Christians, we must create websites around the topics and felt needs that they have. This is the Bridge Strategy.
The Bridging TransitionA bridge site must be truly about the topic or need that is its starting point. There must be no sense of ‘bait and switch’ – this is not a ‘decoy trick’. But we can then transition across, with integrity, to:
- testimony pages – of the webmaster, or other people associated with the site topic. (But don’t use the word ‘testimony’ – it is a jargon word. ‘Life story’ is much better.)
- parallel pages: almost all secular topics contain embedded within them a spiritual parallel which can be drawn out.
- ‘meaning of life’ questions: pages which ask leading questions
- a gospel presentation; the three previous categories of page can gently lead to an explanation of the way of salvation (within the site, or as an off-site link).
What can we write Bridge pages about?Anything! If you have a hobby or sport, you share that interest with millions of others. If you have come through a difficult personal problem or illness, you can be sure that is a felt need for millions of others. Do you have a professional interest? This is a wide-open field. The potential is mind-blowing.
Showcase examples of Bridge sitesYou will see that different sites use the ‘bridge principle‘ in different ways. Some sites address personal interests or hobbies. Others are designed to meet people’s felt needs.
- Women Today Magazine
is a large and very effective site, which addresses women’s needs and issues. Because it is outwardly
similar in appearance to a website which targets Christian women, it makes an excellent
on how to target and write for non-Christians.
- I am Next
uses a similar magazine approach for the teen/student band. Note that the site does not appear blatantly
Christian from the home page, though there are links indicating some spiritual content.
has a higher immediate spiritual profile than IamNext, with more apologetic material
and answers to religious questions. Kristi and Patricia became Christians through this site:
- The Life
is one of several outreach sites which were developed in response to The Passion of the Christ film. It has also been
repositioned to minister to major tragedies such as the Tsunami. Christina is one of many whose lives were touched through
this site: her story.
- Sport is a valuable starting point for an outreach site.
To the Next Level
developed by Doug Reese, is one of a
small number of sport-related sites which specifically target non-Christians, view other
- Health is one of the most-searched for topics on the Internet. There is a wide range of informational/diagnostic material
online, and many support groups. Christians who suffer from a medical condition are well-placed to create a
support site which can touch other sufferers. Unfortunately, a majority of such Christian sites position themselves as
being for Christians suffering from the condition. This rather excludes non-Christians, and compromises any gentle
evangelistic intent the writer may have had.
Examples of health sites which are accessible to non-Christians.
- Relationships are another area of
There is enormous potential within this subject. Outreach sites such as
Women Today Magazine
frequently address relationship issues.
A few other sites also cover them in a style designed, or least accessible, to non-Christians:
- Children: there are sadly very few sites designed for unchurched children:
Most assume Bible knowledge and resemble Sunday School lessons. Look at
for a bilingual outreach,
for a different approach and
as an example of an evangelistic children’s game. See other examples of
childrens pages and games
- Apologetics sites (i.e. reasoned answers to questions about faith) are usually written almost
entirely for Christians. But sites which understand how to present these answers from an angle
and in language that relates to non-Christians, can be very effective:
- Hobbies offer huge potential for outreach. A hobby-based site has the potential to reach
millions of like-minded people around the world. If you have a hobby – you are well-equipped
to write about what you know! Another strategy which is grossly underused:
- Community-based resource sites also have great potential. You can create a small portal for your town or area which draws together the best relevant local secular sites, but also includes outreach sites in appropriate categories: examples.
Other approaches and strategiesOutreach sites can complement other media, such as radio or print literature, and can also be specifically designed to draw people into face-to-face relationships. (Church websites are a prime example of this ‘twin track‘ approach.)
The popular blog style of website can be used with many of these secular topics; though with a strategy appropriate to the way that blogs function. There is an another advantage here: it is possible to use a blog tool creator and create a very professional-looking site with very little technical knowledge.
God is leading some Christians into very creative and unusual ways to grab attention for the Gospel: examples.