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:

  1. The nature of the Internet
    It is a pull medium. [www.web-evangelism.com/medium.php] There is no automatic audience for any website. There are only three ways that someone will find a site:
    1. using a search engine
    2. following a link from another website
    3. by a personal recommendation – in an email, on a contact card, in print, TV/radio etc.

    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?)

  2. The Web is non-linear and interactive
    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.

  3. Most people are not seeking for God
    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.

  4. Most Christian websites are designed for Christians
    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’.

  5. Insider language excludes others
    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.

    More:
    Avoiding Jargon – the words to avoid
    When Words Get in the Way – valuable advice from OnMission Magazine [www.onmission.com/webzine/jul_aug00]
    Free training video clips – TruthMedia.com resource on effective evangelistic writing and followup

  6. Wise web communication
    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!

Strategies

So 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’.
  1. Gospel Presentations
    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’.

  2. Evangelistic sites
    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.”
– Hemingway
Here’s the logic:
  1. Most non-Christians are not seeking for God.
  2. Most online non-Christians have no wish to search for Christian websites.
  3. All online non-Christians are searching for websites on needs they have, and topics that interest them.
  4. Therefore to reach non-Christians, we must create websites around the topics and felt needs that they have. This is the Bridge Strategy.
It is “fishing on the other side of the boat”: John 21:5-6.

The Bridging Transition

A 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: We are convinced that this Bridge Strategy [web-evangelism.com/bridge-strategy.php] is thoroughly justified biblically, and is a key to effective online outreach. For the first time, the Web allows us to target any affinity group of people with a high degree of precision, according to their interest, hobby, personal need, ethnic background or language.

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 sites

You 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.

Other approaches and strategies

Outreach 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.

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