Good News in Digital Age

Putting the new wine into new wineskins: facts and trends in hi-tech & communications, publishing & mass media which help to fulfill the Great Commission

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Modern vs Postmodern Sensitive Evangelism

It is important to remember, that the very model of the way the Good News is shared today has changed dramatically within last few decades. See the differences below.

Modern Evangelism

  1. Hear the gospel as a verbal or written message
  2. Decide that message is true. (Make a decision)
  3. Integrate into a Bible teaching church

Postmodern Sensitive Evangelism

  1. See the message in the spiritual life of a friend
  2. Come with the friend on a spiritual journey to encounter Jesus
    [Believe in Jesus on the journey]
  3. Encounter Jesus in a creative/spiritual corporate setting (church or small group)

Read more here (pdf). The article by Ross Rhode on the Postmodernism and the future of the Church is the best one I ever read - detailed and concise though comprehensive enough to jump in the very essence of the topic. I would definitely recommend it to everybody both as an introductory course and as a reference guide. The survey gives examples of 3 waves of postmodern churches - lots of food for thought. There is also Part II of it (pdf).

We did a 12 pages publication on Church and Postmodernism in Christianity magazine. So, much of the information from these papers (and more!) is available in Russian, too.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Web Evangelism Project CIS

Recently I tried to put together some facts, ideas and figures regarding the ways of developing the evangelistic resources in RU/UAnet. The project proposes to reach out to the fast growing internet audience in the countries of former USSR through building the system of evangelistic resources utilizing the synergies with and the experience of today’s leading Web Evangelism resources developed by Campus Crusade (and not only by them) worldwide. COMMENTS from enybody involved in such kind of ministry ARE VERY WELCOME.

Unprecedented Ministry Opportunity

Today the Internet provides an unprecedented opportunity to “go and make disciples of all nations” living in the countries of former USSR. Historically, Russian became a universal language of communication, sort of Lingua Franca, for the population of about 280 million people of the countries whose territories together cover 1/6th of the Earth’s surface.

According to the latest statistics, the total number of Internet users in these countries is next to 32 million people. If we will apply a “2% rule ” (which says that at any one moment in time, generally two-percent of any audience is at the point of conversion and ready to receive Jesus) to this audience, we’ll end up with a huge number of 640 thousand people (128 thousand just in Ukraine). And it is rapidly growing (see the table below).

Internet Usage and World Population Statistics were updated on March 31, 2005.
Information: ©Copyright 2005, Miniwatts International, Ltd. All rights reserved

The internet usage in Ukraine survey results (March 2005) indicate, among the other interesting trends, a very high rate of growing number of internet users - 13.5% per month! Within less than half a year the unique internet audience has grown by 60% and today it is close to 6.5 million people – every 7th person in the country or 16% of people 14+ years old!

At the end of March 2005 the unique monthly audience of UAnet (i.e. the number of different people from .UA domain going online at least once during the month) was 6 414 405 people. In comparison with Feb 2005 figures the number of unique internet users grew by 761 012 people or by 13.46%.

Guess, how many web-evangelism resources in Russian (not to mention Ukrainian) which target those people are there? - Almost a pure zero... "The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Matt 9:37).

Web Evangelism In The World

Since year 2000, when the International Christian community started looking carefully at the new fast emerging media of WWW (see the philosophy of WWW in Appendix 1), the system of excellent online resources focused on evangelism or on training and equipping the emerging breed of web evangelists has been developed.

The TruthMedia project developed by CCC Canada gives an excellent example of the resource which provides training, tools and services for online Christian ministry. There is nothing even close to that is available in RUnet so far. That's for the one side.

On the opposite side, there is a widely developed system of the resources implementing the “Bridge strategy” (addressing people’s real needs by meeting their felt needs in cultural, educational, counseling, etc. areas).

Good examples of such resources in English are:

- CCC's Power To Change (compare it with the Russian version of it -- will have much fun... interesting, who from the target group will ever visit such a site?);

- IamNext is another valuable site from CCC. Using the same strategy as Women Today Magazine , this highly effective, non-preachy site can easily engage young people and students. Other top teen/student sites: Every Student; Hopenet and Gloriazine ;

- One of the most popular evangelistic sites on the Web (with many millions of hits) is Pastor Dave Bruce's Hollywood Jesus. He used to work in the film/broadcasting industry and writes about recent film releases, not as normal film reviews, but instead looking for parable meanings from the story-line.

Some of the interesting resources were developed lately in the countries of Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Asia.

The Project: Web Evangelism In CIS Countries

The basic idea behind this project is to create a bunch of the web resources with similar content and functionality in Russian, promote them among appropriate target groups and train train the new generation of web missionaries capable to share the Gospel using new environment, new methods and tools.

The efforts should be made in four main directions:

  • Creating the online resources focused on non-believers utilizing the Bridge Strategy; promoting them trough various online and offline activities;
  • Creating the online resources focused on Christians who feel a call to serve in the web environment which help to train web missionaries plus organizing appropriate offline activities;
  • Creating the informational/analytical online resources dedicated to help the churches and other Christian institutions to effectively jump into the internet ministry;
  • Providing for the resources mentioned in 1-3 versions in other languages spoken in the countries of former USSR for easy downloading/printing/distributing training materials, testimonials, etc.

Basically, the content of these online resources can be formed largely using publications from the English resources (created by Campus Crusade Canada and others). The translation, cultural adaptation and enhancement by local materials (personal witnessing, testimonials, etc.) should be made to the best concept utilization.

Available Resources

Today, Ukraine For Christ (UFC) – a Campus Crusade division in Ukraine – has one full time staff person trained in the web evangelism program and capable to take on the leadership and supervision functions in the missionary part of the project: in particular, train and instruct the web missionaries.

Since 2002 UFC is doing an annual magazine for the first year university students called “Bolshaya Premyena” (“Big Brake”) utilizing the same “Bridge concept”. In previous years though it was just slightly associated with UFC online resources, but the editorial team is ready to expand the project heavily into internet and use the well-known brand and the printed magazine with 50 000 run to actively promote the online resources.

The project will be done in close collaboration with Christian publishing group NARD, where people have a good experience in publishing projects, both printed and online, and publishing infrastructure necessary to effectively manage the online content. NARD is a member of GCIA – Global Christian Internet Alliance. It is currently involved in several publishing projects with UFC, including “Bolshaya Premyena” magazine, FamilyMinistry publications, etc. The group is currently involved in launching together with leading Christian internet portal the online version of “Christinity” magazine focused on the next generation of church leaders. The magazine is done with close collaboration with Christianity Today International.

Taking into account that the project has no spatial boundaries, it could be done by the joint forces of the divisions of Campus Crusade in the countries of former USSR.

2005 Project Plans

The content management requires 2-3 freelance translators, 2 editors working full time, 2 persons full time to do web design and programming. The volume of content can be reasonably estimated as about 2.5 mB of text per year.

The Bridge Strategy II: How to build a 'bridge'

There are several ways that you can draw people 'across the bridge' to pages which explain the Gospel. We can also call this a 'layered approach' - unwrapping a present contained in several covererings of paper:

a. Your testimony
Whatever sort of site you have, make a link to 'meet the webmaster' or 'my story'. Here is a chance to share your testimony. (But don't call it 'testimony' – that's a Christian jargon word.) Introduce yourself first, where you live, what you like, etc. Then go on to explain how something happened to you which changed your whole view of life. "People are interested in people." They always turn to the human-interest stories in newspapers first. Short audio or video clips of the person can also add interest to a testimony page.
· Angie's Story – how to write testimonies for non-Christians

b. 'Meaning of life' links
On any type of website, you can offer a link such as 'What is the meaning of life?' or 'Finding real fulfillment'. These do not sound preachy or even Christian, yet show some sort of non-threatening 'spirituality' content. As well as leading to a sensitive explanation of the Gospel, there is also the opportunity to provide FAQ-type apologetics answers

Jesus used stories with a message as his main means of evangelistic communication. And he didn't always explain the meaning – he left people to go away and think! Whatever the subject of a website, it is possible to write a page which brings out a parable or parallel from the main subject. For instance, a site about restoring VW cars can include a page which suggests that just as old cars need new engines, we need something new inside our lives. A site about breeding mice can include a page about how a mother mouse cares for her young, and this is the same as God's care for people. There is an angle like this for almost any subject. Films, books and music lend themselves very well to this approach. They often contain meanings which the writers never intended.

A 'bridge' page should not 'look' Christian in terms of its language or graphics. The more apparently secular in its appearance, the better it will communicate with those with no Christian background. Like all pages, it should avoid jargon. It may make little mention of Christianity at all, allowing the links to other pages to progressively offer more material on the Gospel. The Gray Matrix helps us to understand how to communicate with people who have little knowledge or enthusiasm for the Gospel. We must learn how to become information architects.

The balance
It is important to take care to get the balance right. Many of the evangelistic sites showcased in this Guide are using the Bridge Approach in a wise and sensitive way. Web evangelists may differ as to just how low-key the entry page of a Bridge site should be. "Wisdom is justified by all her children." (Luke 7:35) But there is a big need for creative new ways of using the Bridge Strategy.

Biblical basis
Jesus told us to "go and preach the Gospel", not wait for people to come and hear it in our church buildings.
"It is altogether a mischievous thing that we should confine our preaching within walls. Our Lord, it is true, preached in the synagogues, but he often spake on the mountain side, or from a boat, or in the court of a house, or in the public thoroughfares. To him, an audience was the only necessity. He was a Fisher of souls of the true sort, and not like those who sit still in their houses, and expect the fish to come to them to be caught." (Spurgeon).
The Bridge Strategy is essentially the cyber equivalent of this ethos. Of course, it must be used without any element of trickery.
The Bridge Strategy is an identification with felt needs and common interests. Jesus' person-to-person ministry almost always started from the position of felt needs.

Effective communication happens when there is an area of shared experience, clearly demonostrated in Wilbur Schramm's biblical concept of overlapping interests.

Bridge pages are a demonstration of incarnational evangelism - that sense of total identification with people exemplified by the Lord Jesus. For more on incarnational evangelism, see Tell It Often.

Although the Gospel never changes, our means and strategies must do so. Although we cannot compare the strategies needed for today with those which worked 150 years ago, it is worth noting that Spurgeon used something very similar to the Bridge approach. For instance, speaking at what would now be called a Businessman's Breakfast in Aberdeen, he spoke on "Success in Life", first in secular affairs and then in spiritual life. Indeed, all his writings were embedded with secular illustrations and humor.

Rick Warren speaks of the bridge principle in relation to sermon writing.
· Many of these evangelistic pages use the Bridge Strategy.
· This case study of a women's outreach site demonstrates wise use of the Bridge Strategy.
· An integrated web outreach in Poland is using this strategy very effectively.
· Creative Ministry Planning explains how to start with a felt need, and go on to plan a creative outreach strategy.

'Worthy witness' - no tricks
The Bridge Approach must not, of course, use any form of deception or trickery, which would in any case be counter-productive. We can certainly surprise visitors by an unusual angle, intrigue them, but at all times do it with love and integrity. More...

Not the only way
For people who are already seeking more of God, of course a Bridge site is not necessary! But there are already large numbers of excellent web pages available which will help a seeker, whereas there are very few sites aiming to reach people 'further back'.
There are also excellent evangelistic sites which do not primarily use the Bridge Strategy, but have other strategies to draw people to them. For instance, Power to Change is involved in integrated advertising campaigns through other media. It is also ideal for Christians with personal Bridge pages to link to as a core presentation of the Gospel.

The Bridge Strategy: A way to reach millions

"Use what is dominant in a culture to change it very quickly. It is in your self-interest to find a way to be very tender."
- Carved quotation outside Ulazdowski Castle Arts Centre, Warsaw

"Bait the hook according to what the fish likes, not what the fisherman likes." - Hemingway

It is important to understand that the Web is a pull medium, unlike literature and radio which are linear 'push' mediums. Generally speaking, people go online to search for information. The pages which relate to the subject of their search 'pull' them in.

Most people are not searching for Christian material, and so of course will never find it. If they do, by chance, come across an obviously Christian page on a search engine listing when looking for a secular subject, they are unlikely to click on it. If they do, they probably will not stay. The majority of people are at a relatively low position of spiritual understanding on the Gray Matrix – a modification of the Engel Scale.

In any case, the overwhelming majority of Christian sites have been written for Christians, using Christian 'insider' language, jargon, and assumptions, and may be very hard for non-Christians to relate to, even if they do find such pages.

But what are most people searching for online? The things that interest them!
· Sport
· Health
· Sex and relationships
· Advice on personal problems
· Hobbies
· Local information
· Tourism ideas
· Humor
· Films
· Music
· News-related things
· Famous people
· plus a million other things

Writing yet another presentation of the way of salvation is not going to reach many of them, unless we "fish on the other side of the boat", by using . . .

The Bridge Strategy: "Be what they are searching for"

Write pages on these secular subjects or felt needs and we can target any group of people. We can call this the 'Bridge Strategy'. Others may use a different name (for instance 'magnet pages'), but it means the same – identifying with the real interests of people. This does not mean that we make trick pages that are not really about the subject they claim to be. If we write a page about restoring VW cars, or breeding mice, or a favorite musician, the page must truly be 'about' that subject. It must be as good and informative as possible, maybe with many helpful links to other pages on the subject. Bridge pages must be written with integrity. They must be contextualized for their readers: the X-Spectrum helps us to define the level of contextualization a website is using.

Emlyn and the Far Pools is a fishing story which illustrates the challenge and opportunity that the Web provides us.

Internet users: importance of information sources

The survey tells which media the online users consider an important information source.

Special thanks to mcc consulting Hugo E. Martin

Sources of Information for Internet Users

The survey tells what are the info sources preferances for Internet users wrt their online experiance.

Special thanks to mcc consulting Hugo E. Martin

Importance of Media

Importance of Media – important and very important… The survey tells which media people consider as important to them.

The importance of Internet is clearly increasing.

Special thanks to mcc consulting Hugo E. Martin

Internet is gaining

Internet is gaining – news and magazines loosing daily user. The survey shows which media people use everyday. Given in %% of people.

Special thanks to mcc consulting Hugo E. Martin

Total exposure – Print, Cinema, ... and Internet

The survey tells which media people use more or less often. Given in %% of people.

Special thanks to mcc consulting Hugo E. Martin

Leisure Activities By Internet Experience

How does the Internet experience affects people's habits. Interesting chart.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

From Hungary with love... to RUnet

Just found today from my communications with Ukraine for Christ (a CCC division in Kiev) people that Jerry & Cathy Hertzler who reside in Budapest, Hungary and seem to be concerned about current situation with web evangelism in RUnet just like we are here...

They work at the Eastern Europe and Russia Regional Office of Campus Crusade for Christ in Budapest, Hungary.

Right now Jerry helps lead CCC’s use of the Internet and other technology to tell people about Jesus Christ. He’s helping CCC’s Eastern European university ministries improve their effectiveness in reaching students.

Here's their web site with blog: May God blesses their efforts richly!