Responsive design, web design that enables websites to automatically resize and reformat to provide the best experience for the user’s screen, is critical to the future success of websites. I’m downright aghast and quick to navigate away to a new site (because surely the information is out there somewhere else) when a blog doesn’t instantly accommodate me. I’m a bit of a fanatic here (and in lots of other ways) but I think the sentiment is common: serve up the same content in the best way, no matter how I access your site.
A full-sized, desktop-oriented web page displayed on my much smaller phone screen makes standard web font turn into an eye exam.
Practically any major website you can think of has responsive design enabled, and even mom and pop sites (like this one) can figure out responsive design with a template or a few simple coding tweaks. Nearly a third of all traffic to my blog comes from mobile devices, and serving up content on a mobile device the same way I would to someone using a laptop or desktop computer is frustrating for the user. It communicates, “I know this looks like crap, but it’s better than nothing.”
Responsive design follows the same logic of restaurants offering kid portions, small portions and large portions–the right size for the right person, even though the content (the meal) may be the same.
The Evangelism Model
Our head of research and development for Cru, Keith Davy, developed a concept called The Evangelism Model. Keith walks through five components in the model, including The Master, the Message, the Messengers, the Masses (the world as an audience) and effective Methods. The Master, the Message and the Messengers always remain the same. The Master, God the Father, is ultimately sovereign and in control. His Message of salvation, the gospel, to all who believe in Jesus will always be the same: repent and believe (no matter what the emphasis du jour—gospel-centered, missional, social justice, etc. is). The Messengers, although they change individually, will corporately remain the same as God’s people, the Church around the world.
But a few things do change: the communication Methods and the Masses1 who will hear.
For now, let’s just talk Methods.
We don’t share the gospel the same way the Apostle Paul shared the gospel. We don’t go to synagogues to preach Jesus as the Christ to the Jews. I’m sure some people may, but it’s not, at least in America, our primary form of reaching people with the message of Jesus.
Paul would also go where people were talking about philosophy and reasoned with them about who Jesus really is. Philosophy clubs still exist (mostly on the campuses of liberal arts schools), but there’s not an Areopagus in Northeast Ohio I can venture to. As far as I know, Paul never used PowerPoint (God bless him) to bore his audience into faith in Christ. It’s unlikely he sent YouTube links of digital gospel presentations.
But online presentations are good things. They aren’t the only way to share the gospel. They probably aren’t even the best way. But they are a way and it’s worth exploring.
So the Methods in evangelism change. But it’s not just the Methods that change, it’s our whole process for doing ministry. We have to respond to people. We have to meet them where they are, whatever their needs are, so that they can see their deepest need as sinners.
Practicing Responsive Ministry
We can’t continue to serve content in the same way to every person and expect it to resonate with them. God is ultimately sovereign. He wills and works in each heart individually, but he has invited us to partner with him. And partnering with him means incorporating ministry patterned after responsive design, I suppose we could call it responsive ministry. Responsive ministry brings every person the same content, the gospel, tailored specifically to them and their ability to understand, their desire to know and their questions and objections.
Here are a few ways we can think about adapting our ministry to respond to the needs of those around us.
- Were they hurt by a church they grew up in? Respond by listening and asking questions about that hurt, instead of just extending an invitation to your local church.
- Do they have a lot of questions? Instead of just rattling off a canned presentation, interact with them and seek to understand their questions and provide them with answers as you’re able.
- Have they never been to a church? Then offer an invitation, and pick them up, and walk through the doors with them and sit with them and give them an overview of how things normally work to make them feel comfortable. Then introduce them to others in the church.
- Does their culture resist outsiders? Then become an insider by befriending them and joining their community to connect with them and then try to link them to the Master through the Message.
- Do they have physical needs or just need a friend? Then offer them help, and let them know why you’re helping and what gives you a heart to serve.
We never change the Message. But we have the tools, and the opportunity to adapt the ministry to respond to the needs.
This isn’t a new idea2, just a new category for thinking about delivering the ever-important, two-thousand year old message: Jesus is Lord.
Question: How have you seen responsive ministry make a difference in the lives of people? What changes do you need to make personally or in your ministry?
Photo provided by freebiesbug
1. It could be argued that the Audience is the same, and in essence they are in the sense that they don’t (yet) believe Jesus is the Messiah, but worldviews iterate and change over time, so the route to their heart is at least slightly different.
2. In fact, it’s very much a riff off of Keith’s superb model.