© Leo Reynolds, used under a Creative Commons licence (by-nc-sa-2.0).

Gray’s the color of life

Understanding the Gray Matrix

Engel promoted a revolution. Not Engels the Marxist thinker, but James Engel the missiologist. He first outlined what has become known as the ‘Engel Scale of Spiritual Decision’. This describes the way in which an individual, or by extension a whole group, progress in their understanding of the gospel, as God’s sovereign grace begins to illuminate their hearts. By understanding the way God communicates, we can become better co-communicators.

          +5 Stewardship
        +4 Communion with God
      +3 Conceptual and behavioural growth
    +2 Incorporation into Body
  +1 Post-decision evaluation
New birth
  -1 Repentance and faith in Christ
    -2 Decision to act
      -3 Personal problem recognition
        -4 Positive attitude towards gospel
          -5 Grasp implications of gospel
            -6 Awareness of fundamentals of gospel
              -7 Initial awareness of gospel
                -8 Awareness of supreme being, no knowledge of gospel

Don’t be put off because it looks mathematical! For instance, when someone has come to realise they have a spiritual problem, they are at -3 on the scale. If we understand roughly where a person (or a whole target group of people) stand spiritually on this scale, we can adjust the way that we present the gospel to them.

Refining the Engel Scale

Others have suggested different refinements of the Engel Scale, including Paul Hazelden’s Modified Engel Scale. Frank Gray of FEBC Radio, has proposed a horizontal axis of antagonism/enthusiasm to create the Gray Matrix.

The Gray Matrix

It is a remarkably simple but enlightening concept because it helps us to visualise important evangelistic concepts. Christian evangelistic communication has often failed to touch people who are low down the scale, because it has been presented in Christian language and thought-forms and has not engaged with those it was intended for. The tragedy is that so often, evangelism is only touching the ‘once-churched’‚ (those with some Christian background) rather than the ‘never-churched’‚ (those who know nothing of the gospel at all). The lower-left oval shape represents a person or group of people who are fairly resistant and lack knowledge. The challenge to us is always to use approaches which reach down as far as possible into the bottom left-hand corner!

Lessons from the Gray Matrix

Effective evangelism not only requires people to obtain more knowledge – they must also move from a position of antagonism/indifference to a more positive viewpoint. They are unlikely to wish to find out more until they view Christianity more positively.

  • Anything which moves people from left to right across the scale is ‘evangelistic’. This might include acts of service and friendship, mum and baby clubs, medical and development work – many things which are not apparently ‘preaching’ but which minister to felt needs. Yet in fact, the word Jesus used when he told us to ‘preach the gospel’‚ has a much wider meaning than speech – it refers to communication. (There is a Christian debt-counselling service in UK, where a large proportion of those helped are eventually converted.) For some people groups, apologies offered for the past historical actions of groups perceived to be ‘Christian’‚ are also healing hurts and reducing antagonism to the gospel.
  • Relationships are a key to helping people up the scale. Modes of evangelism which do not at some point connect not-yet-Christians in ongoing relationship with Christians, are unlikely to be fruitful. Research has shown that in lasting adult conversions, they reported a spiritual journey taking on average three years to commitment, and the most important factor in that period was a relationship with a praying Christian, who modelled faith to them.
  • If we can understand roughly where a single person or target group of people is situated on the scale, we can choose an appropriate approach to reach them – and we will need to understand their culture – how they really feel, think, and react.
  • If people are near the bottom of the scale, we must not use Christian language and ideas which will mean nothing to them. In fact we must assume they have zero knowledge. We must assess our message through their eyes, not ours. It may also be inappropriate to give a heavy ’preach for a decision‚ at this point. People need time to progress and understand. Instant conversions are rare. A style of presentation which bases everything around ‘praying the prayer’ without true understanding or preparation is counter-productive. We must also be aware of ways of presenting Christian content which is intensely annoying. Instead, an enticing style of permission evangelism may well be the most effective.
  • The Matrix illuminates the importance of using Bridge Strategy web-pages.
  • It also allows us to define the positioning of any Christian website, on the X-Spectrum.
  • It also validates the use of ’Chronological Bible Storying‚ used in many situations where the target group have zero knowledge of the Bible. It also highlights the need to contextualize the message to make it easier to understand for those with no biblical knowledge.
  • It is equally relevant in a cross-cultural or local church situation. An Australian church member writes:

    I love the Gray Matrix. I was wanting our small group to talk about reaching out to the community, and I found the Matrix. Our Senior Pastor took it home and loved it, and used it as a basis for sermons on vision and mission. ’Moving people to the top right‚ has now become the catch-word for a visioning and strategic planning phase the church is going through. Our mission statement has become, ‘Working together with God, to help people grow from where they are now into fully devoted followers of Christ’.

  • Pressures of society and culture, and the strategies of the Enemy, will tend to pull people down towards the bottom left-hand of the scale. God’s purpose is to draw people to the top right-hand side by his Spirit, through the witness of his people.

It is also very important to understand the ways that people actually learn anything because these closely parallel the way people gain (or fail to gain) spiritual understanding. These principles have important implications for every sort of outreach including internet evangelism. An apologetic approach can be part of effective communication.

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About the Author

Tony Whittaker

Tony Whittaker was involved in writing and advocating for digital evangelism from 1997 when he started producing the Web Evangelism Bulletin. Out of that grew the Internet Evangelism Day as a focus day each year from 2005, and as a year-round website resource. Tony has now retired, and Jesus.net took responsibility for the Web Evangelism Bulletin and internetevangelismday.com in 2018. See also the Internet Evangelism Day Facebook page.

Photo credits (from top):
© Leo Reynolds. Used under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0) licence.