Is the Gospel Online?
We evaluated the accuracy of websites in handling biblically related topics by searching the term ‘gospel’ in the search engine, Bing. We assessed if the plan of salvation, as described in the Bible, was presented accurately and clearly. We included the first 55 websites that appeared in order, excluding none.
To emulate a person searching for the contents of the gospel we limited the time on the website to one minute to determine if the gospel message could be clearly found.
The study assessed the presence of the four basic elements of the Gospel message from Romans 3:23-26 and Ephesians 2:8-9 on each site provided by the online search:
- Man sinned
- God is just, requiring a punishment for sin
- But out of love God sent His Son, Jesus Christ who by dying on the cross, provided forgiveness of sins in taking man’s deserved punishment
- Therefore, by accepting with faith alone Christ’s gracious sacrifice for forgiveness of sins, man can gain eternal life
These four points, without extra works added, were found in 22 (40%) sites. Incomplete or no gospel information was found on 27 (49%) sites and doctrinal errors were found on 6 (11%) sites (4 added works to salvation while 2 minimized the importance of the substitutionary death of Christ).
Of the 22 (40%) sites that presented the gospel, we judged the 4-step plan to salvation was easily found and understood within one minute on 9 (16%) sites.
Regarding webpage origin, 28 (51%) sites said they were informational, 4 (7%) related to a mission organization, 4 (7%) denominational, 4 (7%) blog, and 15 (27%) other (i.e., general information, dictionary, encyclopedia, etc.).
Regarding the sponsoring denomination, 3 (5%) sites were Roman Catholic, 1 (2%) was Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), 4 (7%) were non-denominational and 47 (85%) did not specify an organized Christian affiliation.
This study shows for an unbeliever who searches for how to become a Christian using a popular search engine with the term ‘gospel, the plan of salvation is easily found and understood within one minute in about one-sixth of sites.
Therefore, for the Christian seeker it may take some persistence and surveying a number of websites before finding the gospel clearly stated. Further, they might be confused by doctrinal errors and unclear messaging on some sites. Consequently, the seeker might confirm the information found online with a knowledgeable Christian friend, pastor or by comparing to other websites.