Opaque vs Transparent Strategies – 1

Written in


Welcome back. You belong here.

There is a spectrum of approaches for creating community with and among unreached people. Let’s draw from the world of technology for an anology.

Technologies exist on an opacity/ transparency spectrum. [Hat Tip to polymath and wordmaven Dean Sharp for the find].
An OPAQUE technology is one in which the technology being used is cumbersome or is
“in the way.” Posting a photo to your website using HTML is opaque. The HTML stands
between you and the task you’re seeking to accomplish. In a sense, you can’t “see” through
the technology to the photos you want to post. Opaque technologies require skills and capacities that do not come naturally to the user. For a more TRANSPARENT technology, think of using “Point to and click” technology to drag the photo of your choice into the page you’re creating. Using your finger to point is more natural to the user than typing HTML.
A transparent technology is one in which the technology is invisible.

Opacity and transparency exist on a spectrum and not necessarily across a divide.


In the world of community building and/or church planting, approaches will be somewhere on the Opacity/ Transparency spectrum. An opaque strategy would be one in which the following words, images or practices — church, cross, services, programs, worship, fellowship — combine with any of the following words contemporary, postmodern, alternative.

An example of an OPAQUE church planting approach
would be this billboard I recently saw:

Pastor XYZ invites you to
xyz church
programs for all ages
Rocking worship
Sunday’s at 11
“this is not your father’s church”

This is obviously communication from Christians to Christians. Within churched circles this
communique is somewhat transparent. For the outsider, this communication is OPAQUE. All they might know for certain is that their father didn’t go there.

An example of a more transparent church planting approach would be:
invite an unreached person to join you for dinner at a local restaurant.
Throw a party and include your unreached neighbors on the list.
Go to parties with your unreached friends.

You get the idea. The transparent approach puts relationships on the forefront.
The opaque approach hides them behind programs, worship, church services, etc.

A “party” is transparent. An excuse for people to get together, have fun, build friendships. Not of all us like parties, but the intent is obvious. You can “see” through it.

One of the the first steps in effective evangelism is becoming normal again. Social again. Transparent again. Reaching people may be easier and scarier than we thought. Easier because we don’t need a budget, a building, a core team, or a seminary education. Scarier because there is nothing stopping you.

See you in the mystic…


Into the Mystic Updates:


24 responses to “Opaque vs Transparent Strategies – 1”

  1. Matt Wiebe Avatar

    Some solid arguments against “Christianese” here. I love that you equate effective evangelism with being normal. I don’t know how many stupid things I’ve done because of messed up notions of what “super-Christian” me should be.

  2. breathe fire Avatar

    > One of the the first steps in effective evangelism
    > is becoming normal again. Social again.
    > Transparent again….Scarier because there is
    > nothing stopping you.

    I’ve tried to find ways to explain to christians how to be normal again. Maybe I’ll just point them to this post in the future!

    Thanks for the good thoughts.

  3. Andy Avatar

    But if I love my non-Christian friends — if they really are friends — then I’ll have dinner with them and spend time with them regardless of whether it’s a good strategy or not. I don’t like this word strategy, which I used frequently in the past, because that seems to emphasize my already overblown tendency to toward taking control (and minimize the concurrent risk of losing control by really loving people without strings attached).
    BTW, in your example, a transparent technology is easier to use but it’s inherently restrictive of the user. The one who writes the software controls the user’s choices and what he or she can or can’t do. Those who use transparent technologies feel like they’re we’re more in control but actually we’re losing touch with what’s really going on. Basically, transparent technology is not transparent at all, just the illusion of transparency.
    If the metaphor holds, how about taking a cue from the open source community. People should not only see what we’re doing but also our expectations, motives and pretenses — not to mention our ultimate source code, whether it’s self-direction or Jesus. That’s transparent and revolutionary, too.

  4. breathe fire Avatar

    I like your thoughts. I struggle with the word ‘strategy’ in these regards as well. My interactions with friends are much more fluid than that. I just want to display His love and His changes in my life. I have really dropped the ‘agenda’ with fixing them. Where the word ‘strategy’ might be needed is explaining this to those who don’t get it though. What language would you use to explain this to people wanting to follow after Christ but stuck in the old paradigms of ‘evangelism’?

  5. Jesse Avatar

    Awesome post, Alex. I’m finding that it’s hard to get unreached people to believe that you really don’t have an agenda. I’m trying to refer to myself as a “non-Christian believer/follower of Jesus” to point out that I’m just as against the warpedness of modern Christianity as they are. I think it’s going to come down to earning respect by hanging around even though it is uncomfortable for both of us.
    Those stuck in the old paradigms of ‘evangelism’ are going to have to be willing to tackle tough questions that will incite them to leave their comfortable, familiar way of thinking. The best thing we can do is ask them probing questions.

  6. Cindy Kruschel Avatar
    Cindy Kruschel

    Great comments. Steve, do we have to explain the “strategy”? We make friends with people, like anyone else. We’re there for them, listen, talk about what’s going on with us too. God does His thing. We don’t need a method, just a focus on those we’re in relationship with, God and man. Don’t you think so?

  7. breathe fire Avatar

    Cindy, I totally agree with your thoughts:
    “We make friends with people, like anyone else. We’re there for them, listen, talk about what’s going on with us too. God does His thing.”

    But my experience is that those who are used to a programmatic evangelism approach keep waiting for the next step. When you explain there is no next step, they don’t understand.

    IMO, we have there is a two-pronged responsibility in leading through this area. Leading those who have no experience following Christ (much easier for them to understand this approach) and leading those who have been exposed to historical Western evangelism approaches.

    I don’t interface with many church type people but I know that most don’t understand my approaches to interacting with those who don’t follow after Him. I fit better with those who don’t know Him (yet).

  8. Cindy Avatar

    I am finding the same thing to be true Steve. The problem with showing “us churched folk” the next step is that, well, there is no formula. If you look in the gospels Jesus doesn’t treat any one person the same. He meets them where they are. He speaks to their individual need. I know you know. 🙂 I think that maybe if asked for the next step, by those who are desperately trying to understand,there would be no pat answer to give them. Listen, would be my advice.

  9. Alex Avatar

    Andy, you’d have dinner with your friends even if it was a bad strategy? ok.

    the word strategy is useless unless one has goals and/or objectives. that’s why leaders must speak of strategies. like you, i’d rather “just” hang with my friends, but i feel for and target these posts to those who “must” lead.

    LOVE your pointing to the “open source” community.
    What are the expectations, motives and pretenses of this community? You can see that?

    do you think that those who write the software are really in control? tell me more.

  10. Alex Avatar


    the formula you suggest then is..
    1] don’t treat anyone the same
    2] meet them where they are
    3] speak to their individual need

    this may be a bit of individualistic reductionism in that it fails to appreciate the universal truths and commonalities of all human beings. the things that speak to all of us.

    another formula to complement yours would be…
    1] treat everyone the same
    2] call them to where they want to be
    3] invite them to transcend their own individual but speaking of the needs of others

    both are true and help us along the way. thanks.

  11. Alex Avatar


    I’ve found that those trained in programmatic evangelism know the next steps. Their training takes them from how to initiate the conversation to how to close the deal.

    I like what you and Cindy are suggesting —an authentic conversation in which God does his thing through us as we interact with those that need to know. This is a conversation we cannot control but in which we can engage on behalf of Christ.

  12. Cindy Avatar

    Hey Alex,
    Thanks. I totally respect your role as a leader, actually a leader of leaders. I just have a problem with some of the lingo. do “normal” people walk around with an agenda? If the transparent approach puts relationships on the forefront then treating those relationships individually is most important. I do not want to treat my friends like a number or a notch in my belt. I find the strategy(going out with an agenda) and the love of people to be in opposition to each other. I’m sure the problem I am having here is my own inner termoil. I

  13. Alex Avatar

    thanks. i’ve enjoyed your contributions to the discussion here.

    agenda — a list of things we need to get done.

    yes, the word “agenda” is a palabra non grata in many circles today. but, it’s hard to envision “love” as described in scripture as without agenda. also, love as demonstrated by jesus during his life is difficult to describe as without agenda. only love, defined by our culture as “a warm feeling”, can be understood to be without agenda. but even there the agenda would be to please and harmonize at all costs.

    i tend to prefer
    =>open agendas versus hidden agendas
    =>socially intelligent disclosure of agendas that put people first
    =>agendas powered by the desire to include others in Christ’s kingdom vs agendas that want to just plug numbers into a system

    whatever it is that we feel we must get done–that’s our agenda. i’d like for us to help the world become human again. that’s my agenda.

  14. Brian Bowen Avatar


    But you know, Jesus himself laid out a plan or strategy or method or whatever word we choose to use to describe it, for evangelism. It’s quiet simple actually. Just check out when he sent out the 72 or the 12 or when Paul talks about… I don’t come to you with eloquent speech. Or with the blind guy who simply said… “All I know is, I was once blind, but now I see.”

    The plan was this… go and met people… let them see my power working through you… then when they ask “What in the world is THAT?” you tell them it’s the kingdom of heaven.

    or simply.. Demonstrate my power and explain about the Kingdom

    I think for your average American Christian evangelical, doesn’t see the power. So we create formulas and tools to help explain the power really is there. “No trust me… the bible says so, so it must be true.” The problem is, the people you are trying to convince with this intellectual argument don’t believe it, well, because they don’t see it in the person trying to do the convincing.

  15. Alex Avatar


    We should delete “the bible says so…” from the arsenal.

    and we should use words, thought they lack eloquence. these ugly words gain their power by a life beautifully lived, or a noble course of action selflessly taken.

    when i think of evangelism i think of jesus inviting others to follow him on his quest to change the world.[Mark 1]

  16. Nicolas Nelson Avatar

    btw, if you think those who do not follow Christ have no agendas, or don’t use the word “agenda” in their casual conversation… I’m not sure which “normal people” you’ve been hanging out with.

    Agenda, Strategy, Values, even “change the world one person at a time” (and riffs on that theme) all permeate the thoughts, feelings and relationships of most folks I know. See bringyourown.org, pleasantrevolution.net, reason.com and http://www.regenerativedesign.org/sowhatispermaculturebook, just for starters. Not to mention the more high-profile stuff like moveon.org (or taemag.com– conservatives need Jesus too). Listen to any talk radio. Read any columnist.

    Humans are drawn to passion like moths to flame, whatever trappings that passion wears. Humans also tire of deception and hollowness.

    It really is okay (at least for me in my social network) to have agendas and strategies, and be prepared to compare them with others– now that’s an interesting line of conversation I enjoy!

    And this affects our parties: Alex, you say ::A party is transparent. An excuse for people to get together, have fun, build friendships. Not of all us like parties, but the intent is obvious. You can see through it:: The “excuse” we choose speaks volumes to those who know about the party, and it filters those who will attend.

    What people ::see:: when we throw a party to celebrate a graduation is that we value that person(s), and that we value education or achievement: those things are worth celebrating.

    When my neighbors across the street throw a party to celebrate drunkenness and sexuality, I ::see:: those values accurately in them, in a way I don’t in daily life.

    My monthly challenge (strategy?) is to come up with a way to celebrate something I value highly, something God values highly, in a way that will make that value infectious. Recently that’s been the birthdays of other kids in our neighborhood, resulting in deeper friendships with their parents that we hadn’t enjoyed before. It also means every kid in the neighborhood made sure we knew their birthday!

    For selfish reasons? Sure– they want a homemade cake. But beneath that, they now believe we care about them, that we want to celebrate them if only we knew them better… their names and birthdays… and we DO want to know them all better. That’s not manipulation, that’s really our desire. Our front yard is now Kid Central, most afternoons.

    Unfortunately, our landlord isnt’ very happy with us; all the play-traffic has pounded the lawn into a dead yellow mat.

  17. Andy Avatar

    I’m really enjoying catching up on these comments. First, I admit that I think strategically all the time. It’s a habit, of course, but one I probably won’t get rid of. I even think strategically about who I’ll have lunch with sometimes. I have choices to make, and I try to make them count.
    Having said that, I’m in the process of learning what it means to surrender control of my life and trust Jesus. I don’t always get it right, but I know that’s the journey I’m on. The relativizes my plans and strategies. They are all temporary and my trust or hope is not (hopefully) based in them (nor in my efforts or whatever structures I temporarily need along the way).
    I am more leery of strategies (agendas, structures) realized through institutions, roles, structures, and humanly initiated movements. My experience says that rather than dying to themselves, these things become self-sustaining and over time. It’s easy, of course, to take pot shots at institutions (everyone’s favorite target). My greater concern, at the moment, is humanly initiated movements. It’s debatable to me whether we should try to initiate and guide movements, because we may end up with something that looks big that’s really far too small. I read on a blog that Barna said the whole emergent “movement” would be a drop in the bucket of history compared with the “revolutionary” phenomenon that he observed. He is observing a loose, dispersed wave of movement that nobody planned but that is vast and consequential. I want to be part of something vast, but I’m leery about trying to make such a thing happen or guide it if God’s really has that part wired.

    About the open source software thread — it’s true there are those who want to control and profit off of open source. They may even be driving the whole thing; I don’t know. The beauty of open source software as a metaphor is simply that anyone who takes the time can see the inner workings of whatever a group is doing. I think we followers of Jesus could use more open source communities and less proprietary (guarded and controlling) ones. There are inimical elements in the open source movement who want to get offer their “help” organizing things so they can control and profit from all this energy. Again, you have a spontaneous overall movement and managed movements within it. The comparison is incomplete because nobody in the open source community expects God to coordinate the process (actually, maybe that does compare with the GENERAL state of the church in it’s present day quests for movements).

  18. Alex Avatar


    Thanks for your contribution.

    People whose total trust is in Christ have the most powerful agenda: His.

    The ability to “self-sustain” is a goal of movement. If it needs outside help, it is not a movement.

    how would you distinguish a “human intitiated” movement and a “spirit intitiated movement”?

  19. Andy Avatar

    …it’s mystical. 😉
    “The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear its sound, but don’t know where it comes from and where it is going. So is every (movement that) is born of the Spirit.”
    I especially like the thought that you sense a movement of the Spirit but “don’t know where it comes from and where it is going.”

  20. Alex Avatar

    Andy, so true. so so true.

    Nic, great to hear from you. always insightful.

  21. […] For a great read on more of what I’m talking about you can take in a blog post by Alex McManus on how being on mission is about being transparent. You an read the post HERE–> […]

  22. Marcus Avatar

    I am new to this, so please forgive me if my thoughts aren’t as developed as you folks, but I feel trapped between two places, and somewhere in the midst of my frustration, there is peace–or I need there to be. There is the piece of me that needs everything in my life to be structured and systemitized. I desire the predictable ‘next step’, and yet I want to live outside of that. I am drawn to breaking out of a system that obviously has it’s issues–churchianity. And at the same time I also feel a strong sense of urgency to cling savagely to the Word, and fundemental theology. The reality is that I want to be transparent, but I also want to be transparently honest with those around me that we are a broken and depraved creation that needs a devine hand to lift us from the mire of our damaged reality. I struggle because I want to be in genuine relationship, but I also feel that I need to ‘pontificate’ the ‘four spiritual laws’. I am not sure if any of this makes sense…I desire to be a ‘part of the movement’, but I want to be able to package it in a system that I can follow. Andy, I appreciate your comments about the Spirit–I just want Him to consult with me about his road map, and a least give me a copy. Let me know when you all figure it out.

  23. Nozza Avatar

    I know I am coming into this conversation late, but I just wanted to add to it.

    I love the whole opaque & transparent analogy. And it is so true. Western church has brain washed us into how to do church. And from personal experience, when those few radicals among us try to break out of the box, we still think in terms of church. For example, we tried to run an event based around the World Cup Final in July, away from church. It was an amazing opportunity to reach the unreached. What did we do? We did ‘church’, but just in different surroundings. It did not do what we had intended.

    I was at ORIGINS in May and some of the talk from Alex was just great. We really need people like him to break our misconceptions about what church is. So many people here in Ireland just don’t know Jesus because the church has got in the way…just like Alex described with the photos and the HTML.

    Again, I am only speaking from experience…

  24. Nicolas Nelson Avatar

    Marcus, I admire your courage and honesty. More power to you. And when you get that map from the Spirit, send me a copy! 😉

    Nozza, hang in there, keep creating new experiences out of the ancient truths and passions!

    Now I’m off to finally read that pingback Alex posted earlier [2006Nov30], about transparency in mission… hope to see you there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: