This is an article from the May-June 2023 issue: The Gospel Goes Digital
Long before ChatGPT captured the zeitgeist, advances in AI (artificial intelligence) and other technologies have accelerated the efforts and impact of Christian ministries. One encouraging example, prompted by the pandemic: Christianity Today (CT) recently published its 2,500th non-English article, spanning more than 10 languages and reaching more than 4 million readers.
As COVID-19 shut down the world right before Easter 2020, CT was able to quickly transform into a multilingual publisher with a multinational team, thanks to how today’s technologies offered a new ministry opportunity for bilingual Christians around the world who had their regular form of ministry curtailed by public health restrictions. We had more than 400 readers provide their email addresses to learn how to get involved.
For example, when Singapore was wrestling with COVID-19 before most nations, CT produced an article outlining how Singaporean churches had decided to balance public health and corporate worship. Their resulting “7 lessons learned” was translated into Spanish and Portuguese just as the virus hit the Americas, and the readership of the non-English versions exceeded the English versions by a third. This is an encouraging example of how wisdom from one national church could be made more accessible to other national churches.
Even more encouraging, our Chinese team has reached stage two of our vision, where they are sourcing most of our commentary in Chinese and then the English article is the translated version. This allows us to no longer constrain ourselves to bilingual Chinese church leaders. And we offer them a new pathway to disciple English speakers (and via our other teams: Spanish or Portuguese or Indonesian speakers) with their theologically informed reflections. It is our aspiration that each of our languages will become a true two-way street.
Today we regularly translate into Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese Simplified and Traditional, Indonesian, French, and Korean. We have also been testing Russian, Ukrainian, Arabic, Japanese, and other languages.
To do this, we rely on a partnership with an AI translation ministry and a team of volunteer and part-time proofreaders. The custom AI platform allows us to create first drafts across multiple languages, then humans proofread the machine-generated text and then an experienced translator approves the final version. Over time, the human translators face fewer revisions as the AI learns our word choices—for example, choosing an “evangelical” vs “Catholic” term for prayer—and allowing more human translators to work on smaller portions of text means more people can donate their time and talent to the kingdom with less of a burden on their jobs or families.
For years, a full third of CT’s millions of monthly readers have been outside the US. When Billy Graham passed away and we revisited his founding documents for CT, we were convicted by how global his vision was back in 1950s America. Our resulting CT global initiative is diligently researching and testing how to become more of a “central nervous system” for the Body of Christ, so that Christian wisdom can more readily cross nation and tongue. The thousands of yellow language links on our site, as well as a multilingual Advent devotional and essay contest and other products, demonstrate this commitment.
Like all ministries working across multiple languages and managing volunteers on limited nonprofit budgets, we continue to navigate challenges with increasing quantity and maintaining quality. Yet we are committed to each of our core languages becoming true two-way streets where Christian wisdom can more quickly bridge tongue and nation, and committed to adding more languages as requests and resources arise. We’re honored to get ever closer to Billy Graham’s global vision, eager to learn and collaborate with other multilingual ministries, and eager to encourage everyone to think optimistically and creatively about how to test and harness new technologies in service of finishing the task.