Why do Thai people convert to follow Jesus? What are the main influences that lead them to put their faith and trust in Jesus despite the personal and social costs? It may surprise some to know that it is not Christian teaching or preaching that is making the difference.
The reasons for conversion are much more personal and experiential rather than logical and apologetic.
The 4 Most Important Thai Conversion Experiences
- Personal Testimony 26%
- Miracles 21%
- Bible Study 20%
- Life Example 16%
As you can see from the “one of these things is not like the other” diagram above, the “sermon” only accounted for 11% (Visser. pp. 134, 137). The impact of another person’s story and example as well as perceived miracles were the majority.
The importance of social relationships
This same study of Thai conversion (p. 123, 164) has discovered that the odds
“for a relative of a Christian becoming a Christian are 229 times greater than the average ethnic Thai.” “Relatives proved to be the most effective evangelists.”
In Thailand, the best way for the Gospel to travel is down through family and social lines rather than by an unconnected one by one approach. On p. 165 of the study Visser concludes that,
“The conversion of most new Christians is influenced by people in their own social network.”
Thai people, like most Asians, are much less individualistic than we are in the Western world. The thoughts and opinions of family weigh heavily on their decisions. This aspect of Thai culture is called “collectivism.”
The influence of Buddhism on the Thai mind has also helped to put a high value on personal experience. I wrote about this awhile back when quoting the Kalama Sutta of the Buddha where one is taught by him to value personal experience over dogma.
The influence of the supernatural
Thai people live in a world where the miraculous interacts with the natural world on a daily basis.
- A popular TV show in Thailand is simply named “Miracle.“
- Most popular Buddhist books reference miracles and power.
Although miracles don’t guarantee a person’s conversion, they still have a profound influence on both the person who receives and the people who hear their story.
Some cross cultural workers might want to shy away from miracles or even talk of praying for miracles such as physical healing, deliverance from evil spirits, & dreams and visions. But I believe this is a hinderance and I would like to encourage workers to step out in faith and explore any opportunities that come their way.
See this Thai lady’s testimony to see one example of how the miraculous is playing a part in Thai conversions.
After a real miracle occurs I believe it’s important for someone to help ground the recipient in the reality of who Jesus is and what He requires. Otherwise, that person might gladly receive their miracle and go back to their normal routines without making Jesus Lord of their life.
Where is most strategy focused?
Like many places in the world, the majority of energy and effort given by Thai leaders is on Sunday service and the weekly sermon.
I value the power of true Spirit-filled teaching and preaching and even a good apologetic. But in regards to seeing Thai people come to faith in Jesus, the sermon plays a small role. Logic rather than experience is a weaker method and less received.
Outreach strategy in Thailand can tend to be a “come and see” approach versus a “go and tell.”
What do we need to understand?
If we are going to reach those who are far away from God in Thailand, we are going to have to focus on “empowering every believer” with confidence to share their own personal stories with their friends & relatives.
- Personal testimony coupled with a strong life example of change accounts for 42% of Thai conversions.
- Add miracles to the mix and the number is 63%.
We should be equipping every Thai believer with a biblical supernatural orientation that emphasizes Jesus as the “name above every name.” In order to work with the Thai, our own world view needs to make room for true supernatural ministry.
Biblical sermons and studies are important, but they are not as influential in Thai conversions as we may have liked to believe.
This post is part 4 of an ongoing series:
Part One: Progress of the Gospel in Thailand
Part Three: Makeup of the Church in Thailand