Most Christians recognise the importance of sharing our faith with our family and friends and yet little thought goes into how we go about it. Let me suggest this simple model (adapted from some material by Oivind Augland on church planting movements.)
The two steps we need to take are to recognise 3 crucial ingredients to our personal evangelism and then consider the 3 sets of relationships between the ingredients that can help us be most effective.
1. Be spiritually available to God. The heart of personal evangelism is a heart that is ready to serve God. We won’t make ourselves available to others unless we are already ’available’ to God. So make a desire to speak of Christ a measure of your Christian walk, asking that he would use us and speak through us as well as asking that we would be bold and clear, making the most of every opportunity in evangelism (c.f. Col. 4:2-6).
2. Build your number of friendships. Some of us have natural opportunities to build our base of contacts or acquaintances; maybe our work constantly introduces us to new people or we meet other parents through our kids. That said, building a friendship base require us to go beyond occasional casual conversations to the kind of relationship that marks out friendship. That could mean choosing to initiate conversation by a) sharing more personal information, b) asking thoughtful questions, c) remembering important information eg what someone said they were planning to do at the weekend, the names of their family members, interests and hobbies,etc. d) managing your timetable so that you are more likely to cross paths eg arriving at the school gate at the same time each day, looking for the same assistant at the checkout, e) offering support, help, advice (as appropriate).
3. Spend time with friends. There’s not much point having friends if we don’t invest in those friendships. Like much of life its a choice between the best thing to do and a good thing to do. For Christians stuck into church that might mean we’ve made a default choice to spend most of our time with Christian friends (and church meetings!) and neglected our friends and neighbours around us. Unless we make them a priority chances are we’ll continue to give our energies to church-life. If Christ has commanded us to go and make disciples then maybe the balance needs addressing.
3 sets of relationships
Put these things in place and we’re on our way. But there is something to be said for exploring the relationship between the circles (see the diagram below).
1, Prayer is where our being spiritually available to God and building friendship circles overlap. Our commitment to build friendships and be used by God is seen in our daily decision to pray for those we would like to build friendships with. Pray for opportunity and wisdom.
2. Discernment might well describe the relationship between being available and growing relationships. We can’t possibly be spending the kind of time we might like with all of our non-Christian friends and relations. So as we pray we ask God to help us discern who to give our time and energies too and which relationships to pursue.
3. Action is where building the friendship base and nurturing those relationships kick in. That means being intentional and being proactive in these relationships. We need to clear our diaries, change our priorities, be proactive in extending invitations as we seek opportunities to share Christ.
Putting all of that together and we have ‘MI’ or maximum impact.
10 ways to keep talking
What makes witnessing to non-Christian family so difficult? For some of us it’s awkward family dynamics (maybe you live in a home where you just ‘don’t do God’ in conversation) for others it’s that we’ve talked a fair bit but that was in the past, in the early days and now you’ve reached some kind of stalemate.
How do you keep going in witnessing to family?
For some of us we need a two-stage approach to get conversations onto God. The first battle may be to move any conversations from trivial to ‘serious’ ie. a conversation in which ideas, values, are discussed and world-views open up. It is a whole lot more natural to move on to issues of faith and spirituality, even Christ, once a conversation gets more serious.
2. Listening well
If we are to ever gain a hearing for the gospel then we can do no better than demonstrating a genuine interest in the lives of family members. So make sure you listen well. Learn to be interested in them. That might even mean taking an interest in something you have no interest in to build common ground and strengthen a relationship. From a growing trust may well come more opportunity.
3. Asking genuine and open questions
People find it easier to open up about themselves and their own thoughts. As you ask questions you gain new insights and build trust and understanding in a relationship.
4. Easy does it
The wisdom we need in long-term relationships is to know when to speak and when to be silent. Knowing ourselves will help us to think are we being too quick, too direct, too aggressive, too confrontational in our attempts to talk of Jesus. Talk it through and pray it in with other Christians to gain a better perspective on how you’re doing.
5. Working the angles.
The more you’ve talked with family about Jesus, religion, the Bible, etc., the harder it seems to re-visit conversation directly on those issues. When you’ve been a Christian for some time it might be that a new, less direct approach will get you further. So how can we open up spiritual conversations using a less familiar path?
6. Speak personally of God’s grace in your life
Not every time or you’ll soon never be asked but why not try when asked ‘how are you?’ or ‘did you have a good summer’ including God in some way in the conversation. Eg. ‘It’s been a tough year this year. I don’t know how I would have coped without my faith’ or ‘I’m really grateful to God for a great bunch of work colleagues who make life a whole lot easier.’
7. Speak of common grace
Common grace is God’s goodness to all humanity as seen in creation (c.f. Matt. 5:45) e.g. good health, natural gifts or talents, the world God has made, etc. We can talk of our thankfulness to God in so many ways as well as in our witness to Christ’s death on our behalf.
8. Share in struggles
CS Lewis said – The Christian has a great advantage over other men, not by being less fallen than they nor less doomed to live in a fallen world, but by knowing he is a fallen man in a fallen world.
Often the very best thing we can do is acknowledge our weaknesses, inadequacies, fears and anxieties so that our non-Christian family see that we are in so many ways just like them but then talk about how the gospel and our relationship with Christ aids us in our struggles with falleness and brokenness.
9. Understate things.
One author suggests ‘try some shorter, incomplete, statements that point your family toward the gospel.’ Provoke discussion, raise questions, don’t give the ‘full’ answer, learn the art of being ‘interesting’ in comments you make.
10. Connect with gospel truth in our culture e.g. Hillsborough
Over the last couple of days the revelation that police-officers colluded to cover-up failings in the policing at the Hillsborough tragedy have led to repeated claims in our press and tv media for justice to be done. Such a story allows us to (with due sensitivity) raise questions about justice in a god-less world or an expression of confidence on our part that God will one day ‘right every wrong’.
As we look for common ground and shared values we can show that the God of the Bible stands behind such ideas.
Don’t give up on your family. Continue to pray, after all if God brought you to life in Christ why not them! Remain focused and faithful.
For more ideas and a helpful overview of the issues can I suggest Bringing the gospel home by Randy Newman.
After yesterday’s post of 7 tips from friends of mine on their workplace witness for Christ here are a further 8 top tips from the same good people.
8. I think it’s important to socialise but not to compromise. I like to go out with my colleagues and join in the social events, but to be distinctive at them, eg for me that’s not drinking. I’ve had the most interesting conversations on nights out when people are more relaxed.
9. Be patient and in it for the long haul. You don’t have to be talking to people constantly about Jesus to be a good witness. As long as people know you’re a Christian, sometimes you just have to wait for them to come to you…and they will come. It took five years before one colleague/friend talked to me, and another 8 years for another colleague to take a real interest.
10. Don’t expect colleagues to behave as Christians would if they’re not Christians. Eg Some Christians ask others not to swear and blaspheme in front of them at work. In my opinion there are enough barriers to Christianity without putting more up (others may disagree with me though).
11. People will come and go at work. Don’t be disheartened when colleagues you’ve invested time in move on – we’re often just a small part of the bigger picture.
12. Accept that some colleagues will not like the fact you’re a Christian and it’s possible they will treat you unfairly because of it. Real wisdom is required in each situation.
13. Keep a long term perspective – in all likelihood you’re going to give more time to your colleagues than you receive back from them. Our reward is in heaven and it’s good to remember that.
14. I think it’s also worth saying that, whilst we should pray for and make the most of gospel opportunities at work, we should not beat ourselves up if we do not have a gospel conversation every day. Our first duty is to serve our employer well, i.e. to do the job we’re paid to do in the workplace God has chosen to place us. For most of us evangelism doesn’t feature on our job description but it should be a natural by-product of who we are as children of God. Echoing Nick’s point, if we’re genuinely saved and we’re genuine with our colleagues about who we are, then gospel opportunities will inevitably follow.
15. I also wouldn’t start by introducing yourself to anyone by saying ‘Hi I’m Fred Bloggs and I love Jesus’ because you may as well say ‘Hi I’m Fred Bloggs and I’m a nutter, give me a wide berth cos I’m going to Bible bash you at every opportunity’.
Yesterday I posted my own top tips on workplace evangelism. Today 7 very helpful comments on the do’s & don’t's as well as what keeps people going in their workplace witness
1. It’s not difficult being a witness at work – people just think it is. People are more afraid of what colleagues will think if they tell them they’re a Christian when in fact apathy is the biggest enemy. Telling people what you’re doing at the weekend (going to church on Sunday) introduces the idea and conversations will develop from there. I used to get raised eyebrows when I told people I taught Sunday School (we call it something else but everyone thinks they know what Sunday school is) – my response was usually ‘yes, if He’ll let me in, you can definitely get in’ type of thing. People will ask questions in their own time out of interest. I have never ever had anyone mock or criticise me when I have mentioned my faith at work.
2. Talking about anything that isn’t shallow is a challenge isn’t it? Try this test: how does your colleague feel about their relationship with their father? Its is rare to talk about serious things (apart from work) with colleagues. Recognising that is a helpful reality check and antidote to guilt.
3. We need to share our lives with our colleagues which means extending friendship/community to them:
Two ideas to initiate this:
i) deliberately take steps to signal that you trust colleagues by being willing to be vulnerable with them. Could be as simple as being more honest in answering bog standard Monday morning questions. Instead of: “My weekend was fine, thanks” maybe “Actually my weekend was crap to be honest. Something happened that upset me and I’d quite like to talk about it…” Could be a game changing conversation. Could also be asking for advice or help with something personal.
ii) Invite a colleague to your home for meal/social time (maybe with some of your Christian friends) rather than socialise at the usual after work bar. Relate to them as friends like any other rather than a sub-class of person who you can’t really get to know beyond work. The Pharisees thought people who didn’t follow their religion contaminated the holy. This was/is nonsense. Christians still need to be better at being willing to welcome non-Christians into their holy huddles (if the non-Christians are willing!).
It may seem counter intuitive to open up like this to non-Christians but it subverts a culture or a way of relating at arms length which is the enemy of gospel conversations.
4. It’s weird that I always think I should talk about God when my life is great and hide the times when life is bad. However, when I wasn’t a Christian it was those going through really tough times saying things like “He can help me through it” that touched me the most.
5. You’re paid to do a job, so the best witness is to do your best you can at your job and keep your integrity. This is the foundation for everything else.
6. Invest time to build genuine relationships but pick the right times. Be real and genuinely interested in people, but also be wise..you’re paid to work and not chat all day so make the most of lunch times and breaks to grab a coffee with colleagues.
7. Keep your eyes open – words aren’t always required. If you spot someone having a bad day, for example, offer to put the kettle on for them even if you don’t know them that well. This can help start a relationship.
It’s never easy to speak up for Christ at work. Here’s 11 top tips to aid our evangelism
2. Remember you are paid to do your job not to evangelise. Credibility as a witness means not abusing a trust. Make the most of an opportunity but don’t stop work for extended conversations.
3. Watch the way you live as well as speak. It might be a small thing but turning up for work on time (or not!) adds or detracts from your witness to Christ.
4. Recognise that the approach to witness will look different depending on your workplace context.
If you work in a place with a large turn-over of staff you may only have one or two opportunities with people. Being bold is the key.
If your workplace involves you working with the same people day in and day out then gentleness is crucial.
If you work in a place where you are very much a junior colleague being patient might be the key.
‘Earning’ the right to be heard might be necessary in a more hierarchical organisation that will require perseverance.
Working alongside more vulnerable people; hospital patients, school children, etc. will require discernment as to when it is appropriate to share.
5. Recognise that you can go long periods of time without an opportunity at work. The work place environment is not naturally conducive to deeper conversations.
6. Build trust by demonstrating the values of friendship – compassion, loyalty, vulnerability, openness.
7. Remember details as people have shared them with you eg. Partner’s name, children’s names, ages, interests and then try to follow them up in natural conversation.
8. Pray by name for people!
9. Read a Christian book at lunch-time but think carefully about your choice. Pick a title or topic that might open up conversation eg at the time of the Olympics a biography of Eric Liddell.
10. Prepare for Monday morning and the’ interesting weekend?’ questions that might come. Have something curious to say that provokes a response.
11. Be cautious of getting too friendly or personal with someone of the opposite sex. Friendliness on our part because we want to share Christ can, in a non-Christian’s mind, be confused for romantic interest.
In a recent blog post my very good friend John Stevens made some comments about the presence of non-Christians in church services. So for example he writes: We need to face up to the fact that we have to take the gospel to people, and not just invite them to come to where we preach it.
I think to a man we would all a big amen to that. No church can afford to limit its evangelism to a ‘they have to come to us’ rather than a ‘we go to them’ model.
But John goes further than the strategic question of how best to gain the gospel a hearing to state a theological conviction that ‘inviting to church’ is not how we should look, primarily, to do our evangelism. He writes:
This doesn’t seem to be the New Testament model. In the NT, church” is the gathering for committed believers, designed to encourage and edify them. Occasionally an unbeliever might come in amongst them (1 Corinthians 14v24). The gospel is to be taken and proclaimed outside of the church
I want to push a little further so for what it’s worth here is the first of two posts on Why church services need to be the primary focus for our evangelism. I want to make the case that church ought to be the primary place for our evangelism both for the sake of the non-Christian AND for the sake of the Christian. Today I’ll focus on the non-Christian.
For the sake of the non-Christian
Although there are lots of ways in which a non-Christian can here the gospel preached through personal evangelism, enquirer courses, social or evangelistic events, the non-Christian needs to hear the gospel preached to the Christian and for that they need to be in a predominantly Christian environment.
Why do I say that? The same gospel of justification is God’s means of both conversion and transformation. It changes the lives of non-Christians and Christians and the non-Christian is greatly helped towards faith in Christ when they hear something of why and how the gospel is God’s power to not only save but to transform. They grasp how the gospel sets you free from idols of self (money, sex or power) they learn how forgiveness towards another human is possible because the resources for forgiveness are there in the gospel, they grasp how the gospel enables and strengthens marriage as the Christian is challenged from the Bible to love their wives as Christ has loved the church.
No-one has modelled preaching the gospel to Christian and non-Christian at the same time in recent years than Tim Keller. He has demonstrated that an attractional model can work in an extremely secular, hostile environment. It takes a great deal of skill and almost a whole new method of preaching to do this well but it works. New Frontiers, perhaps the fastest growing Reformed church-movement in the UK works almost entirely on this model too and God has greatly blessed their work.
As we teach non-Christians how the gospel of grace saves (justification) so they know exactly what response is required of them but then as we teach Christians how the gospel of grace continues to save (working out salvation in sanctification) so non-Christians grasp the life-changing, transformative power that is in the gospel.
In my experience non-Christians are thinking ‘what difference does the gospel make’, ‘how does it work’, ‘what impact would it have on my life’, as they listen in to preaching aimed at the Christian so they learn in real time and through real experience the answer to their questions.
Secondly, as Francis Schaeffer once said the greatest apologetic is love. Only as a non-Christian enters the Christian community can they see, taste and experience both how Christians love one another and also how loved and welcome they are amongst God’s people. How many non-Christians upon conversion talk of how this dynamic of love and acceptance has struck them as unique to the church?The market-place, or the office water-cooler for that matter, is simply not a place where this dynamic can be experienced.
Thirdly, the unity in diversity of God’s new community is unlike anything we can experience anywhere else. A church full of all sorts of people, across all cultural divides and age and race barriers is a phenomena that is humanly inexplicable. Here is the gospel in glorious technicolour! We need to invite non-Christians to see it for themselves.
I could go on with at least three more reasons but I think this is enough for now.
I’m not surprised that more people are converted at City Church by coming along to our church Sunday by Sunday than by attending A Passion for Life (not that I am anything but an enthusiastic supporter of such initiatives!).
What does this mean for City Church Birmingham?
We expect non-Christians to be present in our services.
We speak as if non-Christians are present
We work very hard in our sermons to speak to both Christian and non-Christian at the same time.
We encourage Christians to simply bring their friends and they do!
One final reflection: I think the attractional model works well amongst younger people in urban contexts than some other settings. I agree with John that it is harder to get people into churches than a generation ago but in a city like Birmingham where 37% of our population is 25 or under, church remains my primary focus for evangelism.
I was converted when a friend had the courage to invite me to go with him to a normal Sunday service and I thank God that he did.
Randy Newman waited a long time to see his 75 year old mother come to faith in Christ. That’s what makes him the ideal author of Bringing the gospel home – sharing your faith with family and friends. From his personal experience he writes;
I’ve seen the value of patience, the significance of prayer, the marvel of grace, and the power of love.
Most Christians find sharing their faith a challenge at the best of times but sharing faith with family as Newman testifies ‘seems infinitely more daunting.’
The book is a great resource to help all of those who like myself have the responsibility and challenge of being Christians in a family who are mostly not Christians. The book isn’t about technique or methodology but about how the gospel meets the unique challenges of witness to family. So Newman begins the book saying;
How we think about our family while telling them the good news is almost as important as how we think about our message.
So here are 8 take homes from his first chapter to help us think a little more about a tough topic.
1. Family is at the heart of God’s purposes.
It is designed to be a special place with unqiue ‘family dynamics’. We should have a special concern for family. When it works well it is a real blessing.
Families were instituted by God to foster intimacy, to build trust, to be the springboard from which all relationships should work.
2. Families are often where we feel the effects of the fall most acutely.
The closer the relationship the greater the pain when sin spoils or even fractures relationships that are designed to run deep. Nowhere is the consequence of sin greater or more disturbing than in the home. When we have been hurt by members of our family through arguments, divorce, abuse and so on it has profound effects.
3.When family works well it makes witnessing hard.
If our family is a truly happy one then who wants to be the person to break it apart? When we come to faith it adds a new dynamic. There is a new person in our lives, we now have a relationship with Christ, not shared by our family.
Witnessing is understandably hard if we love our parents. We are desperate not to upset them or disappoint them. When a particularly close relationship with a sibling is suddenly altered by our new relationship with Christ it threatens to drive a wedge between you. No wonder if our first attempts to witness are not met with an enthusiastic reception, out of love for our family, we begin to want to hold back.
4. When family goes wrong it makes witnessing hard.
If we have been hurt or betrayed by our family, because the pain runs so deep, we might well run from family. Maybe we cut off connections with certain family members or choose to spend less time at home or simply emotionally disconnect. To protect ourselves from the pain we seek independence from our family.
How helpful to be reminded that Jesus was rejected by his own family only to see them come to faith later. Most notably, James, his own half-brother who would become a key leader of the church in Jerusalem.
5. For those blessed by a loving family the gospel teaches us that family is not ultimate
In becoming Christian we find new reasons to thank God as we see for the first time that a loving family comes from his hand in order to bless but we also learn that we have to stop idolizing family relationships as we serve God.
Jesus said in Mark 3 ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.’
Jesus’ placing of family underneath kingdom relationships serves as both a rebuke and an encouragement.
6. For those saddened by broken family relationships the gospel teaches us that family is redeemable
The Bible also teaches us to not give up on even the worst of families.
Remembering how Christ in the gospel refused to give up on me and continuing to rely on the love of God that first changed me is crucial to empowering .
7. Evangelising family will feel like hard work
Newman wants us to recognise that witnessing to our family is going to be hard and it’s probably best to acknowledge that up front.
When you know the difficulty of running a marathon, you train for it, eat the right foods, get proper rest, etc. If you think it’s going to be easy, you’ll probably drop out of the race early on.
8. Evangelising family is emotionally charged
Two emotional struggles need to be highlighted – guilt and anger. Both seem to attack from within and without.
It might be guilt that we have not done more to seek the salvation of family members. We’ve not particularly prayed or we’ve stop trying to speak to them about Christ.
It could be guilt that comes from within because we are conscious about the past.
Our family, in other words has seen us at our worst, and the guilt we feel for losing our temper or any other display of sin immobilizes us in our witness.
It could be guilt from without as family members demonstrate their disappointment & disapproval that we have become a Christian or even a threat to disown us. Parents who have sought to control and manipulate their children are unlikely to stop when we reach adulthood.
Anger often rises in the frustration that comes from not being understood as a Christian or when the gospel is not understood no matter how clearly we have explained it.
Several people I spoke to expressed frustration from lack of objectivity. This seems to be in short supply when we’re around our family.
Maybe, Newman argues, objectivity is not only an unrealistic goal but an undesirable one too. Love rather than dispassionate objectivity is a better goal. It is when love is our motivator that
we can let go of the anger, disengage the guilt, and share the gospel so that it truly sounds like gracious, attractive good news instead of haughty, condemning bad news.
Here they all are:
1) ‘evangelist’ is a multi-faceted office that should be identified and encouraged
2) God calls non-evangelists to reactive witnessing not driven by guilt but love
3) Social engagement should be a given for any church community
4) Multi-generational and multi-ethnic churches best reflect the gospel
5) ‘Attractional’ church should be a by-product not a strategy
6) Planting new churches rather than enlarging existing buildings is most blessed
The audio of the sessions should be available in the next few days at the MGP site.
Should we all be evangelists?
I want to pick up here Andy’s second point and expand on his conviction a little further.
I’m an evangelist. I’m not a great evangelist but I do look forward to opportunities to share my faith. Andy’s insight is that as church leaders we don’t help our congregations when we fail ‘to distinguish between the gifting of evangelists and the responsibility of believers who have not been gifted in this way.’
So the problem we create as ministers and evangelists is that ‘we seem to think others should be wired as we are’.
What is the result of pushing the evangelism agenda?
Because what we are asking people to be is unnatural to them it results in ‘guilt, inactivity and passing the buck’.
The biblical pattern is that all Christians are called to be witnesses but not all are gifted to be evangelists. So on Colossians 4:6, Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone, Dick Lucas writes in the Bible Speaks Today commentary on Colossians;
Paul’s advice to the Christians is not along the lines of possessing oneself of better techniques with which to approach people. Rather he turns the problem right around so that the Christians can see their responsibilities in a much more promising light. Their privilege, simply put, is to answer everyone. That is to say they are to respond to the questions of others rather than initiate conversations on leading topics; they are to accept openings rather than make them.
This is emphatically, not to sound the retreat. Paul evidently believes that opportunities for response and explanation are to be found everywhere, for everyone is looking to discover answers about life and its meaning. And Paul evidently things that believing Christians should be found everywhere too, ready to take up these frequent opportunities.
What is the result of encouraging witness rather than pushing evangelism?
Patterson suggests at least 8;
- It recognises God’s sovereignty
- It leads to prayer as we seek God given opportunities
- It encourages holy living as we look to live lives that adorn the gospel
- It removes strain and false guilt
- It encourages excellence in our tasks
- It develops genuine friendships
- It allows effective, relaxed and open conversations
- It embraces all personality types
Dick Lucas again;
It is obvious what strain this removes from conscientious Christians. The pressure to raise certain topics and reach certain people can make it difficult to live or talk normally. In any case, we go to the office to work, not evangelize. But by being ready and willing to respond the way is opened in a more serene, and successful, approach to each day’s opportunities. It opens the way, too, for a greater dependence on God’s leading as well as for a more relevant and sensitive witness, suited to each individual.
I’m reading a great book called Bringing the gospel home by Randy Newman (just one chapter to go and I’ll be blogging on it later this week).
At one point in the book Newman tells the story of how Joshua Bell, the virtuoso violinist, was persuaded by the Washington Post to busk in a metro station in Washington DC.
More than a thousand people walked by without glancing in his direction. A few paused for a moment, and several people tossed loose change into his open violin case. ( He collected a total of $32.17. Yes, some people gave him pennies!) Only one person recognized the star who, just a few nights later, would accept the Avery Fisher Prize for being the best classical musician in America.
Joshua Bell’s reflected in the Washington Post feature
“I’m surprised at the number of people who don’t pay attention at all, as if I’m invisible. Because, you know what? I’m makin’ a lot of noise!”
Four possible lessons for the church
1. Feeling invisible?
We’re not exactly world-renowned violinists but I dare say we feel like Bell when we know that what is being offered is a glorious and beautiful gospel. Surely people will stop and listen. Surely people will recognise that this message is something to stop and consider.
The Washington Post adds:
Bell wonders whether their inattention may be deliberate: If you don’t take visible note of the musician, you don’t have to feel guilty about not forking over money.
Theologically speaking we shouldn’t be surprised that many people cross the road to avoid Christians! It’s noteable that the Washington Post called the feature ‘Pearls before breakfast’ invoking those words of Jesus ‘do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces’ (Matthew 7:6).
3. Context is as important as content
There are reasons why classical musicians don’t perform concerts in subway stations. The context is all wrong. It’s not a place conducive to stopping and listening it’s a place for passing through as you get to A to B.
So how about our meetings? How do we create space where people can be encouraged to stop and listen? And does that space invite contemplation and consideration of the beauty of the gospel?
Might that suggest we need to create new settings in which to ‘play our music’?
4. A context that doesn’t contradict our message
Imagine a situation in which Joshua Bell is playing but the music is drowned out by ‘musac’ playing over the Tannoy speakers, competing and drowning out his playing. You can’t even stop and listen to him play even if you wanted to.
Do we as churches compete with and contradict the music of the gospel creating a confusing cacophony of noise that no-one in their right mind would want to stop for? Newman suggests that’s what we might be doing.
We speak of measureless love, unmerited grace, and infinite goodness but our tone of voice, demeanor, and lifestyles convey the exact opposite. We want people to quiet their hearts so they can hear the music of the gospel, but we’re performing in a context of judgementalism. We want them to feel loved by God, but they fell unloved by us. We want then to be amazed by grace but they can’t get past the smell of condemnation.
Do our gatherings seem to say more ‘hey, come and listen to this – it’s incredible’ or do they say ‘why haven’t you given anything to this’?
When churches think of evangelism they usually mean running outreach events in the church, guest-services, mission weeks and explorer courses. These approaches are effective in reaching out to some people.
But are we really reaching outside the church if we think our job is done when our evangelism strategy means we put on an event in our building?
In the ambitiously titled Breaking the missional code Ed Stetzer and David Putman argue that we need new approaches to reach increasing numbers of people for whom traditional church is simply a non-starter. Our authors in this book are urging churches to act ‘among their local communities as missionaries would in a foreign land.’
How do we develop a program for evangelism that reaches our entire communities
Quite simply it begins by recognising that there are different types of non-Christians we are seeking to reach. In the book they identify four types as set out in the diagram below.
Those who are churched are either those who are currently attending our meetings (the churched/reached) or those who perhaps have a church going backgroun (the churched/unreached) and therefore could be more easily persuaded than others to come along to an event.
For the churched our structures and traditional methods probably still work. For them running church events are probably an effective strategy.
What about the other fifty percent?
The unchurched could be defined as those for whom our present structures and present approaches are never likely to work.
For them attending a church can be as intimidating, sobering, and irrelevant as it would be for many of us evangelicals to walk into a bar or club on Saturday morning at 1.00am.
We need new ideas and approaches that reach outside the church to reach the unchurched.
Why is it so hard to make the unchurched a prioirty
1. Challenge. Quite simply it takes more work in every way to reach out to people who are very different from ourselves. Like cross-cultural mission it takes more thought, more time, more prayer, more money and so on. When a busy pastor leading a busy church full of busy church activities is asked to consider more innovative and radical forms of outreach that is asking a church to step up another gear.
2. Comfort. It’s less messy, less risky, requires less skill to run something for people like us. We don’t find it easy to go outside the church with the gospel.
3. Sacrifice. For many churches reaching out in this way would have to be at the expense of other church activities because there is not the time or people-power to do both.
4. Examples. There simply aren’t many churches doing it well. At least not yet. It’s hard to be amongst the first who have to be most innovative and creative.
Stetzer and Putman are honest enough to admit that churhces that make this work a priority ‘are paying a high price. They are discovering that churches that focus on the unchurched/unreached often create a degree of discomfort among some churched/reached.’
It takes a change of mindset to get churches to consistently and with urgency ask ‘what about the other fifty percent?’ how can we reach them. That change comes through the gospel. It comes when we, like the apostle Paul, begin to say ‘I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do this for the sake of the gospel‘
In a future post I want to take a look at what it might mean for a church to reach outside the church.
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