One major take away that I learned from EC3 is that public evangelism in the 21st century will look different than it did in the 20th. What does that mean in a practical sense? How can we make public evangelism fun and relevant again?
Note that I’m not calling the Bible irrelevant. The Bible and it’s public proclamation are two different categories. It’s not our job to make the Bible relevant – it already is. But it is our job to show its relevance in our modern world. That is where public proclamation and new methods come in.
So here are four ways to make it so:
1. Make it community oriented.
It used to be that, in a traditional cycle of evangelism, you did outreach in preparation for a future proclamation series. In other words, community engagement was not something that was a regular part of the activity of a local church. Knowing and interacting with your neighbors was seen as an gateway into something else.
So health fairs, community service surveys, financial seminars, and the like were really done with an ulterior motive. In today’s world, those kinds of events are still helpful. However, when done as stand-alone events, most people will see them for what they truly are: compassion that is used as a bait-and-switch in order to proselytize others.
As one of the presenters said, if we are truly going to follow Jesus’ approach to evangelism, something has to change. Consider one of the most famous descriptions of Jesus’ method of evangelism:
Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. The He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’- Ministry of Healing, 143, 144.
Compassion is a universal language. If you really care for people, genuinely, and don’t see them as a means to an end, public proclamation will have greater success. Compassion that is done only in preparation for a series or during the holiday season comes across as insincere; it’s a checklist we have to do so that we feel better about ourselves.
Personally speaking, I had to admit that I am not doing a good job at showing compassion and engaging with my community. For example:
- I don’t know the name of my city’s mayor.
- I don’t know the names of the police/fire chiefs.
- I only know a handful of community groups and organizations in my area. I also don’t immediately think about teaming up with them to reach my area.
- More importantly, I’m pretty sure that they don’t know about me or my local church.
That has to change. The only perception my city has of Adventists can’t be what they see from Ben Carson. We need to be connected to our communities and it begins with us as leaders. Just like in most other areas, building community relations and trust takes time. So think long-term community service instead of compassion drive-by’s.
Here is my last comment on this lengthy point. Ask yourselves, “Which group of sinners were the ones that Jesus rejected?” If the church cannot engage and love all sinners in its community, it is not God’s church. How you choose to show love may be different given the circumstance, but you can’t ignore the rest of the world and simply expect people to flock into your church the moment you open your doors.
Go out and mingle.
2. Make it shorter.
Three-hour events that meet four nights a week for six weeks are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Think about any other commitment in your life currently that requires that much time. I’ve often heard many church members say that the energy starts high for these series at the beginning, but they are left gasping for air at the end.
Don’t try to guilt trip people by saying, “If it’s important, you’ll make time for it.” I believe that evangelism is important. What I’m advocating for is that we teach our churches to work smarter, not harder.
Ask yourself, why do we feel like we need to force feed all of our beliefs to people in 4-6 weeks? Doesn’t this rob the church of the role of further learning and discipleship?
Think about it, can you name all 28 Fundamental Beliefs? How about in order?
Why do we expect that new believers go through a series of at least 28 sessions when we most likely can’t repeat the core doctrines ourselves?
Besides, long meetings are simply not today’s culture. Even watching long moves that are over 2 hours leaves people drained. We shouldn’t feel bad about changing this point. Do we see Jesus or Paul engaging their communities using these lengthy meetings? I don’t think so. I see them living among people and growing them over the course of weeks, months, or years.
So, I see the shorter reaping evangelism meetings being around 5-10 sessions long. They will be the spiritual focus events for those wanting to engage the larger questions of life in a deeper way. They won’t just spew theology. I hope that new evangelism focuses on engaging the heart and minds of people.
3. Make it intentionally include a discipleship track for growth.
Inevitably, someone will ask, “What about preparation for the members? How are people supposed to be well-prepared about what they’re joining?”
Remember, baptism is supposed to symbolize a birth into a new Christian experience, not a graduation ceremony after having passed your a basic Bible course. Jesus called it a “new birth,” or the beginning of a new journey, not the end. As Jose Cortes Jr, said:
“Many times we try to clean fish before they even take them out of the water. Transformation comes after surrender, not before.”
It’s become far too common for members to simply be pew warmers after baptism and leave continuing educational learning to Sabbath School.
What if we were to follow up baptism with a new members class or small group? In these classes they could study books like, “I am a Church Member” by Thom Rainer, where he explains the high calling of church membership and sets the bar of expectations high from the beginning.
Or what about if there were small groups that were to study more Bible doctrines at length for a pre-determined period? Just because you have shorter meetings shouldn’t mean that you’re shortchanging the biblical instruction to new believers. These kinds of discipleship incentives could help fill that gap.
The point is that, traditionally, church membership and involvement in local ministry is hard to get into and easy to get out of. The order needs to be reversed.
4. Make it apologetic at some level.
Although we live in an age where the Bible is openly available more than ever before, we ironically are at the same time one of the most biblically illiterate. Moreover, many people doubt whether the Bible should have the kind of authority that its adherents give to it. This is especially true of the younger generations.
According to “Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated” by James White, one-third of Americans under thirty say that they have no religious affiliation, compared to 9 percent of those 65 and older.
We have all seen Bible studies that begin with something similar to the following question and answer:
Q: Why is the Bible the Word of God?
A: The Bible itself says in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”
Using the Bible itself to answer why it should be considered an inspired book is circular reasoning. Today, more than ever, we need better answers for those who have valid reasons to wonder why they should base their entire life on what a single book says. A great book to read on this would be “Confident Faith” by Mark Mittleberg.
So in the future, evangelistic series should not focus solely on apologetics, but there should be more included than just a weekend or two of archaeology before a lengthy series of meetings.
In conclusion, these are four trends that I’d like to see incorporated into future series. You might not be able to debate Dr. Richard Dawkins, but that’s not totally what you need to be successful in evangelism. It really starts by taking an interest in people and loving them genuinely. You can get to know their names and understand what gives them hope and fear.
Love genuinely, plan excellent events, don’t sermonize, always look for continued growth, and have a reason for your own faith. These are ideas that, done together and correctly, may lead someone to follow Jesus for the first time.