Evangelism isn’t what it used to be. But then, it never has been. Culture shifts have always required new approaches in sharing the Good News. In this third and final column of this series, I invite our churches to do an evangelism upgrade (previous columns here and here).
1. Align words and behavior. Yes, the belief-behavior gap has always been there. But in bygone days, if people were turned off by hypocrites, they were more likely to come to church anyway, because it was the cultural thing to do. Today, no external peer pressure exists. People find other (better?) things to do. While most churches continue to obsess over orthodoxy, the world craves orthopraxy, right practices. Please understand. I am not dismissing orthodoxy as unimportant. But when’s the last time someone came to Christ because she believed your church held a more correct belief of the Trinity?
2. Focus on relationships, not rules. Take a look at your church’s constitution and bylaws. Do they exist to reach people in a post-Christian age, or to maintain the power balance in your congregation? Sometimes, the unspoken rules of our churches make it more difficult for newcomers to follow Christ.
3. Stop whining about all the perks taken away from the church by this godless society. Read the Bible. Since when were God’s people guaranteed cultural privilege? Not getting our way in a court ruling does not equal Christian persecution. Being on the losing side of an election is not the same as being thrown into a lion’s den by a pagan king. Stop bellyaching and start sharing the Good News of God’s love in Christ.
4. Offer Christ with humility and transparency. I love the story Don Miller told in his book, Blue Like Jazz. In the middle of a very secular college campus, he set up a confessional booth. But it wasn’t to hear the confessions of the non-believing students. The booth was for Miller to confess the sins of the church — all the ways that we have failed to be authentic. I honestly think the world can handle the fact that Christ’s followers mess up. What it can’t handle is that we pretend that we don’t mess up.
5. Emphasize dialogue with unchurched people, not monologue. Jesus teaches us to do to others as we would have them do to us. Do you like being talked down to and patronized? How do you feel when no one listens to your point of view? And this call to cultural dialogue isn’t merely a matter of courtesy. John Calvin reminded us that God has a lot to teach us through the eyes of nonbelievers. Their questions, doubts and objections help us hone our message.
6. Practice hospitality. In the New Testament, evangelism and hospitality are nearly inseparable. Every church fancies itself friendly — with its own! Are you a friendly church or does your church work at making friends? Next Sunday, put yourself in the shoes of a nonbeliever attending your church for the first time. Look at your parking lot, entrances, hallways, and the alphabet soup of acronyms in your Sunday bulletin. Or better yet, go visit a church where you are not known. How loved and valued did you feel when you left?
7. Offer a witness shaped by hope, not fear. And be sure to name the source of that hope, Jesus Christ. In the current climate, stoking fear is lazy and irresponsible. People can get their anxieties caffeinated elsewhere. It takes courage to hope in Jesus Christ and to unapologetically make him known. In 1 Peter 3:15, we are admonished to always be ready when someone asks about the hope within us. The greatest indictment of today’s evangelism may be that hardly anyone is asking.