“Churches aren’t growing because of conversions. Churches are just swapping sheep.”
Have you ever heard someone make this claim or something like it? I have—way too many times, from pastors and church members alike. What do we make of this kind of comment, and how do we respond?
First, a note of encouragement: just because you don’t see conversions, it doesn’t mean they aren’t happening in churches in America. They are.
The gospel has never stopped being powerful. Conversion growth will continue to happen. Nothing can prevent the power of the gospel from working in the lives of those who believe it enough to act on it.
Some Practical Suggestions for the Disheartened
#1: Don’t pout - PRAY! God is able to make you and your church mighty in gospel ministry. Do you remember when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and empowered them to be His witnesses? The Holy Spirit came when they were gathering for prayer.
When God’s people pray, things happen.
#2: Consider spending some time addressing what needs to change in your approach to reaching people. In a recent meeting with Evangelical leaders, I learned that many American churches experiencing conversion growth have discovered a slight, but significant change in the process for how to effectively evangelize.
Compare the old American Evangelical process to the new...
For decades, the most effective process used by American Evangelicals followed this pattern:
- Using a tool like the Four Spiritual Laws, a gospel tract, or the EE presentation, a Christian presented an unbeliever with the opportunity to believe in Christ by sharing truth with him or her.
- The Christian would then invite the new convert to become a part of a church.
- The Christian would then help the new convert to enjoy a sense of belonging with the church.
Today’s process looks more like this:
- The Christian invites people to belong to your community (love them even if they don’t believe), and through that...
- The Chrisitian helps them see why they should believe in what the Bible claims about Jesus.
- Once they believe in Jesus, the Christian encourages them to become a part of the church and join in the mission of evangelizing others.
Simplifying it, the process shift looks like this…
- Old Process = Believe, Become, Belong
- New Process = Belong, Believe, Become
This reminds me of how my friend Jeff became a follower of Jesus. Jeff saw me and another friend working out in the park that was right next to our church and he stopped to talk. My workout partner and I took a break and chatted with him for a few minutes. We ended up inviting him to come to church with us that Sunday. Not only did Jeff come to church Sunday, but he loved it and kept coming.
The church family wrapped its arms around him and welcomed him. He loved the music and even appeared to like most of my messages. Eventually, the gospel took hold of his heart. After several months of coming, he gave his heart to Jesus and I was privileged to baptize him.
Jeff was the kind of person who stereotypes would dictate ‘hates’ Evangelicals. Some would suggest he'd never come to one of our worship services. But God did a powerful work in him because of the love he was shown by Christians. The way God worked in his life shows an example of the shift in the process of evangelism.
The newer process - belong, believe, and become - worked with Jeff. It’s working in many lives and for a growing number of congregations.
Be ready at all times to share the gospel truth, because it is the gospel that changes lives. Let us begin the process by simply showing gospel warmth until that door of conversation opens. In other words, love people until they ask, “Why?”