Helping people come to faith in Jesus used to be as easy as 1-2-3.
1. Invite a friend to church.
2. The friend comes to church.
3. The preacher closes the deal.
(That’s New Testament evangelism, right? Uh, maybe not.)
It’s harder today.
In my previous post, Are Churches Fixing Problems No One Cares About? I wrote about why people don’t want to go to church today.
They’re not angry, they’re apathetic.
But where is this apathy coming from?
Look at the first step, above. The critical first element isn't the invitation, it's having a friend who makes the invitation.
The biggest roadblock to evangelism today may be as simple and as sad as this: we don’t know our neighbors like we used to. In one well-documented statistic, twenty percent of Americans say they don’t know any Christians.
This is a crucial problem, because there's one reason above all others that opens people up to the gospel. People become willing to consider Jesus when they like and trust the Christians they know.
People need to know us before they can trust us. And they need to trust us before they’ll go to church with us.
We have to be the church before they’ll go to church.
But what does that look like today?
I started compiling a list. Originally it was seven points long. Now it’s 11. If I waited another few days it could hit 20 or more.
So this list is not definitive. And the points in it are not without fault.
But there’s also nothing weird or funky-new in it either. Some of it may feel radical. But only because taking our faith seriously outside the walls of the church feels radical.
1. Pray for Them
Not in that Christian-esque "I'll say a prayer for you" way. We need to make it a priority to pray for our unchurched family, friends, co-workers and neighbors. All the strategies and friendliness in the world won't make any difference without this.
2. Build Relationships with No Strings Attached
No one wants to be someone else's project. They always know when they are. They can smell it.
When someone doesn't want to be recruited, stop recruiting and just love people like Jesus did. He’ll take care of the rest.
3. Play the Long Game
Overcoming apathy doesn't happen overnight. It takes years, sometimes decades. But in the light of eternity, it's more than worth the investment.
We need to be okay with what may seem like losses in the short term, to make gains for the long term.
Sure, it feels great to gloat on Facebook about the church’s latest “win” in the culture war, but a short-term gloat closes more doors than it opens.
4. Live with Integrity
Integrity may be the most-needed, but least-evident character trait in society. Virtually every poll shows that people have less faith in our major institutions, including the church, than ever. The reason? Lack of integrity.
We need to live upright lives. Holy lives. Honest and transparent lives.
Trust is easy to lose and hard to earn. And it’s even harder to earn back. Again, it’s about the long game.
5. Talk About Life, Not Just About Your Church
Real life is never just about one subject.
If Jesus influences every area of our lives (which he does) then we should connect with people in every area of our lives, including the non-churchy parts.
6. Stop Connecting Faith to Politics and Denominations
The gospel of Jesus is bigger than our political parties, national pride, denominations and creeds combined.
We need to stop talking as if every Christian shares our political view or denominational distinctives.
When we assume that every Christian is a (our political party), we cut ourselves off from people who might be interested in Jesus, but don’t want to be a (our political party).
Let’s stop making Jesus so small.
7. Be More Joyful, Less Mean
“Blessed are the nice” is not one of the Beatitudes.
Jesus didn’t come to make us nice. He came to make us holy. To redeem us from sin. And he was crucified for it. Nice guys don’t get crucified.
So I'm not a fan of the nicey-nice gospel. But I have even less tolerance for a mean gospel.
There are too many mean Christians around us. Why would people want to sign up for that?
Live joyfully. It’s deeper than niceness, stronger than meanness, and rabidly contagious.
8. Live a Life of Scandalous Generosity
Generosity without agenda is scandalous. It defies everything our culture stands for. But, too often, the church enforces greed instead of fighting it.
It's time for the church to be known as the crazy people who are always giving things away. Let's show people that faith in Jesus is more about giving than receiving.
9. Be Authentic, Even If It Means Being Different
It's better to be relevant than stale. But ultimately being relevant is still being a follower – just a little further ahead of the others.
It's better to be authentic than relevant. Don't hide your quirks, embrace them. If Jesus doesn't cause us to live differently, what's the point?
But here's the challenge: we need to live differently without coming across as "look at me, I'm better than you." Because we’re not.
For the best example of how to do this well, look at the life of Jesus.
10. Be Available
Most people who come to Jesus as adults do so because of trauma. God hard-wired us to reach out for help when bad things happen.
People don't reach out to a church when they're hurting, they reach out to a friend. And if that friend is also a believer, then that friend can bring Jesus in just when he’s needed the most.
But we must resist the temptation to switch into recruitment mode when people are in trauma. There are few things more inappropriate than leveraging someone else's pain for our own agenda. Even if that agenda is a good one.
When people are hurting, be available and let Jesus do the rest.
11. Make Fewer Statements, Have More Conversations
Seminary taught me how to preach and teach. But it didn't teach me how to listen.
The best onramp for breaking through the apathy barrier is showing people that you care. And the best way to start doing that is to listen to them.
But we like making statements. We like to get the Facebook echo chamber humming.
There’s a time and place for big truths to be declared with big, bold statements.
Jesus did it. So should we.
But when all of our Christian communication is about making big statements we lose the chance to have small conversations.
Jesus had small conversations. On big subjects.
That’s where he earned people’s trust. That’s where we’ll earn it, too.
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