Research has found that people go through times of receptivity and resistance to the gospel message. Church planters, for example, realize starting a church in a new neighborhood is much easier than in an older one.
Why? Because a new neighborhood is populated by people in transition. Change can cause people to be more receptive to the gospel.
Here are a few windows--times of significant change--you might find open in your church neighborhood right now.
* Following the birth of a child. New parents wake up quickly to the physical and spiritual needs that arise with the challenge of raising children. Young parents go back to church propelled by a desire to give their children spiritual guidance.
* Following a move. In a mobile society like the United States, relational networks constantly break up and form again in different locations. People who have recently moved into a new community are searching for friends, doctors, dentists, places to shop--and churches.
* Following a divorce. A number of people in every community seek healing from broken relationships. Many churches find divorce-recovery workshops effective in reaching out to these people.
* During a crisis event. Death, injury, a job layoff, and other kinds of crises cause people to consider the bigger questions of life: What is my ultimate purpose? Why do bad things happen to me? What do I do when I can't fix things on my own? Is there a God who cares about me? Where can I find others who will support me during this crises?
* During a time of hurt. Today's younger generation is hurting. Divorce, drugs, and various forms of abuse have taken an emotional toll. The growth of the support-group movement is a direct response to this open window of opportunity.
* During a period of physical renewal. The physical fitness revolution has spawned fitness centers and spas around the country. Many people are renewing their commitments to walking, jogging, or participating regularly in sports programs such as softball, volleyball, or basketball. Sports-oriented programs are a good way to reach out to these unchurched folks.
* During the transition to single parenting. More people are single today than at any other time in the history of the United States. However, while singles are open to the gospel, singles ministry is more complex than simply offering a college and career Bible study as we did in the past. Ministering to new single parents is one of the windows open the widest today. Such ministry may well offer spiritual-growth opportunities along with practical support and help for real-life problems.
* During the child-care years. The continuing need for two-income families produces the corresponding need for child care. Here is a window wide open to the unchurched.
Churches that respond to these and other open windows of opportunity will find their evangelism efforts blessed as "God gives the increase."
Gary L. McIntosh, Church Growth Network San Bernardino, California
Copyright © 1994 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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