Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Musings on Outreach and Evangelism

Evangelism in Baby Steps
Many of us are giants when getting people to read the Bible and to pray, but are midgets when it comes to equipping people to share the faith. This article encourages us to think baby-steps as far as outreach is concerned. This helps one overcome fears and at the same time equips one for learning how to reach people for Christ, without feeling lost.

Heralded as the 'Outreach Resource of the Year Winner 2007,' Bill Hybels, in his book, “Just Walk across the room” (IVP Press, 2006) shows a troubling chart about Christians and their Christian lives. It lays out the length of time one walks with Christ (x-axis) and the number of non-church people they have (y-axis).

[Bill Hybels, Just Walk Across the Room, IVP, 2006, p61]

Two things bother me regarding this chart. Firstly, the trend each year moves consistently downward, ie, lesser contact with non-Christians and non-church people. The cynical will interpret this as the longer one attends church; the shorter one attends to the world. The skeptic points an accusing finger to villanize the church as a self-serving, self-centering and self-focusing institution. The pessimist wonders how long it will take before the current church to decline to the point of non-relevance. If Hybels is correct, then Christians must do something to arrest this decline. Secondly, the sharpest decline happens between year 1 and 2. If a young believer is likened to a hot piece of coal, did the church play the role of a big block of ice that has a dramatically cooling effect? This made me wonder if the church environment is one with doors that open only one way? Do church people go into a family church and never get interested in the world outside? No. It need not be that way. I shall make some initial observations of some past historical outreach efforts and the way forward for modern day evangelism.

Problems When we 'Sub-contract' Outreach
Since the great evangelistic crusades and rallies in the 80s, there is no equivalent evangelistic outreach in the modern era that has the same kind of magnitude. There were mighty altar calls plus a flurry of activities surrounding follow-up of people who came to the faith. Any gains were soon to be negated when follow-up efforts fail to retain interest. I see this as one of the errors surrounding sub-contracting outreach efforts.

  • Churches and Christian organizations subcontract evangelism via rallies by Billy Graham, Luis Palau and many others;
  • Campus ministries subcontract outreach to famous names like Josh McDowell and John Stott;
  • Some communities subcontract outreach via special shows like magic shows, circus, entertainment events to entice non-Christians to come, before hitting them with an evangelistic sermon.
Dropout rates are alarmingly high. Worse, by depending on big rallies and famous names to do outreach on our behalf, we may have unwittingly delegated evangelism to big-name stars. In the process,we miss the opportunity to hone our evangelistic skills. We waste the chance to initiate friendship. By enlisting professional help, we unwittingly raise people's expectations, only to dampen them later when our amateurish followup fails to be equally impressive.

To this day, churches continue to sub-contract the ministry of evangelism and mission via:
  • Evangelism & Mission Committees;
  • Pastors, Preachers and Full-time staff members both paid and unpaid;
  • Leaders and prominent church members;
  • Theological students.. . .
Even if we were to assume that these outreach 'commandos' and evangelistic 'marines,' manage to bring in new members and people into the church, who then does the followup? Invariably, these new faces will desire to see the same familiar faces who introduced them to Christ.

Let us assume that a hardworking pastor has shared the gospel with Mr Non-Christian, who later becomes Mr New-Believer. As the pastor is the only familiar face in the church, Mr New-Believer will naturally feel more comfortable speaking to the pastor. Suppose no one else in the church tries to befriend and followup on Mr New-Believer, what are the chances that this new believer drops out of church eventually? We all know the church demands on Mr Pastor? Thus, even if sub-contracting works at the recruitment level, it will not likely survive beyond the follow-up level. We need a better alternative to sub-contracting. This better way, suggested by Hybels is to encourage every church member to learn to 'walk across the room.'

First Steps: Walking Across the Room
Hybels is optimistic about reaching out to people for Christ. He calls for a new era in personal evangelism, which requires people to step out of their ‘Circle of Comfort.’ This is what I call one’s comfort zone. There are four ideas from Hybels’s book that is worth exploring.

#1 – Knowing Our Own Style
A helpful way Hybels propose is to evangelize according to one’s sense of natural behaviour. He lists 6 evangelistic styles for us to consider:
  1. Confrontational (like Peter): those who shoot from the lip, and people who are convicted to speak their passion openly and frankly can amaze people with their conviction and firmness. Such an approach appeals to people whose words speak louder than actions.
  2. Intellectual (like Paul): Some of us will enjoy engaging others in an intellectual debate or discussion with skeptics and seekers.
  3. Interpersonal (like Jesus): Non-assuming individuals work best, and this approach will appeal to a lot of people wanting to build relationships, yet are careful not to commit to any institution.
  4. Invitational (like the woman at the well): Sharing one’s stories of discoveries like a friend telling another some piece of good news.
  5. Serving (like Mother Teresa): where one believes that actions speak louder than words.
  6. Testimonial (like Lee Strobel): Using testimonies and stories of one’s personal spiritual journey and transformation.
#2 – Knowing our 3D Model
Whichever style it is, every Christian ought to learn their own unique style, Once this is done, Hybels recommend a 3D model for new-era evangelism.
a) Develop Friendships
b) Discover Stories
c) Discern Next Steps

The 3D model has a progressive structure in which one first make friends, then discover common goals and commitments before embarking upon future projects or programs together in the journey of faith.

#3 – Knowing Our 3 Irreducible Ingredients
Hybels ends his 221 pages book with 3 “irreducible ingredients.”
a) God loves you;
b) Christ chose to pay for you;
c) The choice is now yours.

I like these 3 ingredients for its sheer simplicity. In sharing the good news, this truth must be crystal clear. No ‘buts’ or uncertainties whether God only cares for the good and pretty, but also for the bad and ugly. The second irreducible truth indicates that the prime mover is God in Christ. The third truth gives the person the knowledge that nobody can force him or her to make any choice. It is an invitation to faith. “Just walk Across the Room” is essentially an invitation for Christians to learn to walk out of their comfort zone, in order to become friendly with our neighbours. Opportunities always exist for us to share God’s love. The biggest challenge is not whether we can penetrate the deepest jungles in the world outside. The hardest barrier lies deeply embedded in the human psyche that abhors change.

#4 – Challenging our own Inner Barriers
Just consider the following questions. Who do we gravitate more toward?
• People who are nice OR those difficult to love?
• People who are successful OR struggling?
• People who are easy to get along OR those hard to speak with?
• People who are like yourself OR people who are most unlike us?
• People who are rich and wealthy OR those poor and needy?

The main goal I suggest we aim is: “It doesn’t matter.” Our love needs to grow to encompass both the lovely and the unlovely. Didn't Christ teach us that if we only care for those who love us, what good is it, as even the pagans know how to do that? Just as Christ loved all, we imitate Christ by loving all. This should be our first steps. Venture out of fear. Spring outside of our comfort zone. Each time we do so, we are telling God that we trust not our own securities, but upon God alone.

These four ideas should provide some encouragement to help us unravel any knots behind our evangelistic lethargy. In summary, remember that many of us are still working out our first steps. Do not worry about the second step. Let them worry about it themselves. Concentrate on making sure we walk our steps properly. Next, probe our own personal styles and get feedback. Use them as part of our natural ability to engage. Develop a progressive relational paradigm that aims to develop friendships, discover stories and discern next steps personally and with others. Know the truths about God being the One who initiates godly love. Finally, challenge our personal prejudices and unwillingness to change. Dare to pray to be open not only to lovely people, but also those seemingly difficult to love.

Managers can delegate tasks to subordinates. Leaders can order followers to act on tasks. However, evangelism and outreach efforts cannot be delegated or ordered. Evangelism is essentially an act of grace, expressed through words of grace, lived out by a recipient of grace, freely given by the Author of grace.

"Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words." (Francis of Assisi)


1 comment:

Terence said...

Very well written !

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