TITLE: Growing God's Church: How People Are Actually Coming to Faith Today
AUTHOR: Gary L. McIntosh
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016, (192 pages).
This is a book about evangelism. It is not just another strategy or a how-to book on how to do evangelism. It is an honest survey of the past methods, a sensitivity to present contexts, and a hopeful outlook toward the future. While the gospel is the same, people and culture change rapidly. The methods of yesterday do not necessarily apply to the contexts of today. If we do not adapt accordingly, not only will the church at large continue to see outflow of young people, she will have trouble attracting new ones. In this very important book, Gary McIntosh, President of the Church Growth Network and Professor of Christian ministry and leadership at Talbot School of Theology shares from his experience about the need for leaders to adapt. It is not simply adapting for the sake of adapting. Neither is it for the sake of preserving an old institution that is perceived to be increasingly irrelevant. It is for the sake of the Kingdom of God, for souls, and for the flourishing of a world that God has created to be cared for and to be loved. Just to be fair, there are churches already trying to change. Unfortunately, McIntosh observes that their actions are not only ineffective, they unwittingly dilute the gospel. For example, the missional movement. In wanting to become relevant to the social needs of the neighbourhood, some churches have become another charitable organization that are becoming less evangelistic in their practices, rendering them no different from non-Christian charities. Others throw away the historical past and along with is a core identity of the Church. In this book, McIntosh seeks to bring back the essentials to a Church that is increasingly struggling with being relevant and being faithful to the gospel. He begins by modifying Win Arn's extensive 1979 study on church evangelistic strategies. By the late 90s, he starts to notice that many of the conclusions are no longer true. He then conducted a small study of 11 churches; surveyed people's reasons for coming to church; and reported on the findings. This book is a result of that work.
Organized around ten questions, the book comprises basically three parts. Part One deals with five biblical questions. Parts Two and Three deals with five practical questions. The five biblical questions are:
- What is Our Mission?
- What is Our Priority?
- What is Our Role?
- What is Our Focus?
- What is Our Context?
- Who led you to Faith in Christ?
- What method most influenced your decision for Christ?
- Why did you begin to attend Church?
- Why do you remain in your Church?
- What is the Pastor's Role in Evangelism?
First, on the mission, we need to re-focus our attention on Jesus' mission on earth, and how we are to continue in this role. Jesus' mission is to die at the cross and to do His Father's will. Our mission is to proclaim this Christ and Christ crucified. This however creates other questions about social concerns, justice matters, and solving society's ills. I feel McIntosh understands the mind of the general reader. A lot of churches are also asking the question as how to be the light of the world in a world that seems to be needy everywhere. Is the gospel able to feed the poor, liberate the enslaved, and pay our mounting bills? The point is, while the concerns are real, it is important to see the relevance of the gospel in spite of the legitimate worldly concerns. Going to the second question, we ask about the priorities of a Christian. The common good (social concerns) must be secondary to the greater good (salvation of our souls). There were three sendings in the gospel of Luke. 1) Sending of the Twelve to minister to the needy and to preach the gospel (Luke 4); 2) Sending of the Seventy to harvest, to witness, and to seek the lost; 3) Sending of the Church (Acts 1:8). At the heart of the sendings is the greater need of the people: The gospel. What is the point of having a well-fed man with temporal needs met but does not care about the gospel that meets eternal needs? The third question deals with the role we play. We have a role in apologetics and conversations of persuasion. We must move from "presence evangelism" to "proclamation evangelism" to "persuasion evangelism." Helping people is not enough. We need to guide them toward the Giver of all Help. Four, our focus should be on making disciples, not mere doers of good works.McIntosh critiques the use of spiritual formation as a way to help mature believers. The problem is the underlying assumption that if a person is spiritually formed, he/she will automatically witness. This link is weak, because the over-emphasis on spiritual maturity, on spiritual renewal, and on them making good the various disciplines of the Christian lives do not necessarily lead to proclaiming the kingdom of God. I concur as I reflect on the book of Acts. The early believers do not wait until they have completed a course on spiritual formation or a curriculum of spiritual maturity before they can be effective salt and light of the world. They just went ahead to evangelize in the power and witness of the Holy Spirit. If believers are stuck into thinking that their first step of witness comes only after spiritual formation is complete will be dependent on the spiritual works of humans rather than the witnessing power of the Spirit. He makes a legitimate observation of numbers in the Church. While numbers are not the main way of measuring success, having no new believers in the Church reflects a poor or non-existent evangelistic emphasis. The going is critical. Fifth, on the context, McIntosh correctly points out the flaw of the past evangelistic efforts which are almost always focused on salvation and on the Church. He attempts to bring us back to the picture of the Kingdom of God and God's glory being revealed as more important. Evangelism must incorporate these two. Otherwise, we are in danger of trying to preserve human institutions and preferences. The Church of God exists for the glory of God. The reason why we want to grow our churches is not to sustain our existence but to glorify the Lord.
On the question of being led to Christ, McIntosh looks at the historical patterns at various places. In North America, the first and second great awakenings are almost always dependent on a powerful preacher. The 20th Century carries on the same pattern with evangelists like Billy Graham giving moving messages about the gospel of Jesus Christ. In India, the pattern is more of people coming to Christ through family and relationships with friends. McIntosh finds that the influence of family is most significant for conversions. Pastors, church workers, and Sunday School teachers have some influence but mostly for female conversions. In terms of generations, pastoral impact on conversions are minimal when it comes to Millennials. For the latter, most come to faith through family and friends.
The second question is about the method of evangelism. It continues from the first question above about who led one to Christ. Most were influenced by family. Visitations, small groups, and worship services are extremely low in influence. Millennials come to Christ through family conversations. Here, McIntosh observes that the pastoral and church staff are more significant in the influencing portion. He proposes some training with regards to conversations and listening.
The third question deals with the reasons for attending church. McIntosh proposes using the family network to invite people to Church. Especially for Millennials, offer events based on felt needs. Highlight the theological position of the Church. Ministry location is also important. It is also important to reach out to new arrivals as they are also most receptive.
The fourth question is about why people choose to remain in their churches. Friendliness is high on the list while the name of the Church is insignificant. There are six key factors why people remain in their churches: 1) Clarity of mission; 2) Style of worship; 3) Better understanding of Christianity; 4) Church school exists; 5) Opportunity to serve; 6) Small groups.
The final question is about the role of the pastor in evangelism. Over 90% of the people stayed because of the pastor's preaching. For Millennials, it is interesting that the pastor's sense of humour and convictions keeps them interested.
There are a lot of relevant points to take away. The book debunks old assumptions and reminds us that evangelism must never be something cast in concrete. It needs to keep up with the times. That being said, the gospel is the old story spoken in new and fresh ways. Of the ten evangelistic principles listed at the end of the book, all of them flow from a conversational context. The methods are less important than the desire to want to share Christ. Ultimately, this is the key motivation for evangelism. We can teach someone to share but without the authenticity within and the passion to share, there will be minimal traction. Studies and surveys can only do so much. We need the Spirit of God to envelope the disciples of Christ so that as they grow in their journey, they can invite others along to journey with them. Highly important, I recommend this book for all church leaders and those convicted about evangelism as a key emphasis in church. Ultimately, it is not about growing the Church in the way that we want but to glorify God and the Kingdom.
Rating: 5 stars of 5.
This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Books and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.