Evangelism has become passe. Only 52% of born-again Christians report witnessing to someone at least once in the past year. And 47% of Millennials feel it’s wrong to share one’s religious beliefs with someone of a different faith. A Lifeway study found of eight biblical attributes most evident in the lives of American churchgoers, “Sharing Christ” had the lowest average score.
Today’s culture is not less in need of the Gospel, but Christians are more reticent to talk about it. That reluctance to evangelize has (ironically) made America less fertile soil for evangelism. The longer difficult conversations are avoided, the more uncomfortable they become. It’s easier to criticize from afar than engage challenging topics at close range. A vicious cycle ensues where the less we talk about Jesus the less important non-believers feel He must be – to us and them.
Church leaders understand and hesitate to pressure congregants to endure too much discomfort, offering to alleviate that Great Commission burden. Rather than train disciples to be itinerate “preachers” in their workplaces and de facto “pastors” of their neighborhoods, churches encourage sharing personal testimonies and extending invitations to a weekend service. Of those 52% reportedly making Gospel presentations, how many were simply a testimony or directions to the church?
Few acts could be considered more selfish and inhumane than withholding a known cure from the terminally ill. Yet church leaders withhold evangelism training and intensive discipleship for fear of losing members. Churchgoers withhold the remedy for sin, fearing a loss of social status. The urgency, methods and message of evangelism have been reshaped around self-centered interests. It’s no coincidence secular society now sees selfishness as Christianity’s principal characteristic.
Christians have contributed to our divisive culture by segmenting into “us” versus “them”, alternating between playing “offense” or “defense” depending on which President is in office. Being offensive during the term of a church-friendly administration has Christians on the defensive today. Focus has shifted from winning people to Christ to fending off a barrage of attacks. The tone of comments on this blog’s social media pages have turned dark and aggressive, insulting and deriding anyone who dares to speak positively about Jesus. Honest debates about the need for God’s grace and forgiveness have evolved into angry, name-calling rants. Admittedly, leading someone toward faith in that environment seems a more daunting uphill climb today, fraught with abuse along the way.
However, Scripture doesn’t exempt any Christ-follower from imitating Jesus’ Prayer/Care/Share lifestyle. Our excuses for abdicating personal evangelism don’t hold water, even in the face of hostility:
- “Faith is a private matter” – yet we talk about what we love (e.g. our spouse and children)
- “Imposing my beliefs on others isn’t loving” – yet it’s love that should compel us to share our beliefs
- “It’s not my gifting” – not all are a “hand” or “foot”, yet all should be His “hands and feet”
- “God has already chosen the elect” – yet we should consider it a privilege to be part of God’s plan
- “I’m not around many non-believers” – yet churches adopt growth models that unintentionally encourage “social distancing”
- “Speaking up could cost me my job” – yet the Great Calling says we should not draw lines between work and ministry, separating sacred from secular
- “My pastor can do it better than I can” – yet we can reach many people that he can’t
- “If I don’t someone else will” – yet you may be the only glimpse of Jesus they see
- “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words” – yet this adage containing a modicum of truth conceals a cop out
- “I don’t know what to say” – yet all believers should be able to adeptly explain the gospel and have biblical responses to typical objections
Church is not a destination for attracting and retaining but a vehicle for equipping and sending. If more pastors had the audacity to teach that the Great Commission isn’t optional, society would be more convinced to listen. But as it stands, our lack of urgency to evangelize comes across as uncertainty that we truly believe the Gospel is a matter of life and death – or as further evidence Christians are primarily concerned about themselves.
Even if we drum up the courage to broach the topic of faith, the ways we’ve been coached by most American churches to evangelize are designed around self-interest, not selfless urgency:
- Efficient – Just tell your story and let pastors do the rest
- Egocentric – Focus on what God did for you, and what He could do for them
- Convenient – No need to get your hands dirty caring before sharing, like Jesus did
- Transactional – If they don’t respond to your story or invitation, you’ve done your part
- Easy – Evangelism training isn’t necessary; we’ll answer their tough questions for you
- Comfortable – No one can argue with your personal story so that route carries little risk
- Non-Committal – There are no requirements or timelines; just speak up when you feel “led”
- Indirect – Get to know people, show them who Jesus is by how you live, and see if they bring Him up
- Arms-Length – Take a stand for moral issues, virtue signal, and keep a safe distance
- Worldly – Tell how God got you through tough situations, the theme of most Christian songs
- Attractional – Convince those who don’t worship Jesus to come to a holy worship service
- Non-Controversial – Don’t bring up sin even though its resolution is the basis for your faith
- Liberating – Cheap grace frees you from the obligation to align your words and behaviors
- Lighthearted – Don’t be a downer, making anyone feel guilty even though suppressed guilt is driving rampant medication (escapism) and self-justification (cancelling others)
God’s justification in Jesus is the only viable alternative to self-justification. But learning how to present and contrast those options requires more time, effort, and risk than most churchgoers are willing to endure. Statistics and the evening news confirm that designing evangelism to suit the schedules and preferences of cultural Christians isn’t effective in leading people to Jesus or growing churches. In fact, it is validating society’s caricatures of Christians as uncaring.
Assuming a Christ-follower senses the urgency of evangelism and understands biblical methods for sharing our faith, it’s unlikely he or she was taught by a church how to communicate the Gospel in ways that will resonate in Post-Christian America:
- “All roads lead to God” – Since Adam and Eve, creation has tried 1,000s of ways to make things right with the Creator. All world religions except for Christianity go down the same path – telling mankind how to fix what we broke. Christianity alone contends that our “good” works or “enlightenment” can never do what only God can. We cannot raise ourselves up or bring God down, trying to earn a “wage” (salvation) we feel we’re due – that’s why Jesus came down, to offer a “gift” we don’t deserve.
- “I’m living my truth” – Being your “authentic self” is impossible if your identity is not as a child of our Father. However, America’s fastest growing religion, Selfism, places its faith in mankind rather than God, believing human nature is good with the capacity to define “truth” and no need for redemption. Evangelism today requires proving that we are not innocent and therefore it’s unwise to bet our eternal lives on our goodness rather than God’s. Only Jesus satisfied the requirements of the law (works), qualified to graciously gift us His righteousness.
- “I’m not religious” – The ranks of “Dones” and “Nones” have grown so rapidly because they rejected church growth models that appeared self-serving, and/or the self-centered Christians it produced. Getting through to them starts with humble confession and by encouraging them not to blame God for man’s mistakes.
- “There is no God” – When entering into conversations with someone who claims God does not exist, it’s important to understand that there’s no such thing as an Atheist. While listening and respecting their views, it should give us courage to know deep down everyone understands something didn’t come from nothing and has an innate desire to reconnect with our Father. For most, unbelief emerged from belief – at some point consciously walking away from God when He didn’t give them what they wanted or allowed something to happen they didn’t want.
- “Christians are nothing like Jesus” – As churches have lowered expectations for following Jesus’ model for evangelism, His emphasis on (and example of) demonstrating His love before telling people who He is also went by the wayside. Jesus served the poor and solved real-world problems, but compassion is now a low priority for most churches.
Pitting our story, our Scripture, our God, our world view, or our philosophies against someone else’s is just our truth against theirs (from their perspective). Christians won’t often win those arguments in today’s culture, but can disrupt the self-confidence of non-believers by making them question its underpinnings – the enormous wager they’re making on their “goodness”, capabilities, intellect, identity, and spirituality that obviates their perceived need for God’s descent into our decadence.
It’s Your Turn
What methods and messages for conveying the love of Jesus have you seen most effective in breaking down the walls of self-determination and self-actualization?
Thank you for this challenge. Please continue to provide insights, perspectives and guidance on this most important work.