Almost every Christian leader I talk to has a passion for reaching people who don’t know Christ.
But as we’ve seen before, our culture is changing so rapidly before our eyes that many of the methods we’ve used to tell people about Christ become less effective with every passing month.
If you keep using methods that worked decades ago to talk to people outside the Christian faith about Jesus, you might see some fruit. But I’m quite certain you’ll lose the vast majority of people you’re trying to influence, and I’m positive you’ll lose the vast majority of people under age 35.
In the post-Christian, post-modern age in which we live, the methods of evangelism have to change in order to keep the mission alive.
By the way, if you’re wondering what the post-Christian mind looks like, this study from the Barna Group outlines 15 criteria that delineate the trend.
So what’s changing in evangelism? More than you might think.
While there are many things that are shifting in how we should approach evangelism in a post-Christian, post-modern world, these 5 stand out to me as shifts I’m seeing not just in the ministry I lead, but across many churches:
1. Embracing the question is as important as giving an answer
For me, evangelism used to be mostly about helping people find answers. In fact, I’ve been very anxious to get people to answers. I still am.
But, often, in the process of getting people to an answer, I would fail to really embrace or honour their question. Increasingly, that’s a massive mistake.
Almost no one likes going into a store and asking a question only to have a customer service person blow past your question or make you feel stupid. In fact, your most positive experiences have likely been those in which someone listens to your question, takes it seriously, appreciates it, and then tries to respond to it thoughtfully and helpfully.
Too often, Christian apologists rush past the question to get to an answer.
Church leaders who embrace people’s questions will be far more effective in the future than leaders who don’t.
Listen to the difference:
“So when I die, will be in reincarnated?”
Answer: Christians don’t believe in reincarnation. So no, not at all. You’ll be resurrected in Christ.
Answer: That’s a great question. Thanks for asking it. Actually, the Christian experience focuses on resurrection. Would you like to talk about that?
Which answer would you rather hear?
2. Steering the conversation is better than pushing for a conclusion
One of my favourite environments at our church is Starting Point. It’s an eight week small group experience for people who are new to Christianity, new to faith or returning to church after an absence.
Our best Starting Point leaders are not the people with all the answers or the leaders who are always trying to ‘close the deal’.
If you have 12 people in a conversation, you’re likely to have 12 different world views, many of which might seem “Christian” but in truth aren’t.
Our best Starting Point leaders are people who can steer a conversation.
They don’t freak out at people’s questions, no matter how strange they might be.
They listen without judgment.
They affirm a person’s intentions.
Our best leaders listen, don’t judge, thank people for their input, and then gently steer the conversation back toward truth.
Listening, empathizing, and then steering the conversation back toward truth will often get you much further with post-moderns than slamming on the brakes and telling them they’re wrong.
3. Being open is more effective than being certain
Don’t get me wrong, Christians can be certain. Ultimately, Christians mustbe certain because our faith is certain. Our faith stands on a sure and certain ground.
But, when talking to post-moderns, coming across as certain is far less effective than coming across as open.
I mean, people will be able to tell that you have a depth of conviction if they spend more than a few minutes talking to you.
But leading with that conviction all the time can be counter-productive.
The person who is always certain thinks they’re being convincing when the opposite is often true. You’re less convincing because being perpetually certain makes you appear anti-intellectual, closed and a bit arrogant (see below).
If you’re open to people and their views, they’ll be more open to you. Even if underneath all that, you’re certain. Because you likely are.
4. Arrogance, smugness and superiority are dead
For too long, Christian apologetics has carried with a tone of arrogance, smugness and superiority.
If you want to repel anyone under 40, lead with that.
Arrogance is so ingrained in many Christian cultures that Christians don’t even see it or hear it anymore.
Humility is attractive. Humility is what makes Jesus so much more attractive to people than the Pharisees who lack it.
Arrogance is only ever attractive to the arrogant.
Arrogance also a sin. So repent. Get over your smugness and superiority.
Humbly love your God, love your community, and love the people who don’t know him. God does.
5. The timeline is longer
I’m so A-Type I’d love to conclude everything in about 35 seconds.
Increasingly, evangelism doesn’t work that way.
Ever notice that people who come to faith when pressured often leave it after a few years? And that, conversely, the people who come to faith on their own timeline tend to be flourishing years down the road?
Jesus said he would draw all people to himself, and he will. But he didn’t promise to do it in 3 minutes, or during a 90 minute service or even an eight week class.
You need people and leaders who will take the time to go on a journey with people.
It kind of took the disciples 3 years to figure out who Jesus was, didn’t it? Why do you think your church will be any different?
Don’t get me wrong, we can’t lose our sense of urgency in the mission. I feel that urgency every day. Sometimes I think I feel it more every day. But we need to give people space and we need to give the Holy Spirit space to do His work.
So give people time and space to come to faith. Apparently, God does this too.
How About Your Context?
I’m not saying high-pressure evangelism never works or that God has stopped using it entirely.
I’m just saying I’m seeing it becoming increasingly less effective and that another methodology that shares the same end appears to be even more effective.
What are you seeing about how evangelism is changing in your community?