I’ve heard stories about evangelistic tent meetings. And while I’m sure there were obstacles and challenges, I’m always amazed at the simplicity that seems to describe them. Hold a meeting in the biggest room you can find and with the right speaker and almost everyone would come – and many would find new life in Jesus. Times have changed. And while I’m still envious of the simplicity of former days, I’m also amazed at the new ways that the gospel is bearing fruit in our day. There are four characteristics of effective evangelism that I’ve seen recently:
- Smaller: It used to be that bigger was better. In evangelism the opposite seems to be the case now. Culture, style and preference have all narrowed and become more specialized. People don’t trust big institutions and are less attracted to mass campaigns. But little row boats can manoeuvre where cruise ships run ashore. Over the last month, I have talked with several of our life groups that have seen non-Christian people visit their groups and experience Christian love and an explanation of the gospel. I see our life groups functioning as the evangelistic front-lines of our church. If you’re in one, think of non-Christian friends and neighbours you might invite and if you’re not in one, make time for this key area of biblical fellowship.
- Slower: While many complain about the biblical illiteracy of our generation, I think the cup might be half full. People in earlier generations were more influenced by biblical morals, but many were also immunized to the gospel. They had enough Bible and moral conviction to find it hard to believe they were lost. That’s not the case anymore. The big down-side of biblical illiteracy however is that evangelism takes more time. Fewer things can be taken for granted. Terms needs more explanation. The small group Christianity Explored course that’s been running since the spring is an example of a slow but engaging presentation of the Gospel using the Gospel of Mark. Do you know of anyone who might be open to a group like this?
- Relational: With all of our cell phones, Twitter accounts, and messaging options, you’d think that people’s lives would be more relational than ever. The opposite is the case. So many are starved for real connection with people. At least a couple of our Life Groups hosted BBQs this summer that were attended by people from outside the church. I sat down with one pastor to learn from that church’s ‘community dinner’ ministry. They contact the boards of assisted housing complexes and offer to put on a free meal for the community. While church members bring the meal, it is served right in the neighbourhood’s common room and relationships are developed as everyone eats together. At the end, there’s a door prize and contact information is collected from people who could benefit from a back-to-school kit or Christmas gift basket which the church delivers later in the year and further develops relationships. I can see some of our life groups adopting a neighbourhood and running community dinners like this two to three times per year as a means of outreach.
- Needs-oriented: While the meaning of the term ‘post-Christian’ as it relates to North America is debated, it goes without saying that there’s never been a time in Canada’s history when Christianity has been as unpopular culturally as it is today. And the church has a huge trust issue to overcome. Where those obstacles are being overcome, it’s happening as Christians serve their community with acts of love and mercy. Since the time of Jesus this has always been the way that the church has authenticated its witness. I recently attended a seminar by Christians Against Poverty with one of our life groups and am excited by their plans to offer a basic money management course for the community. In the U.K. where these courses were first developed, there are now 500 church-sponsored debt centres and they’ve become recognized as the premiere financial management seminar in the country. More importantly, people from the community are seeing biblical principles intersecting their needs and turning to Christ as a result. In one survey of 1500 course participants, 75% said that debt was affecting their marriage, 80% said debt affected their health and 68% were prescribed medication to help deal with the stress. As we reach out to respond to the needs of those around us, and confidently but naturally take opportunities to share the gospel with those whom we serve, I can see the church’s impact in our generation being redefined in new and exciting ways.
One of the ministries at Grace that has embodied all of these characteristics is our ESL ministry. For the last thirteen years, a small group of people have reached out to our community with free weekly English classes to recent immigrants who need help with their language skills and a friendly community to welcome and accept them. While appeals are made every year around this time to ask for volunteers, this year without more teachers we will likely have to cut back the number of classes and turn people away. The start of classes is scheduled for October 17. If there’s anyway that you might lend a hand, even as an assistant, please send me an e-mail. The rest of the team would be so grateful for your help.
In awe of Him,