How New Disciples Are Within Your Reach
By Kay Kotan
How do we learn to share our faith without feeling anxiety or being perceived as just plain weird? That seems to be a common question these days. There is fear and anxiety at the mere mention of the word, let alone the practice of,evangelism.
Most churches and Christians target the wrong people and use the wrong tactics. We are not making new disciples, not adding significantly to Christ’s transformation of the world. Our evangelism has become passive: we wait for them to come, we are polite when they arrive, we help them join our organization. And if they quit attending worship or giving money, we try hard to get them back. This hands-off style of evangelism has not worked for more than fifty years!
We can’t keep waiting for people to arrive at our doors. We have done this for too many years. This passive behavior goes against the missional roots of our Christian faith. We have gone from being outwardly focused to being inwardly centered. This won’t work in a secular world where the gospel must be actively demonstrated in order to be communicated. We must help people in our churches move past the fear of sharing faith with others, or of inviting others to hear the gospel, and move instead toward an active, passionate missionary lifestyle. We must recapture our missionary soul as professing Christians in America, and as the church of Jesus Christ in the world.
After consulting with hundreds of churches, I would like to offer four observations:
Inwardly focused churches tend to define and practice evangelism as “reconnecting disconnected church folks.”
Outwardly focused churches define and practice evangelism as connecting unconnected folks to Jesus and then to the church.
The pool of churched people to connect with is dramatically shrinking, while the pool of the unchurched, never-connected population is growing exponentially. This is especially true among the millennial generation.
Early denominational movements focused on unconnected folks, while the established churches of the day focused on and supported the folks who were already churched when they arrived in America. These movements became institutional over time, and they began to focus on membership rather than discipleship. The mainline churches were dislodged from the center of American culture by the social upheaval of the 1960s. The situation became further confused by the resulting rise of religious conservatism in the 1970s and 1980s. This led to the polarization of religious liberals and religious conservatives, which in turn led to the disaffection of youth from religion in the 1990s and 2000s. The mainline churches as a result are bewildered and unsure about how to proceed through an accelerated state of decline.
If any denomination is to have a future, it must reconnect to the biblical purpose and mission of making new disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. To accomplish this mission, we must once again be people who widely, continually, and fervently share faith in Jesus Christ with those who do not yet have such a faith. This sharing must occur in relevant ways, without being obnoxious. We must change the habits of leaders and entire congregations so that our sharing is invitational, natural, constant, systematic, genuine, and easy. People must begin to share their faith in a way that is effective, biblical, and transformational. This process of change begins with helping church people discover and share their own faith story. Then we must show them how to move out into the community and become personal missionaries. Finally, we must equip the church and congregation to prepare for and receive the unchurched.