I find myself in a denomination that is concerned about it’s life. In North America, attendance is down, membership is down, churches are closing and it seems like it is a stretch to find things to celebrate. Statistics are watched closely. Any church that has growth is studied and, at times, used as a model. Books are written. Conference are formed. All this takes place so that churches, who aren’t having statistical success, can discover the secrets of healthy growth. After all, no one wants to die, not even a denomination.
In this type of culture, one fixated on life and survival, evangelism is seen as the key. If we would evangelize, people would come to Christ and to the church. That is the belief anyway. Of course we look past the fact that there are many Christians who do not attend weekly services at all, but that is another issue. Yet, it seems feasible that if we were able to evangelize well, then our churches (and statistics) would be healthy.
Evangelism has always seemed mysterious to me. At various times Jesus was more interested in sending people away, or saying things that caused them to leave (see John 6) than getting them to sign up for his mission. I don’t think it was that he didn’t want people to respond to his message. I think he just knew that people needed to hear what he was really saying and respond to that. He didn’t sugar coat things. If they were going to be followers, well, he wanted them to know that it was going to be hard, and require much sacrifice.
As I contemplate evangelism, I wonder if we have the same edge that Jesus had. We are wanting our churches to grow. Our evangelism usually focuses around someone’s felt needs. We are to discover those felt needs, and help them see how Jesus (or actually the church) can meet those needs. While I agree that Jesus can meet our needs I wonder if our felt needs are the ones that really need to be met.
I was in a worship service not too long ago where the Youth Pastor announced they needed quite a few Wiis, Xbox 360s, Playstations, and HD TVs. He wasn’t asking for one or two, but for many. Why? Because they wanted to evangelize the youth of their city and the felt those things were needed to accomplish that task. The thought was, if they don’t come, how can we evangelize them? We need these things so that they will want to come.
To be honest, I’m torn on this. One part of me applauds the church, but another part of me wonders if it has really come down to this? It isn’t just the kids though. We do the same thing with our special services, events, concerts, etc. Yet many churches discover that while some might respond, many turn a deaf ear.
I don’t think we have taken time to really understand why our evangelism doesn’t always work. I’m not sure we understand the deep roots of our culture that causes people to take what we give them, but never really meet Christ in a way that transforms their lives. They might have their felt needs met, they might be able to play the newest XBox game, they might even begin coming to church….but is that really what we are after? Do we really need another church member? Do we really need another tick on our statistic that one more person showed up on Sunday morning? Yes, it might make us feel good, but deep down aren’t we really after something more?
Like Jesus, we want to see disciples. We want to see people transformed, not only on the outside, but also on the inside. We want to see people so transformed that sacrifice is a lifestyle. People who don’t think twice of giving themselves in service…or of giving their money in service. People who spend time in deep prayer (i.e. prayer that changes them by aligning their wills with God’s). People who are able to turn the world upside down and join God in putting things back to rights.
Perhaps we need a new type of evangelism. An evangelism that is not about XBoxes and felt needs.One that takes into account deep cultural issues. One that understands what the church needs is not converts, but disciples.