The World has changed greatly, no one doubts that. I was struck by Wes Moore's insights this week about how this is "Billy Graham's America No Longer", critiquing the way that many churches emphasize marketing and how it has some ugly unintended consequences in this changed and increasingly changing environment. You can read the whole thing here.
Here are the main things.
In the church in America, when we think of evangelism, we think of a Billy Graham Crusade. A high-powered speaker comes in, a thousand lost people show up, and hundreds get saved. But it’s not Billy Graham’s America anymore.
America has changed.
This “big tent” idea of revival just doesn’t work today.
The underlying Problem:
Let me give you some reasons this idea is flawed:
1. In the NT, it wasn’t just the evangelists that preached the Word to the lost; it was also the average pew-sitter. Look at Acts 8:1 and 4. While the apostles (the big named preachers and evangelists) were stuck in Jerusalem, “those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (v. 4). That’s the rest of us.
2. This approach (come to us and hear the Word) is not fundamentally in line with the Great Commission. The first words of it as written in Matthew 28:18-20 are, “Therefore, go…” Jesus expected us to go out to them and take the gospel, not just wait for them to come to us.
3. The American culture no longer responds to this approach. America has changed. People today don’t know the Bible, doubt its every teaching, and think all Christians are hypocrites. The culture of the Christian church and the culture of the average American, while once more closely aligned, are now polar opposites.
The bottom line is this: People rarely come when you invite them. I don’t care what the supposed studies say. I’ve done it for nearly fifteen years. To help you understand how the average lost person feels when they think about going to a Christian worship service, imagine how you would feel as a biblical Christian if you were invited to a Mormon sacrament meeting (that’s their Sunday service). You’d feel very uncomfortable, and, no matter how many times you were invited, you’d probably never go.
That same kind of uncomfortable feeling, born of various causes, keeps the lost out of our churches on Sunday morning.
What will further the the kingdom of God, and bring people into contact with the gospel in a healthy way:
Sadly, most Christians, Christian churches, and even most pastors today don’t evangelize at all. They have no strategy to reach the lost, and no problem sitting in their seats while the lost and their entire community go to hell around them (literally and figuratively).But, for those who do care, what should they do? Let me suggest two things:
1. We must go out to the people and share the gospel with them. That doesn’t always mean in a confrontational way with a stranger, though that certainly is biblical. You can also share with those with whom you have an existing relationship: neighbors, school mates, colleagues, coworkers, and friends. I recommend The Way of the Master for a more confrontational approach, and my book, Forcefully Advancing, for a more relational one.
2. Prepare yourself to answer questions and overcome objections. The average lost person can give you four or five Bible difficulties without taking a breath. You can learn to answer them, however. It will just take some work. My book, The Spiritual Top 50, was written just for this purpose.
One final thing. In today’s culture, you must understand that numerical growth will be slow. We’re not in a season of reaping, but of hard work (John 4:35-38), so get the idea that you’ll have fantastic growth overnight out of your head.
A sharp critique and a final words of wisdom:
Our fascination with drawing crowds has had a negative unintended consequence. The marketing approach has driven us to focus our preaching and teaching on that which draws and meets the “needs” of the lost around us (heavy on temporal problems, happiness, and fulfillment; low on eternal concerns, doctrine, righteousness, sacrifice, and suffering).
The content of that kind of preaching does not constitute meat for the saved. Quite to the contrary, the steady diet of what is at best milk (and, in many cases, spiritual cyanide) has left our people immature, sinful, and vulnerable to every kind of deception.
The best thing we can do for the lost—and the saved—is to train our people to go out into the world and evangelize, and rigorously and continually feed the sheep the rich, full, and God-centered meat of the Word whenever the church meets, whether on Sunday or any other day of the week. If we approach growth this way, we’ll not only see a greater number truly saved, we’ll also see the Kingdom itself return to health and strength.