Evangelism and Exponential Growth

Jul 14, 2020 | Article, Christian Living, Podcast

As Christians, a primary concern of ours ought to be the evangelism of the lost. This has always been a particularly difficult idea for me, though, because I am certainly an introverted person and do have difficulty connecting with others in spontaneous encounters.

I have written about this before here, and even wrote a book that deals with this in more depth.

Suffice it to say, I believe that there is a place on the spectrum where all personality styles can shine; in other words, there’s no excuse not to be doing evangelism. It just may look a bit different for one person than it does for another.

If you’re breathing and you’re a follower of Christ, you have a role to play in his great commission. That’s the bottom line.

The Evangelism Crisis

The difficulties I mentioned above have, unfortunately, left a giant mark on the state of evangelism within the Christian church.

A 2019 study conducted by the Barna Group was revealing:

Almost all practicing Christians believe that part of their faith means being a witness about Jesus (ranging from 95% to 97% among all generational groups), and that the best thing that could ever happen to someone is for them to know Jesus (94% to 97%). Millennials in particular feel equipped to share their faith with others. For instance, almost three-quarters say they know how to respond when someone raises questions about faith (73%), and that they are gifted at sharing their faith with other people (73%). This is higher than any other generational group: Gen X (66%), Boomers (59%) and Elders (56%).

Despite this, many Millennials are unsure about the actual practice of evangelism. Almost half of Millennials (47%) agree at least somewhat that it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith. This is compared to a little over one-quarter of Gen X (27%), and one in five Boomers (19%) and Elders (20%). (Though Gen Z teens were not included in this study, their thoroughly post-Christian posture will likely amplify this stance toward evangelism.)

Quite obviously, this is troubling—especially during a time with so much cultural upheaval regarding issues of race, sexual orientation, and gender differences.

The world needs the gospel now more than ever, and to think almost half of Christians in my generation think we ought not try to bring others to the faith is almost mind-blowing!

I wonder, though, how much of this is a function of studied, rational thinking versus being driven to inaction by fear.

Many Are Afraid to Share

Very many feel as though outright presentations of the gospel are nerve-racking experiences that should be avoided.

While I want to disagree with this ideologically, as a card-carrying introvert, I get it! It’s not because I’m ashamed of the gospel; I have just as much trouble making cold calls for my web design business.

I’ll talk all day long about Jesus as long as you ask first.

The study above gives me pause, though. I’m not entirely sure whether we can say the participants in this study were afraid just to bring it up, afraid to talk through the issues, or whether fear was even the demotivating force.

Here’s what I do know: I would answer that I am equipped to answer the questions, I would also answer that I am reasonably skilled at sharing with others, but I would not answer that it is wrong to share my beliefs in the hopes of bringing another along.

I also know that one cannot seriously read the Bible and come away with anything close to the idea that evangelism is unbiblical or immoral. This leads me to believe that fear of the conversation is the true driver behind these responses.

And if that’s the case, as we’ll discuss below, I believe there’s a remedy.

Many Are Too Extreme When they Share

There is another side to this, however, that is a bit troubling. While some are so reserved they end up sitting on the sidelines, others are so outspoken they border on uncharitable and tend to look down on those who don’t find evangelism so easy.

Here again, the lines are rather blurry. Perhaps the idea of street preaching is a good example. Is street preaching bad, immoral, or unbiblical? Certainly not in itself.

However, characteristic among many street preachers is the inability and/or failure to seriously engage ideas. Where one can be loud and overpowering, there is less “need” for rational discourse, so the thinking goes.

Just preach louder at ’em and the Spirit will do the rest! Amen!?

Well, I’m not so sure.

I happen to know a thing or two about my generation and those upcoming, and one thing I know is that we’re characteristically tired of being screamed at. We’re willing to trade our beliefs, but we demand to know why we should.

Many street preachers are excellent at their craft and have the desire and ability to engage in meaningful discourse, so I want to be careful not to lump folks together. But sadly, those who can do this are few and far between.

So where do we go from here? I think there’s a two-part solution to this problem.

Solution, Part 1: Put Down the Cookie Cutter

As per the usual, truth is so rarely found in the extremes. In most ideological conversations, there’s a middle ground that answers more questions, includes more people, and is more preferable for a number of reasons.

This issue is no different.

Here’s the issue: Many of us (myself included) grew up in a context where evangelism was not a lifestyle, it was an event. If you weren’t doing the profoundly extroverted evangelism “event” you were living in sin and disobedience.

The issue has become, since most people believe that just is evangelism, they sit out altogether. They’ve given up it entirely! Worse, as I believe can be argued from the study above, this belief has become so axiomatic that many now believe it’s morally wrong to try to share your beliefs with the intent of converting others!

Certainly, we’ve missed the mark. We can begin to repair these wounds by putting down the cookie cutter we have given to the idea of evangelism. Everyone—from any background, with any personality style—can and should do their part in the Great Commission.

For some more practical ideas of what this might look like, see my book God, the Great Commission, and You. It does not have to be hard. Why not invite the neighbors over for a meal and minister to them? Show the love of Christ, and see where the conversation goes.

Ask God for an opportunity. He’ll probably put one in your path! Be radically different. I’ll share an example of the perfect opportunity—and my subsequent failure to capitalize on it.

I was filling up my cup of water at work one afternoon, and one of the attorneys at my firm asked why I was always so happy. I think I responded with some unhelpful neutral rhetoric: “Well, there’s no sense in being sad, right?!” Or something like that.

But what a perfect opportunity this would have been to mention Christ.

Not to mention, it would have been the truth! I am happy because of who Jesus is and who he says I am, in him. That is the source of my joy. Why didn’t I just tell her that? She brought it up, after all!

I have since then made it more of a priority. It turns out that, in this dark world, people actually will and do ask why something is different about you, if you’re truly living like your citizenship is in another world. I’ll preach to you and myself at the same time: If people aren’t asking, what are they really seeing when they see you?

Evangelism does not have to look the same for you as it does for me. It doesn’t have to look the same for us as it does for your cousin, or your pastor. We are uniquely created in God’s image, and he can use us according to how he created us.

Solution, Part 2: Each One Reach One.

This is a tremendously practical example, and one that we often miss even if we give lip service to it during particular outreach campaigns at church.

I want to give you a radical idea. What if you made it one of your primary missions in life to disciple just one person in the faith? Notice that the Great Commission is not the command to make converts; rather, to make disciples.

Many who boast about their superior evangelism skills are good at the art of persuasion; few of them give thought to what meaningful followup looks like. By beginning with a more holistic (and accurate, mind you) definition of evangelism—namely, the one Jesus gave, we can gain a whole new perspective on and appreciation for the task.

It’s notoriously hard to nail down these sorts of numbers, but for the sake of argument, let’s agree with this Wikipedia entry that there are 619 million evangelicals in the world, and that “evangelical” is the accurate term for “those who are actually saved.” (Again, both of these are disputable; this exercise is for the sake of argument.)

In a world post-COVID-19, we’re all much more familiar with the concept of exponential growth than we used to be. All this means is that something (whether bacteria, a virus, or the gospel) is spread at such a fast rate that vast numbers of the population are affected in rapid succession.

If every evangelical Christian was able to bring just one person to the Lord, the entire world would be saved in just over 12 years. Now I get there are a bazillion factors and this theoretical notion is not ultimately realistic.

But surely you see the point?

We’ve made evangelism into this “impossible” task, perhaps because it’s easier than ever now to get a sense for how big the world is. You think, “What can I do to where I am? There are too many people to be reached!” But if our goal was to radically pursue one person in their development as a Christ-follower, what could the world become?

Therefore, I say, if you’re afraid to get in the game: Start small. Figure out in what way you are truly good at connecting with people. We all have this ability because of the kind of creatures we are, but that doesn’t mean it looks the same for everyone.

Don’t worry about fitting into someone else’s cookie cutter. Don’t burden yourself with reaching the entire world. Start with one.

Meet Steve

Meet Steve

Hi, I’m Steve, an author, speaker, and Bible teacher with a heart for exploring God’s Word and God’s world.

I’m interested in the surprising connection between creation, theology, business, and storytelling. We explore those themes and more on this blog.

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