Toward a Great Commission Resurgence: Convergent Evangelism, Part 2

NOTE: This is a continuation of an article based on the book Convergent Church: Missional Worshipers in an Emerging Culture by Alvin L. Reid and Mark Liederbach (Kregel).

4. Convergent evangelism will involve both “come and see”
and “go and tell” elements.

Attractional evangelism, the inviting lost people to come and hear the gospel, still matters. Conventional churches effective in evangelism (most are not) have benefited greatly from attractional evangelism and will in coming days. But so many conventional churches have been attractional-only to the point that most church members never even try to share Christ with people other than in the context of inviting them to events. In short, rather than having a “Samaritan night” once a year to reach those Samaritans, we need to add a focus on going to Samaria as we see in John 4 and the Acts.

Convergent evangelism also sees the failure of programs or events to bring about a renewed church or a long-term effective witness of individuals or the church body. But that does not mean that we should jettison the whole idea of training. It is still okay to host attractional events such as evangelistic meetings or VBS. Once again, our correction should not take on either/or status. If in a local context people come to know Jesus through such events, that is outstanding! But we must come to grips with the reality that most unchurched people best come to understand and know the gospel starting where they live, not in our institutions (see Acts 19:8-10). Rainer, Stetzer, and others have published books noting the number of unchurched who will come to events if invited by a friend. The problem comes when we realize we do not have enough friends who do not know Christ. Thus we must go and tell, or as one friend says, go and show–our desire to be friends of sinners.

5. Convergent evangelism will not be “one-size-fits-all.”

As for methodology, particulars of style need to be contextually sensitive. No more attitude that says “I have found THE method to reach America,” unless you mean the glorious gospel is the method. We must become willing to admit the forms we use sometimes get in the way of our efforts. Thus, missional thinking, not tradition, determines what methods are most effective for a given context. Tradition is important as a source of authority and to tie us to our heritage of faith, but biblical truth, not tradition, should be the chief driving force behind our methodology.

The key to knowing when to use which method is to shift from thinking simply about “evangelism” in the sense of a one-time proclamation that is focused on the “teller” giving a message, to a mind-set that understands both the hearer and the hearer’s context.
Thus, thinking missionally not only moves us out of a duty-only mode in which we are more concerned with telling our Sunday school class that we contributed to our evangelism statistics (or witnessing because you are “supposed to”), but it also helps us focus on a bigger picture: God’s heart for the world (and your neighbor) and an effective strategy to reach that world (and your neighbor).

I have asked audiences from my classes to evangelism conferences, from college groups to local churches, two simple questions. First, how many of you grew up in a Christian home? Most raise their hand. Second, how many of you remember your family talking about reaching your neighbors for Christ? Very few raise their hands. We are much better at getting people to adopt a program than to reach their neighbor.

6. Convergent evangelism will share from the position of humility, not entitlement.

Our culture has an attitude of entitlement. Americans think we deserve health care, a good job, benefits, etc. The church has adopted that posture as well, expecting people to respect us for being believers, or thinking that God owes us something for our supposed devotion. God owes us hell! Everything else is grace, and should breed humility. We are better than no one–we have received the gift of salvation!

Being real means telling people the truth. We need to say in our words and by the example of our lives that great marriages are possible and that children can be raised to love God and live morally in this mixed-up world. We need to assert and live out the great joy of sexual purity and demonstrate that serving the poor and needy is our privilege. We need to speak on hell, on the uniqueness of Jesus, and on the fundamentals of the faith. We need to share this compelling story in a way that is neither trivial nor stale. But as we do it we must do so as grateful servants who yet are amazed at the wonder that God would love and save us.

Most unchurched people today hardly know what the gospel is because no one has told them! The antagonism, if it is present, is usually with a perceived hypocrisy in the lives of those who claim to know the truth, not with the truth itself. We are constantly amazed at how open unchurched people are to speak with us about spiritual things. We are saddened by how few people they have ever met who are passionate for Jesus. From the way we treat the waitress in the restaurant to the neighbor across the street, from the coworker in the next cubicle to the mall worker at the kiosk, we must express humility in our witness.

7. Convergent evangelism will emphasize the whole-life element to following Christ.

Because the evangelism demonstrated by Jesus did not embody the idea of “come and avoid hell” but rather “come, follow me” (Matt. 4:19), we believe we need to converge on the understanding that evangelism and discipleship are ultimately not distinct terms. There is a logical distinction we can make between them, but too often the distinction is overplayed. Jesus did not tell us to make Christians; he told us to make disciples. In fact, as Acts 11:26 indicates, it was outsiders who came up with the name “Christian.”

Followers of Christ were simply understood to be his disciples. When we share our faith we need to keep in mind that we are calling people to become the people God created them to be, not only calling them away from the fires of hell. Thus, it is wise to encourage a potential convert to the faith to “count the cost” and weigh carefully the decision to become a believer. In certain contexts such a discussion may take only minutes. In other contexts, the discussion may take far longer. Key, however, is that we understand our goal: reaching the lost and equipping them to join with us in the process of becoming mature and ministering
worshipers of God.

For whatever reason, conventional evangelism often has involved a call to the least commitment necessary to be saved. It is our conviction that this “what-is-necessary-to-get-them-into-heaven” mentality needs to be rethought and trained out of our churches. Do we offer marriage classes on how to do just enough to survive together? Do we teach how to raise children by encouraging parents to do as little as possible? Of course not!
Yet when it comes to sharing the greatest news in history, we tend to try to make it as simple, as noncommittal, and as easy as possible. Certainly the gospel message is simple, but it is not something you tack on to an already busy life schedule. Being a Christian does not mean you have Christ IN you life, it means He IS your life!

Perhaps it is because we teach a “lowest-common-denominator” gospel that a lot of
believers are more excited about going to Starbucks than going to share Christ. We have lowered the bar so much that there is no thrill, challenge, higher calling, or vision.

8. Convergent evangelism will recognize that discipleship often accompanies or precedes evangelism.

This point may seem odd or perhaps a little bizarre to someone steeped in conventional culture, where the progression from lost to conversion to changed life is supposed to happen in a clear progression. And, indeed, theologically speaking there is a clear progression in the order of salvation. A person moves from lost to saved, from death to life, through salvation into the process of sanctification. However, for the unchurched person who needs more than intellectual assent to propositional truth, for the one who needs a revolution in his worldview, there is often the need for a life-altering process to take place even before conversion. Often this will involve the nonbeliever being around and among believers, seeing the Christian worldview, experiencing it, and learning a new way to live even as he or she is still trying to understand and embrace the full impact of the gospel

Whether you would agree that these eight points are the crucial ones to become more effective in fulfilling the Great Commission, we can agree that a conversation about how to change to be more effective is vital. So let the conversation continue.

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  1. Linley   •  

    Great word.

  2. J. Michael Palmer   •  

    We have such a shoddy theology of evangelism. We need to see evangelism as who we are in Christ. We ARE missional because THE MISSIONARY lives within us. My problem is that I allow “other more important things” to take up my time and sap my desire for BEING what I already am in Christ. May God break our hearts for lost people. I am convinced of this need in my life as a pastor in my church and in churches throughout the SBC, etc. I agree wholeheartedly with the goal stated above. I am disconcerted with the reality that we evaluate our churches on some lesser criteria and go on doing the same thing year after year. I DO believe God can change us and bring a new and fresh work in pastors and churches. I commend Dr. Reid and Dr. Leiderbach on their work and look forward to this read. MP

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