The Evangelism Conundrum

How exactly do we reach people with the gospel in 21st Century Britain?  It's a key question, as all our church statistics seem to plummet.

I went to a conference a little while ago looking at reaching out to Muslim communities in Britain with the good news of Jesus.  I suppose I went hoping to find the answers and it was a useful conference.  However, the main take-home was that no-one really knows how to do it, they're just trying stuff and it hasn't been very fruitful - at least not yet.

Then I was talking to a friend about the evangelism strategy of his church - I guess a lot of people would think of it as dated.  It wasn't bearing much fruit, but then I thought about all the other strategies, some of which are much trendier, and I don't see them bearing much fruit.

It seems to me that you can track something of a shift.  Some time up to the mid-eighties university missions and Billy Graham Crusades, were the big thing.  In many ways they were effective.  I think the usual logic is that because there was (a) quite a lot of basic Bible knowledge and (b) a Christian influenced worldview and morality, that people were more ready to hear the gospel.

I suspect there's some truth in that, although those strategies weren't effective enough to maintain those pre-requisites it seems.  We then seem to have gone through all kinds of methods trying to find the way to reach our society.  Whether it's seeker-sensitive services, Christian rock bands, apologetics to moderns and postmoderns, Alpha courses, club churches, emerging churches, social action and so on.  I think we need to be honest and say none have been especially fruitful.

Maybe that's too harsh - lots of people have come to true faith in Christ over that period of time through all manner of methods and for that we must be grateful to God, but still church attendance plummets, so there hasn't been that much fruit.

Now we've used the argument in the past that nominal Christians are no longer identifying with the church and that skews the statistics.  I'm sure that's true too.  But how low do we have to go, before we've got rid of them all!

I guess a lot of people will rightly say that we've become to focused on methodology - trying to find the silver bullet, so that everyone will fall at our feet so to speak.  Maybe that's right, but let's be honest, the churches who've not gone with all the different methodologies aren't usually beacons of evangelistic success.

I was recently at a church service listening to a liberal preach about welcome and inclusion.  It'll be interesting to see the liberal-catholics attempt mission and church growth!  We'll rightly think that without the gospel at the heart, it won't work.  Probably not in numbers and certainly not in true salvation.  We're right to see that orthodox evangelical churches are on average likelier to grow (it's inherent in the gospel!).  Our concern at the gospel-lite approach of some churches and movements is right.  However, we still need to recognise that the fruit of the faithful churches is not so great as all that.

All of which is to sound a bit of a depressed note.  Or is it?

Don't get me wrong, I think we need to keep the focus on faithfulness, on evangelism and on the best ways to communicate the gospel in our generation and context. However, I wonder if I have it a bit wrong.  Lack of fruitfulness should cause me to question myself, but if I really mean lack of numbers then I need a bit of caution, because it is God who calls people in the end not me (John 6:44).  Jim Packer writes about this in Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.  In fact he goes to some lengths to make the point I'm making about our not very "successful" evangelism and tries to refocus us on trusting in God and not our methods:

"When we evangelize, our trust must be in God who raises the dead.  He is the almighty Lord who turns men's hearts, and He will give conversions in His own time.  Meanwhile our part is to be faithful in making the gospel known, sure that such labour will never be in vain." (pp.117-118)
Funnily this is one of the things I learnt from the conference on Muslim evangelism.  For some reason, in these days many Iranian Muslims are becoming Christians.  It's hard to pin down exactly why this people group now and not another (although there are some possible factors).  The key reminder is that God is sovereign.

I am sad we don't see a revival today in the UK.  I don't know why God doesn't bring it, but I trust he does know why! So I pray, I seek to stay faithful, I seek to do the best evangelism I can, but I put my trust in God for the results, for my ministry, and for the future of the church.  Like many conundrums of the Christian faith, the evangelism conundrum is really one that is resolving in saying "not my will, but yours" to God, i.e. I seek to serve God and trust him as I do it, rather than to trust in my service of him!


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