This article originally appeared in the May/June 2005 issue of Outreach magazine.
The key to evangelism in the New World is the same as it was in the first century—creating environments where people who don’t know God can spend time with people who do. But most of the time, that doesn’t happen.
Instead, we think we’re supposed to evangelize, then disciple. That’s not what happened in the Bible. In Acts, we see 3,000 people converted at Pentecost. We say, “Wow! Look at this, they get baptized and go crazy!” But they were all pre-discipled. Here in the 21st century, we’ve gotten it backwards. When you start to evangelize to people outside of Christianity, you can’t start with the “final step” of the process. So many people want to see effective evangelism in a non-Christian environment by starting with the end rather than the beginning.
ON CREATING A COMPELLING COMMUNITY
The Church should be astonishing our culture and creating a community that is so warm, inviting and nurturing of people’s gifts, talents, creativity and imagination, that it magnetizes people to want to step in. This happens by building experiences that explain biblical truths in a way that people who don’t know God, or have just come to know Him, will understand.
At our church in Los Angeles, which is 82 percent single and tends to reach people in this emerging, postmodern culture, our strategy for reaching out to unbelievers is discipling people before they come to faith. We create a community that is so compelling that people without Christ want to be there with us. For example, we take a trip to Ensenada, Mexico, where we serve the poor. Do you have to know God to serve the poor? No. So we take everyone down for three days. They may begin the trip hating Christ but wanting to serve the poor. But they come back overwhelmed by the fact that we as believers would help the needy.
ON WORSHIPPING NONBELIEVERS
One of the wonderful things that happens when you create this kind of community is that unbelievers will come just because they want to stand in the middle of this kind of experience.
My friend, Wesley, who was a Chinese atheist, came to our church, and it took him three years to come to a faith in Jesus Christ. He read everything in the Bible. He came to worship, even raising his hands. He was a worshipping nonbeliever.
At one point, Wesley told me he was leaving the church because I wouldn’t baptize him. I told him that we really think people need to believe in Jesus and be His follower before we baptize them. He told me he was going to another church and that he had realized he was “enough of a Christian for most churches.”
I asked him, “Do you feel loved at our church?” He said he did. So I asked him to stay with the people that loved and accepted him until he was ready to make a real commitment. He stayed, and a year later, became a follower of Christ. But he would never have come to that decision if we had expected him to first become a Christian before we discipled him.
ON OVERFED CHRISTIANS AND UNDERFED NONBELIEVERS
My conviction is that we over-teach Christians and under-teach non-Christians. I am so sick of Christians saying, “I want to be fed.” To that, I say, “You’re fat! Go exercise your faith!” We’re intellectually arrogant, and we think we’re walking with God if we know the Bible well.
I think the problem with many “teaching” churches is that they focus on teaching only the Christians. If we were more effective in teaching the unbelievers, wouldn’t that also benefit the Christians? Perhaps the believers would finally learn how to communicate with an unbeliever. The tragedy in the Church is that we tend to bow to the Christians and let the unbelievers die and go to hell.
ON DEVELOPING AMAZING EVANGELISTS
Pastors don’t need to focus on making their people evangelistic. Instead, focus on getting your people to follow Jesus. When they fall in love with Him, they will become amazing evangelists. I think that many churches are stuck trying to be good citizens rather than followers of Christ. What we need is revolution, and until we stop trying to be “good citizens,” we’ll never redeem first-century Christianity.
On a practical level, pastors need to start calling people to the abundance of life that Jesus invites us to and to recognize that the Christians who were crucified by the Roman Empire were usually not considered “good citizens.” If you’re not doing anything to make people uncomfortable with your life, you may not be doing anything at all.
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