This is the second part in a two-part series. Click here for part one.
Over the last 20 years, churches have largely drifted from the practice of evangelism. At the same time, as younger generations like Gen Z and Gen Alpha come of age as digital natives, there is an ever-growing need to understand how to evangelize in the digital era. In order to respond to this evangelism lull, we need to look more at general approaches that are effective and less at this curriculum or that training method—we need to focus on what is working rather than nit-picking over what isn’t.
Some Approaches for Today
It’s true that some people are still having large evangelistic meetings. People still share the Four Spiritual Laws. People are still going up to random strangers in parks and sharing the gospel. I even do that at times. I’m for everything that helps people to know Jesus. The best evangelistic method is the one that people will use and that works.
But over the last couple of decades, a lot of believers decided that they just didn’t like evangelism and they wanted to move away from it. One reason for this is understandable; they grew tired of evangelism that seemed more like sales or argumentation than love. That’s oversimplifying it, but it’s real.
The urgency for new methods of effective evangelism is seen especially as we look to reach the emerging generations. Gen Z and Alpha are the most digitally connected group ever. But what they have in digital connection, they statistically lack in spiritual connection, compared with previous generations. This is evidenced first in their families; the number of single-parent homes is continuing to rise, bringing greater challenges than those in traditional families. These are also the most post-Christian and unchurched generations, raised for the most part “without even a memory of the gospel.” And, they are impacted by the cultural disruption we are walking though. With all that and more in mind, we can’t keep pushing evangelism aside given the need of the times.
As I mentioned in Part 1, I’m involved with He Get Us, which is focused on connecting with post-Christian and unchurched people in digital spaces. We need these sorts of innovations to reach people who are spiritually disconnected and yet, given the response to the He Gets Us campaign, actively searching for something transcendent and meaningful to hold onto.
Here are some approaches that can help reach generations today.
Small groups. Small groups, in the way we know them today, go back some 30 years. We saw this work evangelistically in Seeker Small Groups by Garry Poole. But there’s been a renewal of this in movements like Alpha or Christianity Explored. The evangelistic method is in gathering people and giving them a place to engage in meaningful conversation. This has shown a lot of fruit over the last decade. Most of the evangelistic traction appears to be in these kind of relational communities, whether in home, coffee shops, or somewhere else, where people are sharing the gospel in the context of relationship.
Tell the bigger story. Another shift is helping people see the gospel from the larger perspective of the whole biblical story rather than three of four brief propositional statements. If increasing numbers of people know less about the Bible (and they do), then helping them to see God’s purpose for redemption in the grand story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration makes a lot more sense to the unchurched.
Focus on conversations over presentations. The aversion to feeling like a salesperson has led many who wish to share their faith to more of a conversational approach. Tools like the 3 Circles has caught on in a lot of places with a lot of people. I know people who have led unchurched people to Christ in a coffee shop on a napkin using this. Learning to talk with people about Jesus instead of talking at them has been helpful.
Show and share Christ’s love. If you Google “BLESS practices of evangelism,” you’ll find the work of my former Wheaton colleague Rick Richardson. In this piece, Rick says, “Relationships are the single biggest factor in the formerly unchurched choosing to go to church.” Nothing else compares to relationships when it comes to understanding the best way to reach the unchurched, although several other factors matter as well. Rick adds, “Since relational evangelism is the biggest factor in the unchurched becoming churched, the more we can mobilize people in our churches to grow in that area, the more effective we will be at reaching the lost.”
BLESS is an acronym. It’s summarized in Rick’s book, You Found Me (IVP, 2012):
- Begin with prayer. Jesus and others have blessed you through prayer. Bless others who don’t know Jesus yet through prayer.
- Listen. Listen with care. Jesus and others have listened to you and heard you. Bless others far from God by listening and hearing them.
- Eat. Eat together. Jesus and others have accepted you and “invited you to their table.” Accept and invite others who don’t know Jesus yet to your table (or to your local fast-food or farm-to-table restaurant).
- Serve. Serve in love. Jesus and others have served you in ways that changed you. Serve others far from God in ways that can change them. Receive their serving of you too! Nothing you do gives dignity to others or creates openness to your sharing like receiving their help.
- Story. Share your story. Jesus and others have shared their story and God’s story with you in a way that changed you. Share your story with others far from God to reach them.