Do you think we’re losing the battle in regard to the rise of the nones and the settling post-Christian nature of our world?
If so, do you wonder why?
The heart of the problem with evangelizing in a post-Christian world has nothing to do with how hard it is, much less the need for new tactics. The heart of the problem lies squarely with Christians who don’t feel they need to evangelize.
Buried within Pew’s recent study on the American religious landscape was a startling find. Adults who identified with a specific religion were asked whether they see their religion as “the one, true faith leading to eternal life” or if, in their view, “many religions can lead to eternal life.”
How you answer such a question will determine whether evangelism is integral or peripheral, a matter of urgency or complacency.
In a stunning revelation, two-thirds of Christians believe that many religions can lead to eternal life and 50 percent of all Christians believe some non-Christian religions can lead to life everlasting.
With such a mindset, one should not be surprised at tepid attempts at evangelism. And when attempted, poor results. Recently the Church of England went so far as to communicate to its members that they do more harm than good when they speak openly about their faith in attempts to spread Christianity. Internal research found that “practicing Christians who talk to friends and colleagues about their beliefs are three times as likely to put them off God as to attract them.”
So their solution?
Let’s stop talking to them.
This despite the fact that the same survey found that four in ten British adults do not even think that Jesus is a “real person who actually lived.” Among those under the age of 35, one out of every four believe Him to be a fictional character.
Suffice it to say that if practicing Christians who talk to their friends about their beliefs are putting them off God rather than attracting them, the problem isn’t God. And the answer surely isn’t refusing to share your beliefs.
It brings to mind an old story.
One day a woman criticized the legendary D.L. Moody for his methods of evangelism. Moody’s reply was, “I agree with you. I don’t like the way I do it either. Tell me, how do you do it?” The woman replied, “I don’t do it.” Then Moody reportedly replied, “Then I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”
So perhaps the key is first doubling down on our commitment to evangelize, and then second, learning how to talk about Jesus in a winsome and compelling way.
Shameless plug time: this is yet one more reason why I hope you are planning to come to the annual Church and Culture Conference (with completely new content each year) held in Charlotte, N.C., in the U.S., and then in Manchester, Bracknell and Cambridge in the U.K. You can get details here.
Is it worth one day to get the latest insights and strategies for the evangelization and transformation of culture through the centrality of the local church?
I hope you think so.
If not, then all I can say is that I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.
James Emery White
Pew Research Center, “U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious,” November 3, 2015, Pewforum.org.
John Bingham, “Talking about Christianity could just put people off – Church of England signals,” The Telegraph, November 6, 2015, read online.
On the annual Church and Culture Conference, visit ChurchAndCulture.org.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.