In my last blog I challenged church leaders that we need to change our thinking when it comes to evangelism in our churches if we are to reach this generation for Jesus. I shared with you the first of five shifts we must make—“We need to SHIFT from leader-owned evangelism to congregation-owned evangelism.”
The second shift that must take place is this:
2. We need to SHIFT from event-driven evangelism to relationship-driven evangelism.
When people think of the word “evangelism” there are typically two strong responses. Some people get super excited and are passionate about evangelism while other people try to avoid the topic and are greatly turned off when evangelism is mentioned.
I suggest to you that people avoid the subject and get turned off because typically when we preach and think about evangelism we often just think of the final step in conversion—helping someone step across the line to faith in Jesus. We can’t blame our people for thinking evangelism is just this last step because this is how many of us leaders also think about evangelism.
Evangelism is so much more than helping someone cross the line to faith in Christ. Yes, it includes this vital step and, in fact, evangelism is not complete until that person has heard and understood the gospel and been invited to respond to Christ … but it’s also so much more.
Evangelism is the relational journey believers go on with unbelievers until they respond to faith in Jesus!
Here is the reality. When people who came to faith in Christ are asked, “What is the primary factor that led you to put your faith in Christ?” the vast majority reply, “It’s because of a relationship I had with a Christian.” Just think of your own journey to Jesus. How would you respond to that question?
Yes, people may have made a decision at an event or church service, but we must recognise that the major factor in someone turning to Christ is a relationship with a real Christian.
As I work with believers of all different kinds of churches and hear their stories, I consistently see that their journey towards faith in Jesus started when a Christian began a real relationship with them. Even if the gospel isn’t mentioned immediately, that person’s journey towards Jesus is accelerated when a believer becomes their true friend. From that point on, everything else is a natural progression toward them encountering Jesus for themselves.
Wouldn’t you agree that as leaders we struggle in building real friendships with non-churched people? Our people struggle with that too. It’s not natural to spend relational time outside our Christian circle of relationships. We have secular acquaintances, but our friends are believers. This is a huge problem we must address!
What would it look like for you to cultivate an environment in your church where there is an expectation that your people will build relationships with non-church people?
Let me be real with you—it will never happen unless your people see this in your life. As a leader you must become what you want to multiply.
When you look at Jesus Christ, what do we see him doing when he called his first disciples? When they were called, we immediately see him in their homes building relationships and reaching out to unbelievers. He was known as “a friend of sinner”. The religious leaders criticized Jesus for spending time with unbelievers and yet he says to them, “It’s the sick who are in need of a doctor.” Jesus explains that he is the shepherd searching for lost sheep and the woman looking for her lost coin. “This is who I am”, Jesus was saying to them, “and all who follow me will become as I am.”
Even when Jesus’ team of disciples grew and he was surrounded by followers, what do we see him doing? We see him intentionally carving out time in his schedule and prioritizing relational time with unbelievers.
We will never reach this generation unless it’s through the relational connection believers have with people in their lives who don’t know Jesus.
We need to SHIFT from event-driven evangelism to relationship-driven evangelism. This is another one of the shifts that we help churches take through the journey of EvangelismSHIFT.
You can learn more about EvangelismSHIFT at www.evangelismshift.afci.com.au .