Some years ago a friend and I were doing some door-knocking evangelism. If the subject of church attendance came into the conversation the response was something like, "I don't go...because I've been." It was certainly an example of “Church no!" Yet so many people are open to talking about Jesus. Church, no thanks, is a disturbingly common response and we need to ask ourselves just why this should be?
I believe part of the reason (and it is only a part) is our simplistic and unbiblical method of leading people to Christ. More often than not people today have no Christian background with little idea of the step we are asking them to take. Then in a high octane church service, or in a one-on-one encounter we aggressively tell people, "Just ask Jesus to come into your heart by praying this prayer." Then we tell the person who has just prayed, "you're now a Christian." Are they? Do they have any idea just what and Who they are getting involved with? Are we just inoculating a 'seeker' with an ounce of spirituality, and thereby hindering them from catching the real thing?
Watching the "Hour of Power" church service on TV recently (a classic example of 'spectator' Christianity) I was struck by the interview with Brian "Head" Welsh a former guitarist with the rock band "Korn". He was helplessly trapped in a prison of drugs and at a church service Matt 11:28 was explained to him. The pastor then told Brian, "If you just hang out with Jesus and talk to him, he will take all the bad things that (will) fall off in your life." He went home, continued doing drugs and talking to Jesus crying out to him for deliverance. In his own words "...after a couple of weeks...I just felt his love and I instantly threw the drugs away and I've been changed ever since. No "sinners' prayer" in that power encounter!" He now and is using his musical talent reaching out to lost youth. And Matt. 11:28 is proudly tattooed on his neck.
Obviously I'm not suggesting we tell everybody, "Just hang out with Jesus", though somebody will probably turn those words into a method, write a manual and conduct an evangelism seminar on them!
What I strongly believe is that evangelism must be relational. That is, getting alongside family, neighbours, workmates, etc. and demonstrating the good news by acts of Christ-like generosity and genuine love. Today's Western pagans need to be taught what it means to be a life-long follower of Jesus and out of this type of relationship an informed and dedicated follower of Jesus will be born.
In a previous Letter I spoke about the “put-off” of the foreign-to-this-generation church culture. This is another problem that produces the "Yes to Jesus - no to church" response. An example of this can be seen in the excellent "Alpha" course. This course teaches the gospel (great); it makes room for the work of the Holy Spirit (wonderful); those attending can ask any question and can freely make comment, but then comes a difficult hurdle. It is this; getting the people from the intimacy of an enjoyable, profitable, non-judgmental, informal evening - plus the fellowship of an excellent meal into the life of a typical church. Now, I know this can and does happen, thank God. But I also know it is a problem. Listen to Alan Hirsch's 'take' on this:
"I understand that up to three million people have participated in Alpha courses in the U.K. alone...(but) there are certainly not three million new church members in the UK. In fact the church there is still in serious decline...How can this be? It's that darn 'Jesus, yes. Church, no' phenomenon again. People will come to faith in small, intimate communities of friends but generally don't want the organised-religion part of the deal...I find myself asking the question, 'What if Alpha became a church multiplication movement - a new church emerging out of the original Alpha group reproducing itself from there?' My guess is that with a different paradigm driving it, it could really take off...but is hindered by a more institutional understanding of church." ("The Forgotten Ways" p.63).
Here's something for you to do - and you don't have to be a rocket scientist nor have a attended Bible College, nor be a mature believer. Simply find a person among your family, at your work, in your neighbourhood of wherever, who has either a need for a miracle, or an interest in spirituality (whatever that means). Invite them to your home or out for a coffee or join you on an outing. Begin building a genuine friendship while at the same time watching prayerfully for a God moment that may happen. If your friend is willing to hang out with you, do your part (for as long as it takes) to keep the relationship alive and active. Be open for others to join and please, please don't get all churchy! Then see what amazing things the Holy Spirit will do as you follow his leading. As Nike says, "Just do it!" It’s even possible that a simple church will naturally grow out of this simple encounter. And I'd love to hear what happens.