bits from bob....

Rethinking Evangelism--#3

by Robert J. Young
©, 2001, Robert J. Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]
Note: The first article in this series traces the history of evangelistic efforts in American culture over the last 50 years in an effort to show that the reasons people are drawn to churches have changed in our society. Without abandoning the gospel message which is God's salvation power, growing churches must sensitively reach out to unchurched people searching for belonging, identity, and meaningful involvement.
The second article suggested that meeting "belonging needs"--needs for relationship with God and with other people in an impersonal, technological world--has implications in four areas. Practical preaching which shows God's involvement in daily problems as well as in providing salvation is essential. Inductive preaching styles have greater appeal to most unchurched (most of America's unchurched are well-educated baby boomers) than deductive styles. Bible classes must recognize a relational as well as a rational task. Small groups have a demonstrated effectiveness in meeting the need to belong and are more effective arenas for assimilating new members than is the assembly. The value of our assemblies in communicating belonging has diminished, but steps can be taken to increase the warmth and friendliness communicated in our worship times.

A major felt-need in a mobile society often disconnected from family and roots is the need for identity. It is not accidental that churches which provide a strong sense of identity are growing most rapidly today. The mainline denominations continue to lose ground generally, while conservative groups with a strong Bible-based message and a clear connection to a well-defined religious heritage are growing.

This is no time to let go of all that is right and good among us, although restoration is of necessity a continuing process. Caution must be taken lest one throw away valid and useful ideas in finding God's will in God's Word. Do not be surprised at this next assertion: a large segment of today's unchurched Americans want to know what the Bible says. Here is a group that desires a definite word from God. The Princeton surveys continue to show a high percentage believing in God, practicing prayer, and honoring the Bible as God's Word. Churches that are in decline have often discarded the salvation gospel in favor of a social gospel.

Must of our practice is helpful in meeting the need for identity. Participatory worship and a strong commitment to the authoritative Scriptures communicate the relationship of sincere worshipers to the God who is among us. Again, a word of caution: we must make certain our commitment is to God's Word and not to our own traditions.

Identity may be helped in dynamic small groups where personal ties can be developed, whether in our usual Bible classes or in a separate small group effort. Effective visitation will be sensitive to the reasons people visit us, and attempt to show how the church can meet felt-needs while never swerving from our commitment to evangelism, reconciling man to God. Assembly leaders ever seeking "some new thing" may be insensitive to the fact that identity issues are addressed when we sing the old, familiar songs.

Celebrative worship will balance an identity with the past and an identity in the present which departs the worship assembly knowing that a firm connection with God is in place to enable combat with Satan and to face the problems of life through another week. Our neighbors want to know, "Who is a child of God?" because until I know what one looks like, we cannot really know if I am one. Identity opens the door for evangelism.

Go to Articles Index

Return to Home Page
Last updated December 2, 2001.