What is an evangelistic danger to avoid?
Barry Cooper is a co-founder of Christianity Explored Ministries. He lives with his wife, Lee, in New Smyrna Beach, Florida: the shark attack capital of the world.
The way we make disciples ought to be driven by biblical principles, not pragmatics. But sometimes, confirmation of biblical principles can come from a surprising source.
Take the Reveal survey. It was published by Willow Creek in the US in 2007, though it wasn’t just a Willow Creek thing: the survey was carried out in 200 local churches with more than 100,000 people taking part.
The question being asked was this: how good are we, as a church, at making disciples?
Here are two of the most startling insights:
1. The danger of seeker-sensitivity
Before the study, most of the churches were more focused on 'seekers' than their most committed members. However, as a result of the study, they switched their focus to the most committed members.
They discovered that the most effective outreach strategy by a mile was not to divert most resources directly towards seekers, but in fact to concentrate on ministering to and motivating the most Christ-centered people already in the church.
Why? Because these people were the best disciplers and evangelists. The impact, as they went out and evangelised their neighbours, work colleagues and friends was much greater than if the focus was on 'dumbing down' the Sunday meeting for outsiders.
Ironically then, the survey suggested that one of the most dangerous aspects of evangelical churches is our seeker-sensitivity. Our teaching can often be so seeker-sensitive that it becomes believer-insensitive. In other words, we fail to feed committed members with the solid food they need in order to do the work of evangelism and discipling (Hebrews 5:11-14; 1 Corinthians 3:1-2).
Note: none of this means we can be complacent about welcoming outsiders, of course. Warmth and hospitality are non-negotiables. But it is a salutary reminder that the Sunday gathering is first and foremost a place for God's people, the redeemed, to worship their Redeemer.
2. The danger of believer-insensitivity
Secondly, the survey discovered that the most Christ-centered people in the church - the believers who consistently evangelise the most, disciple the most, tithe the most, and serve others the most - are the most likely to leave when the church doesn’t provide them with enough theological challenge, and isn’t taking them deeply enough into the Scriptures.
It’s no doubt true that our culture is becoming increasingly illiterate where it comes to the Bible. The temptation is to think that we should 'dumb down' our teaching, though we’d never use that phrase out loud.
However, the solution is not to teach the Bible less; it’s to teach the Bible better.
In doing so, we’ll be building up those who will become the best evangelists and disciplers in our congregations. And that will multiply the impact of our churches far beyond the Sunday morning service.
Our resources, Life Explored, Christianity Explored and Discipleship Explored seek to help equip ordinary Christians for evangelism and discipleship as they seek to love, live and tell the good news where they are.
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