There isn’t a church that exists that doesn’t have evangelism problems. Even churches who convert 100 people a year aren’t free from Bible study no-shows and people who drag their feet. Some of these problems are a result of the person we’re studying with. Some will choose to stay in the state they’re in because they can’t commit to the teaching you’re giving them, and others will convert for a time only to go back to their previous way of living later.
Though some of the problems in the evangelism process are the fault of would-be Christians, many, if not most, of the problems are the fault of the Christians trying to do the converting. My focus for today is on the latter group and how we can do better when trying to persuade others to come to Christ.
You Are Trying to Grow Where You Should Be Planting
When the Bible speaks of the practice of evangelism (i.e. trying to teach a non-Christian how to become a Christian) it often speaks of it with the idea of planting in mind (Mt. 13:1-9, 18-23; 1 Cor. 3:6). The Christian process from conversion to death is very similar to the life of a plant. There is planting of a seed (the initial teaching), then watering (teaching over time), then growth (maturing from the teaching), and finally the Christian reaches a stage of maturity where he/she, though still growing themselves, can dispense the information they’ve learned to new soil and start the growing process over again.
This analogy is one that’s easy for us to grasp, that’s not the problem. The problem we often run into is identifying where in the growth process the flower we’re trying to reach is. As Christians we’re simultaneously the growing flower and the gardener. Christians are always growing like flowers, and are also always looking for their place to plant, or water, or harvest. Sometimes we just don’t know what we’re supposed to be doing, and that’s where evangelism problems arise.
For example, at the congregation where I am a minister we held an event for some teens we had been working with for some time. These teens attend church elsewhere, but we’ve had several opportunities to talk about the Bible with them. We decided to host a get-together after Sunday night worship for them just last week. Not a single one of those kids showed. Several of our own were there and the night was still a success, but it wasn’t successful in reaching the kids we had hoped it would.
Why did none of these kids show? Maybe the event wasn’t interesting enough or perhaps the timing of the event was bad. Maybe though the reason this event was unsuccessful in its intended purpose was because we were trying to water a field that still needed planting. We may have just been watering seedless dirt. I don’t think the idea was bad, but maybe these kids weren’t the right audience. This is something you need to consider in your evangelistic efforts as well. Look at the person you’re studying with. It may be that you’re not meant to be the waterer or the harvester, but just the planter. There’s nothing wrong with that (1 Cor. 3:6).
You Are Trying to Convert Without Establishing a Relationship
When I think of the timing of Judgment Day a couple thoughts come to mind: 1) it will come like a “thief in the night” (Mt. 24:36-44), and 2) it will be sudden (1 Thess. 5:1-3). That’s probably what comes to your mind as well. We sing “Jesus is coming soon” and talk about how “Jesus could come back any second, even while you’re reading this!” While I believe those things are true, I have to admit that those phrases have shaped the way I try to reach people with the gospel negatively over the years.
The sudden, impending doom perspective of Judgment Day really puts a spring in your step. There are a lot of lost people out there in the world and they need to hear about Jesus so we go and tell them and move on to the next one as quick as we can muster. That’s the problem. “Quick” can’t develop relationships. “Quick” makes people feel like they’re a number and not an individual.
People need to know that they matter. Jesus excelled at this. He touched the untouchable, sat with the lowly, and cared for the downtrodden. Those who left Jesus’ presence left it feeling like they mattered, because to Him they did (and do). If we’re going to win people to Jesus we have to emulate our Savior and take the time and effort to show others that they matter.
You Are Trying to Force a Round Peg Into a Square Hole
It’s possible to spend too much time trying to convert someone. While your patience in studying with someone who just won’t budge should be commended, you need to realize that your efforts could be better placed elsewhere. There are some Christians who seem to take pride in working with and individual who just won’t convert, and has no interest in doing so. Jesus actually encouraged his disciples to leave when the teaching with an individual reached an impasse (Mt. 10:14). Were they encouraged the flee early on into the process? No, in fact, “shake off the dust from your feet” is the last of 15 imperatives given in this text (Mt. 10:5-15)! Even Jesus said “hey, some people just won’t get it. Get up and move on.”
What’s the time limit for moving on? There isn’t one, as it changes from person to person. Some will very clearly show you that they don’t care about what you’re teaching. Others will show interest and drop off and avoid studies. There is an interesting balance here. We need to be there long enough to give the person a chance to commit and build a relationship with us, but we also shouldn’t stay so long that we miss out studying with someone else who might be more receptive. Don’t try to force a study, if the student just won’t budge it might be time to move on. Continue to pray for them and let them know they can always come talk to you if they are ever interested, but don’t let them keep you from a soul that’s searching.
You Succeeded at Baptism But Failed at Conversion
Boy meets minister. Minister studies with boy. Boy is baptized. Boy never shows up for worship again.
Tale as old as time.
What’s up with those converts who study, “commit” and then never show up again? It could be that the offers of the world were too much for them to fight against, or that they converted under pressure. It could be though that we, in an effort to get them in the water, rushed them in instead of teaching them what it truly means to count the cost of their decision. I’ve known a lot of people who got baptized not knowing that they were committing to give their life completely over to God. That means abandoning a lot of wants, sometimes friends, sometimes habits, sometimes relationships.
Telling someone they need to repent, be baptized and live faithful isn’t enough. We need to be okay with running someone off with the gospel. Not because we were rude and hateful, but because they didn’t want to commit. Someone who is baptized and runs away is no different than someone who decides not to be baptized. Both are lost.
We are merely presenters of the gospel. Present it and let the one you’re speaking to make a decision. Don’t dress it up, but instead make it plain to them that following Christ means giving up a lot in order to do it. If they don’t want any part of that let them walk. You haven’t failed because they chose not to be baptized. You succeeded in your task of presenting them the gospel.
Even with an article this long there were problems that I surely missed. I’d love to hear about other evangelistic problems you’ve seen where you attend. I’d also love to hear your thoughts on what was written today and solutions on how we can better improve how we reach others.