Jon Randles sent this to me yesterday and asked me to post it. He won’t post stuff here on a regular basis, but may drop by from time to time.
The continuing dialogue on the BGCT’s blog concerning evangelism methodology is much appreciated and very stimulating. I am not a blogger, but I enjoy learning from the insights of those who do. Recently I read an excellent comment and would like to respond.
Tim expressed concern about the effectiveness of event evangelism as a useful tool in today’s culture. His concerns are justified. I think that it is important for me to explain what I perceive event evangelism to be.
An event is any opportunity to bring closure to what God has already been doing in the life of an individual. It is through the Holy Spirit’s conviction and the trust that is developed by intentional relationship building that prepares the way for closure. Events are not effective unless believers have already been cultivating healthy trust relationships with seekers and un-churched persons. In the past, many events have been failures because no relationship building took place in advance of the event. Many Christians are effective at building relationships but, are not confident in bringing the relationship to a point of commitment for Christ. I wish every believer was skilled at bringing others to a commitment in Christ; but until that day comes, events give those genuine believers an opportunity to partner with those gifted in evangelism. Ephesians clearly teaches that some are called to be evangelists. I believe that God has gifted some to the spiritual ability of drawing the net. We are all equal in Christ, but have different gifts. Partnering in evangelism is healthy and biblical. We are losing that ability to partner in the excessive individualism of our 21st century culture. The Bible teaches that some plant, some cultivate and some reap. An event is simply the culmination of partnering in the evangelism process.
Events must have effective follow up. I have also heard the horror stories of many responses and little lasting results. This is sometimes caused by manipulative methods. Such approaches are unacceptable and wrong; however, most often it is due to failure on the part of leaders to put the same amount of effort into discipling the new Christians and those making deeper life decisions in the weeks and months following the event. I was a pastor of three wonderful Texas churches for seventeen years before becoming a vocational evangelist in 1993. My deepest heart is discipleship. My training is through the Navigators, and I remain committed to the call of discipleship. The great commission of Matthew 28:19-20 is to make disciples. Evangelism is simply a critical part of that process. Wherever there is a horror story, I believe I can show a success story in event evangelism where the discipleship that followed the event was energetic and well-planned.
Sometimes the retention rate is better than people realize. Often the church or organization that hosts the event is not the cultural place where the new believer will be comfortable after the event. Many times leadership may say that they did not benefit because they did not gain in membership or baptisms. That does not mean that with proper follow up individuals did not find a place to continue their growth in an environment that is more conducive to their own culture and background. Often it is sometime later when the Holy Spirit moves an un-churched person into church life; yet, they will point to a salvation experience at an event possibly months or years before that began the process of their discipleship. My concept of an event also includes one to one moments where the environment is spiritually conducive to give an individual opportunity to bring closure to a ripened decision. I do not believe that persons are born again by osmossis. Some kind of event takes place in their lives that seals the decision. I am personally seeing events continue to be successful.
Events are also beneficial to the believers. The revivals and conferences that I have been privileged to participate in bring a spirit of camaraderie and encouragement to the church or organization involved. There are things that happen at youth camp that simply do not happen if a person simply attends on Sunday morning. It’s like fasting…there is nothing magical about missing meals for several days but an extended period of time in a person’s life focusing on God and spiritual matters creates an environment in which God has chosen to work for thousands of years. Gathering in groups for a common cause strengthens the group dynamic and level of energy. From my own experience, these events are still effective. We wouldn’t have enough youth pastors, pastors and missionaries if it were not for youth camps. Things happen at camp in an extended environment that simply does not happen otherwise. In adult life, a conference or revivals can produce much the same effect as youth camp does for students.
I realize that many of our pastors and leaders are interested in reaching the growing number of people who have embraced a post-modern paradigm. I have enjoyed learning about the exceptional way that Dr. Rick Davis is pastor to his Starbucks congregation. I am totally in favor of his approach. There is a large percentage of the population that must be reached through a post-modern intellectual and cultural paradigm. I completely agree with the necessity of developing more ministry and better resources for the evangelization and discipleship of this important segment of the society. At BGCT, an important start has been made in this area through the ministry of Lindsay Cofield. His title is Director of Multi-housing and Emergent Church Ministry. The title is somewhat misleading. Lindsay helps churches develop the methodologies and provides resources for starting indigenous cell churches in apartment complexes, bars, cafes, truck stops, etc. In 2007 over 250 cell churches were formed and around 3,000 professions of faith reported. This is only a start and there is much yet to do. You can contact Lindsay at Lindsay.Cofield@bgct.org . By the way, one of Lindsay’s cell churches is a group of motorcyclists who meet with him at a bar/café in east Dallas. Kudos to what Rick is doing at Starbucks and kudos to Lindsay as well!
My personal belief is that culture will enter the post-modern paradigm at different rates of speed and at different levels. In many places, events are as successful as they ever were. In other places less so. A full discussion of what post-modernism is and where it is going cannot be addressed here, but already it is morphing. My work has been primarily with collegiates and the group under age 24 is far less existential than the group 24 – 38. This younger group does not seem to be adverse to events as a tool for reaching their friends.