Since the last half of the twentieth century, Western churches have fallen prey to a big myth
The teachings of Christ give us the right methods of evangelism to reach the people in our communities | by Louis Posthauer
You’re reading this—another article about evangelism—because you have an interest in spreading the gospel or at least in being obedient to the call to evangelize. The problem is how.
There are two things that you must do today because of a reality that has only presented itself to the Church in the last three or four generations. For almost 2000 years of Christianity, from the time of Jesus until the mid-20th century, this reality did not exist.
However, we’ve adopted a myth instead of recognizing this reality. This is especially true in the West but is increasingly true in other heavily evangelized nations such as Korea. If you are an active Christian or church leader, you have probably believed this myth. It has effectively crippled much evangelism in our time because we operate as if it were true. It is not.
Anyone in church leadership in the West knows that to a great extent, the growth of active Christians in a Christian community of any sort—big church, little church, home church, store front church and so on—has diminished and flattened out. The reason is that we have passed a tipping point:
There are now more dropout or disconnected believers in society than active Christians.
A dropout believer is one who has willfully disconnected from any meaningful relationship with the Church—the body of Christ.
The milestone 2016 study by the Barna Group in North America has revealed that of all adults over 21, only three in 10 are in a church community. Of the other seven not in church, four used to be in church. And, only 3 in 10 profess no faith or other beliefs (“nones”).
Out of all North American adults:
- 3 out of 10 are in a church community
- 4 out of 10 used to be in a church community
- 3 out of 10 profess no faith or other beliefs (“nones”)
Put another way:
- There are more dropout Christians today (4 of 7) than there are active Christians (3 of 7).
- Over 57 percent of people who profess Christianity are dropouts
- The population that we traditionally refer to as “lost” represents about 30 percent of the population (3 of 10—the “nones”).
It’s all unfortunate—but then we embark on “evangelism.” Invitations to church. A concert. Walking the streets. Tracts. Paying it forward at Starbucks. Thanking visitors who come to church. Special events. This is all good stuff, but much of it is nonproductive in the West because of the big myth.
The myth is that evangelism is about the “lost.” Up until the mid-20th century in America, this was true. The vast majority of Christians were active to a degree in a church body. People outside those bodies fell into the “lost” group. But now, the biggest part of the church body is outside the “body.” The biggest part of the population we call “lost” is really made up of dropout believers. The “lost” are only the 30 percent in Barna’s study who are indeed without faith in Jesus Christ.
What is the significance of this societal spiritual shift to our evangelism efforts?
When we evangelize, we often experience the following responses:
- I believe in Jesus, just not church.
- There are too many hypocrites.
- They hurt me—never again.
- It’s just Jesus and me.
- Nature is my church.
- It’s not a priority.
- [fill in the blank]
Why? Because the people we are approaching are not “lost.” They are dropout believers. Dropout believers generally do not respond to evangelism approaches that are divinely effective on unbelievers. Dropout believers have “been there, done that.” They are saying, “I know the gospel; I know Jesus; I just don’t need or want church.” Whatever their excuse, dropout believers operate by these beliefs. The evangelism outreach methods to the lost generally will not work with dropouts.
The myth we are operating under is to assume all outside are lost so we evangelize accordingly. We gather and preach the gospel—which impacts only three of those seven not in church today. If we also desire to pursue the remaining four of seven—dropout believers—we need to understand the Lord has a divine strategy that is powerful and effective in restoring those to the church.
We have to remember the dropouts’ beliefs keep them disconnected from the body of Christ. Their stronghold of belief must be demolished spiritually before a dropout will want to return to the church community.
To reach dropout Christians in our communities, the one thing we cannot do is preach at them or “evangelize” them with a traditional gospel presentation. To reach a dropout, the best thing we can do is to develop a meaningful relationship with them that will lead them back to their first love (Jesus) and His body—the Church.
According to Jesus’ teachings, we fish for the lost, but when a sheep is lost, we hunt for that lost sheep.
Consider the outcomes when church members are equipped as hunters and recognize they are ministering to restore dropouts. Over time…
- A small church could double in size or more.
- A medium size church could see growth of 10-40% or more.
- A larger church with multiple sites could add literally thousands of former dropouts to their congregation.
To seriously pursue evangelism in the 21st century in the Western church, we must recognize and adopt the biblical strategies that are divinely ordained to restore dropout believers to the church—the body of Christ. And, we must pursue the lost. Just as God desires the unsaved to turn to the kingdom, He desires the dropout believer to return to the kingdom.
Fishers fish for the lost.
Hunters hunt for the dropout believer.
And love never fails.
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