In the past decades, it was considered impolite conversation to talk to others about issues of faith and spirituality. The only people who broke that rule were the rude and obnoxious. So in order to live in civil society, many Christians disengaged from the Christian call to outreach.
Rather than “going into all the world”, the church retreated behind their walls and waited for the world to come to them (after all it is okay to talk to unbelievers about faith if they come to the church). And in the U.S. for 2 ½ centuries, it worked as people came to the churches in times of need.
However, people have changed. People now want to talk about spiritual matters. There is has been a dynamic shift in people’s openness to engage in conversations of a spiritual nature. That openness to spiritual conversations is portrayed in movies, music, and a variety of other cultural marker areas. Yet many Christians have tended to remain mute, not talking at all, or hopelessly irrelevant – talking about issues or in terms that the marginally religious don’t understand. So they talk to those who will talk in their terms about spiritual matters: Mormons, Islamists, New Agers, etc.
What is required is a change in how we see evangelism. The world is no longer knocking on our door to find the answer to spiritual questions. So we have to move out of the church, and move into the streets – not as another church program, but through the building of individual, authentic relationships.
How do we do that? People are interested in issues, causes, and activities that match their own needs and interests. In that regard three hot buttons generate a response today. Most felt needs today can be traced to one of these three sources.
Searching for a Divine Relationship
Most people wants to know God. In every corner of today’s popular culture, people are asking questions about God and his relationship to the world. They are just not asking the questions in the manner we are prone to answer. Sensitivity to that yearning can help you enter into a deeper relationship with those who do not yet have a relationship with Christ.
Questions of Meaning and Purpose
People seek significance. They want a purpose in life – to feel that they’re doing something meaningful. Most people’s routes leave them feeling as if they are just short of finding meaning. How we have tended to define Christianity as being a person who goes to church and tries to be good leaves them with the same tasteless dissatisfaction. But a view of Christianity that presents itself as a real avenue to make a mark on the world and bring about transformational change is much more appetizing. Offering a taste of that promises real sense of meaning and purpose offers hope.
People are detached and disconnected, so they want for community – to connect with other people. Although, we have more gadgets and gizmos than ever to keep in touch with one another, the feeling of real connection has been replaced with a flood of tweets and posts that let people know about us, but never knowing or being known. Most people could make it in life without riches or toys, but few could survive without friends and a sense of family. I suspect that seeing others live the gospel and participating in community are the only things that will connect some people.
Will we move outside of our church building with padded pews into a world of brokenness and isolation. It is as Tom Clegg and Warren Bird have said in the book, Lost in America, “We can no longer afford to sit still, waiting for people to come to us. We must go into the world and be Christians who reproduce Christians and churches that reproduce churches.”