The Roman's Road. FAITH. The Four Spiritual Laws. The bridge illustration. These are all names of good, useful tools for evangelism—and I'm sure you can add to the list. The goal of each is to introduce someone to a relationship with Jesus Christ in a simple, straightforward way. And they have worked well. Really, really well.
The question is not whether they have worked, but are these the best models for evangelism in today's culture?
That Was Then
It's worth asking the question because the times, they are a-changin'. The postmodern mindset is one of exploration, journeying, and mystery. It craves depth in all aspects of life—whether in relationships, experiences, or faith. Given this shift in our culture, is there a new way to engage in evangelism that connects specifically to this new kind of mindset?
It's also worth asking the question because, back when we were doing the research project that would eventually lead to the formation of Threads, a question was asked to those both inside and outside of churches, both believers and non-believers. The question was simple, but has big implications: Does the idea of a deeper Bible study interest you or discourage you?
Before we talk about the answer, consider some of the assumptions that led to the seeker-sensitive model of church that was visible throughout the country just 20 years ago. The assumption was that people needed to be introduced to the concept of faith at a church. So, any attempt to go too deep would inevitably scare people off. They were, after all, just "seekers"—those coming to try out religion and faith and see what it's all about. The goal was simply to get them to come back again, and then eventually move them from that introductory phase into a real discipleship phase.
That, too, was effective. At least it was back then.
This Is Now
But now? The answer to the little question we asked revealed that an overwhelming number of believers wanted depth in their times of study. It showed a dissatisfaction with easy and pat answers, and a desire to really study and wrestle with God's Word and its implications for life.
The surprising thing was that the number of non-Christian respondents was nearly identical to the number of Christian respondents in terms of who wanted that depth. Both non-Christians and Christians wanted depth in Bible study.
I think that means a lot of things. I think it means that people are out there looking for real answers, not easy ones. I think people want to see that men and women of faith struggle with questions, too. And I think it means people are looking for a belief system that actually has something to say.
I think it also means that people are looking for a belief system that demands something. They're looking for something challenging. They're looking for something that will engage their whole person—body, mind, and spirit. I think they're saying that they don't want Christians to try and "back-door" the gospel to them. Say what it is and be upfront about it. It's a complete life commitment, and something worth giving your whole life toward.
That sounds a lot like discipleship to me.
Could it be that evangelism and discipleship are trending together in the future? That's not to minimize the need for the moment of truth, when a person steps from being an unbeliever to believer—because there is still the profound need for that.
But maybe it does beg the question as to whether we need to have "seeker-sensitive" worship experiences and groups. Or is the best evangelism to show people the gospel lived out and engaged in worship and study?
Michael Kelley serves as an editor for Threads, LifeWay's Young Adult series. He travels throughout the year speaking to students and young adults, and blogs daily at michaelkelleyministries.com.
—Michael Kelley; copyright 2008 by the author and LifeWay Publishers. Used with permission.