This article was first written in 1997 as part of my academic studies in Youth Ministry
Possible models of evangelism, to be implemented for children, teenage and young adult ministries, including a discussion of the similarities and unique features of each age level ministry with specific evangelism guidelines for each age level.
The scope of the issue of the evangelism of young people through the local church is enormous. This paper assumes that the reader: (i) is convinced of the absolute importance of evangelism; (ii) is aware that evangelism as it has been (and is being) done is not as effective as we would like it to be; (iii) understands some of the dynamics involved in “Generation X” (also known as “slackers”, “busters” or the 13th generation) and “Generation Y” (also known as the “Millennial generation”); (iv) accepts that, although God can change someone’s life instantaneously (e.g. the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus), he most often chooses to work over a longer period of time in someone’s life (e.g. Jesus and his disciples over a three year period) – there is “a process of evangelising, not just an evangelistic event” (Ford 1996:196); (v) accepts that although all evangelism is linked to a local church in some way, not all evangelism must be centred on the local church. There is a combination of “Go and tell” and “Come and see” approaches (cf. Warren 1995:234f.); and (vi) accepts that no single programme or method can effectively reach out to every type of person. In order to evangelise our modern communities, a multiplicity of methods is needed. The key to utilising multiple methods is to be aware of how these methods interact with each other, and an integrated and co-ordination of an overall evangelism strategy for a local church or group of churches.
Petersen contends that all evangelistic methods have essentially two steps: Proclamation – “an action through which the nonChristian receives a clear statement of the essential message”, and Affirmation – “a process of modeling and explaining the Christian message” (1989:14, emphasis in the original). These two occur in different orders in different situations, but both must be present for true evangelism to occur. Traditional methods rely almost totally on proclamation, virtually ignoring the affirmation content of evangelism. Generation X rebels against proclamation, but warms to affirmation.
This assignment aims to introduce the reader to some possible approaches to evangelism that include both of these elements. Under each section, there is a discussion of how this would impact children, teenagers and young adults. Where appropriate, comparisons and contrasts are highlighted. In addition, some practical pointers are given as to how some of these methods may be implemented, and what sort of framework would be required within the local church.
It is essential that everything we do be filtered through Scripture. A complete Biblical basis for each method described below is beyond the scope of this assignment. However, at the risk of being labelled for proof-texts, I have included a verse of Scripture below each heading. I am personally convinced as to the Biblical legitimacy of each of the approaches outlined in this assignment. It should be noted that the methods are somewhat artificially categorised, as many of them overlap in their application.
2. Different Approaches to Evangelism
2.1. Lifestyle/Relationship/Friendship Evangelism
Friendship evangelism has received a lot of press in recent years. This approach stresses the need to form a basis of friendship on which evangelism can take place. Caution must be exercised, however, not to make the friendship a smoke screen for the “real thing”, i.e. evangelism. If we are insincere in our relationships, this will be picked up, and our message will have no impact. We must genuinely be interested in relationships. Petersen says, “We should be prepared to keep social occasions strictly social and not to think in terms of using them as bait for a session in the Bible” (1989:212).
Kevin Ford has expressed it best, in talking of a friendship he has built up:
“To this day neither Scott nor Susie has made a decision for Christ. One day maybe they will. That’s not up to me. That’s between them and God. If they never become Christians that will not affect our friendship, because our friendship isn’t based on whether or not they respond to our gospel. I love them as friends, and that’s why I want them to know about Jesus Christ. They know what I believe and how much I care for them, but I won’t ram my gospel down their throats. My Christian faith doesn’t get in the way of our friendship, and I think the reason it doesn’t is that both Scott and Susie know that our friendship is real and human – not programmed or scripted to produce a certain result.” (1996:256)
Friendship evangelism is a lifestyle. It is evangelism by showing others what it really means to live with Christ as our Lord and Saviour. People will be drawn to that. It will often take a crisis in either our own or our friends’ lives to get them to see their need for what we have, and thus it is essential that our entire lives are open to the unbeliever, in genuine relationship.
“[E]vangelism must be relational. Newcomers must connect with other people and form friendships. Effective evangelism can take place within a community created by the Busters. Love, warmth and friends are all assets in this process of evangelism” (Richard Burton, http://www.epbc.edu/burtf94.html).
Relationships can be built in many ways, at many different levels. The key factors, however, are that relationships must be built on time spent listening to each other, and must be ongoing. Relationships cannot be built at once-off programmes. Our whole evangelism strategy must be built around allowing time for friendships to grow. Thus, although it appears under a separate heading in this paper, all of our approaches to evangelism must contain elements of relationship evangelism.
Children are especially open to relationships. Those who are willing to take the time to build friendships with children will find that they can have significant impact on their lives. The church must ensure that the children’s programmes are not so packed with activity that there is no time for developing of relationships. Children are also very open to role models and look for heroes. If we can be their “heroes of the faith”, they will grow up wanting to be like us, and hopefully, therefore, becoming like Jesus.
Two specific activities can be introduced to assist children. Firstly, children should be encouraged to bring their friends to church-sponsored activities. This way, they and the leaders can build relationships with unchurched children. Most parents do not mind their children going to church at a young age, as they realise the positive moral value of this (this is especially true of the Boomer generation parents). Secondly, people within the church should be encouraged to have their children invite their friends to their homes. The relationships and example that this can be can have a great effect on children. The same applies for teenagers.
Peer pressure is one of the greatest influences in a teenager’s life. This can be both a positive and negative influence. Similar to children, the church should provide places where positive influences can be shown to teenagers. The Christian young people within the group should be helped to be positive role models to their friends.
2.1.3. Young Adults
Young adults are very receptive to friendship evangelism. As stated above, this will only be effective if there is a genuine friendship. This may sound like a watered-down approach to those who have grown up with more confrontational techniques. However, friendship evangelism is actually theologically correct. Evangelicals affirm that God is the author of salvation. We cannot save anyone, only God can. Thus, our technique should honestly present the gospel, and leave the work of convicting and saving to the Holy Spirit. This is what relationship evangelism does. It presents the Gospel by way of a lifestyle, and in the context of a friendship. It seeks opportunities to talk about the Gospel, that arise naturally out of a relationship.
For some practical ideas, Hershey has an entire chapter on young adult activities (1986:173-196). Although Hershey concentrates almost exclusively on Christian fellowship, his ideas, such as hiring out a beach house, marriage encounters, bake offs, community renovation teams, lunch clubs, job clubs, New Year’s eve parties, and dinner’s for eight, can all be very easily adapted to be used as exciting outreach events. They are all designed to attract and develop friendships. Christians must begin to draw the unchurched into their friendship circles, in order to be truly effective at reaching
2.2. Small Group Evangelism
Modern educational experts tell us that the best way to teach is to teach to a small group of people. In society as a whole, Wuthnow reports that research has shown that “about 40 percent of the public are currently involved in some kind of small group that meets on a regular basis and that provides caring and support for its members” (1996:75). In line with this, the “home church” concept has been implemented in many churches. Not many of these groups, however, are used as evangelistic tools. This is unfortunate since “whereas people might be inclined to refuse an invitation to a church-based event, they are more likely to say ‘yes’ if the occasion is hosted in a home or arranged in a restaurant or club which they are accustomed to frequent” (Gibbs 1990:168).
Children, in particular, need to taught in smaller groups. The AWANA programme, for instance, recommends a ratio of five children per teacher. Sunday School groups and other teaching groups needs to be structured along these lines in order to be effective. Outside these church activities, however, there exist many opportunities to get small groups of children together, where relationships can be formed, Christian morals exhibited and the gospel explained. For example, churches can host day care centres, or after school centres; Christians can run crèche services at shopping centres, movies or at homes. Evangelism is not restricted to formal church occasions, but should rather become a way of life for Christians, in whatever function they may have in life.
Teenagers will not easily be drawn to a small group outside of their chosen group of friends. However, if this group is based on a common activity, small group interaction can occur. Sport is the most common of these attractions. Churches could offer sport facilities and should also go to sports centres, where they can interact with other young people. This may include local sports clubs, tennis, rollerblading, skateboards, beach volleyball, surfing, and the like. Other groups could include board games, video games, computers, chess, art and writing groups.
A common characteristic of all teenagers is their need for someone else to transport them, as they cannot yet drive themselves. This provides fantastic opportunities for interaction, when a small group of young people are confined together in a motor vehicle. This can include providing lifts to and from youth group or church activities. But it can also extend to unchurched young people, by offering a lift service from the local movie theatres and shopping malls to young people’s homes, late on Friday and Saturday evenings.
2.2.3. Young Adults
Young adults are very open to small groups that are based on friendships and socialising. They love to spend time in homes and in discussion. One of the most successful strategies to employ small groups, in recent times, is the Alpha concept. This involves a weekly meal, shared by Christians and non-Christians. Over a period of twelve weeks, the gospel is slowly introduced within a framework of openness. All questions are welcomed and answered.
Outside of a structured programme, like Alpha, young adults can also start their own discussion groups in their own homes. These can be either informal or formal occasions. For instance, the express purpose of the evening could be to discuss some spiritual issue over a meal together. All questions are welcomed and answered as honestly as possible. Hershey’s book has some excellent resource material for discussion groups (1986:197-246). Although he was specifically aiming at Christian study groups, Hershey’s topics would be of interest to any young adult. They include: Intimacy: where do I go to find love?; Relationships: working with people, handle with care; Loneliness; and, Forgiveness: is it possible? Whatever format and content are used, the following principles should guide all such groups:
Xers are looking for five main characteristics in faith groups: (1) authenticity – since they have been burned by so many broken promises, they want to know the bottom line and they prefer honesty over politeness; (2) community – they are looking for the family unlike the broken, dysfunctional ones in which they were raised; (3) a lack of dogmatism – experience is more important than dogma; (4) a focus on the arts – where faith can be shared and expressed through various art forms; and (5) diversity – racial, economic and ethnic diversity authenticates Christianity’s claim of loving ones neighbour.
(Reaching the First Post-Christian Generation, Christianity Today, September 12, 1994).
In the Fair Lady magazine, Jane-Anne Hobbs writes an article on “Book Clubs – power network or mommy mafia?” (30 April 1997, pp. 34-38; http://www.fairlady.com). She explains that, especially in South Africa, women are meeting in their thousands on a monthly basis. “Ostensibly, the raison d’être of the clubs is books, but any hardened initiate will tell you that these gatherings serve a far more useful purpose… They have exchanged advice, ideas, recipes and even insults; they have wept on each other’s shoulders, and cheered and consoled one another through marriage, childbirth, infidelity, divorce, illness and death; they’ve hatched business schemes, formed partnerships, closed deals and forged enduring friendships” (pg. 33). Oprah Winfrey, the American talk show host, has begun to popularise book clubs in many other countries around the world. This is an opportunity that Christians can’t afford to miss. Input into book selection, as well as being able to have input into discussions about deep spiritual matters that arise out of books, can be an invaluable evangelistic tool.
2.3. Social Welfare/Ministry/Service Evangelism
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
There has been much debate in missionary circles about the legitimacy of a “social gospel”. It is true that if all the Gospel is, is a message of social reform, then it has no eternal value. But equally, a Gospel that has no power to influence the way we live or the world we live in, is a Gospel not worth committing to. Young people are looking not just for a life-changing message, but a world-shaping one, too. We cannot neglect our social responsibility.
One of the key aspects of social welfare in South Africa must be the reconciliation of apartheid schisms. This is not only true of South Africa, but all around the world, where a new drive for racial and economic harmony is underway. “For a generation seeking authenticity in a society and church notorious for its racial divisions, a racially diverse body of believers goes a long way toward authenticating the gospel. In recognition of this… outreach ministries will need to get serious about reconciliation within the body of Christ” (Tapia, Andres – Cover Story, Christianity Today, 9/12/94, quoted at http://users.vnet.net/rdavis/CTXer.html).
The advantage of getting young people involved in service outreach is twofold. It firstly demonstrates to the community a faith that affects the world, and secondly, can be habit-forming in the young people, especially children. They will grow up expecting to be involved in Christian service.
Children are able to demonstrate love to those less privileged than themselves, simply because they don’t usually harbour prejudice. Prejudice must be learnt. Similarly, if we involve children in practical outreach events, such as feeding schemes, community clean ups, hospital visitation, visitation of the elderly, and many such activities, they can be a very valuable witness of Christ’s love for the world. If children are involved in visitation it would be a good idea to give them calling cards, with the church’s details, so that they can leave these with the people they visit.
Teenagers are made for heroism. They rise to the challenge of projects, and have the eagerness to change the world. Service outreach is one way that teenagers can find an outlet for these desires. Feeding the homeless, building houses, visitation, and many such schemes will be effective. Teenagers will naturally be drawn to more physical work that does not require interaction with strangers. However, if they are forced into situations like hospital visitation, and given clear guidelines and a good example from a leader, they will find it easy to interact with people.
2.3.3. Young Adults
Like children and teenagers, young adults are eager to feel that they can make a difference in the world. Generation Xers are not so concerned about changing the whole world, like their parents were, but rather feel a closer affinity to the community within which they live and work. These feelings can be channelled to result in significant community projects, similar to those described above. These projects should be broad enough in scope so as to attract the involvement of the unchurched in the community. In this way, relationships can be formed, in addition to the message the church will send by being concerned about the complete community environment.
2.4. Corporate Evangelism
There are two aspects to this type of evangelism. The first is that as a family of God, we offer to young people something that most of them have never had: a safe and secure family. This is an attractive offer to the young people of this generation. The second, related aspect is that “not all evangelism is conducted on a one-to-one basis” (Barna 1995:81). Churches and para-church ministries regularly organise corporate evangelistic activities, ranging from media evangelism (TV, radio, press), to mass rallies and Christian musician concerts, to sports outreaches (e.g. Athletes in
The second aspect of corporate evangelism will be much less effective if it is not integrated with the first aspect. This generation is crying out for a family, not an organisation. They want to be treated as individuals, not products in an evangelistic assembly line:
“I am homesick for the home I’ve never had” screams out the lead singer for the rock group Soul Asylum on their hit song Homesick? Those lyrics reflect Xer angst over the broken, dysfunctional families that many busters hail from. As a result of such dynamics, much of the ministry to Xers will be centered on emotional healing, and it is genuine relationships that create an atmosphere conducive to this. “Busters need to see the gospel lived out in community,” says Leighton Ford.
(Tapia, Andres – Cover Story, Christianity Today, 9/12/94, at http://users.vnet.net/rdavis/CTXer.html).
Many children are growing up in dysfunctional homes. The church can offer surrogate parents, in the form of the example of loving Christian men and women involved in children’s work. Christian marriages can be models to children, especially when our own children’s friends come to visit. In presenting concepts of God to children, we must be especially careful of how they will respond to the image of a father. God, the Father, can be presented not only as “better than an earthly father”, but also as “the loving Father you never had”. “For these individuals the friendship of Jesus may be a more appealing concept than the fatherhood of God” (Ford 1996:167).
With respect to continuing relationships with children, Richards says
“When all is said, it’s not only difficult to point to a moment of conversion with children, it may well be unhelpful…. It would be wrong to deny the possibility of childhood conversion. But it would also be wrong to treat response by a child to an evangelistic appeal as an end in itself. Instead we need to focus our attention on providing children with a place within a vital faith community in which they can come to know Jesus and be brought naturally to readiness to respond when God the Spirit does His work in their loves” (1983:375).
Traditionally, teenagers and young adults have been the target of youth rallies and mass evangelistic campaigns, that follow a formulaic
structure. The same comment Richards made about children and evangelistic appeals as an end in itself, can also be made of teenagers and young adults. There is no doubt that mass evangelistic campaigns can still be effective, but the form of the event is misleading. Mass evangelism is successful because Christians are encouraged to bring someone who has already been exposed to a relationship with that Christian, and has probably had some seeds sown over a longer period of time. Additionally, intensive follow up is required – not just immediately after the preaching, but for many months following the campaign.
Evangelistic rallies must always work in conjunction with relationship evangelism, small groups and discipleship. Additionally, mass evangelistic crusades must always be linked to local churches, and must have the aim of connecting those who respond with a loving and caring Christian community. Ford puts it this way:
Conversion among Xers needs to be seen not as a single event but as a stage in a protracted process – a process whereby individuals learn who they are and what God has made them to be , a process in which they learn to permit the Holy Spirit to penetrate their being. We should be careful with mass evangelism, and we need to follow up any mass-evangelism campaigns with efforts that emphasize relationships and close-knit Christian community. (1996:169)
2.4.3. Young Adults
Similarly to both children and teenagers, young adults need to have significant relationships with Christians who are modelling true community, and living out what it really means to be part of a family. Young adults will be attracted to groups that the church can run that emphasize community and family values. These support groups can cover everything from addictive behaviour (e.g. alcohol, eating disorders, gambling) to parent support groups (e.g. potty training, home schooling, discipline, handicapped children) to counselling (e.g. depression, divorce) and many other issues. Through the process of dealing with these issues, Christians are be given an opportunity to demonstrate the reality of their faith, at the level of the communal needs of both Christians and non-Christians in the group. Thus, for young adults in particular, communal evangelism must work itself out in actual demonstrated faith.
2.5. Socratic Evangelism
“We don’t know where it was from.” Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
The Socratic method is named after the Socrates, the great Greek philosopher, who taught his students by using a method of inductive question and answer. Socrates would guide the student to discover the truth for himself by asking leading questions, and questioning inconsistencies within the student’s comments. This method requires discussion and openness, and does not arrogantly tear down other belief-systems, but rather points someone towards the truth. If we believe that the Bible is Truth, then we should have nothing to fear from a proper investigation of the truth – we should believe that it will ultimately lead to the God of the Bible.
Socratic evangelism starts where the person is at, and works from there, in a steady, and often slow, progressive discovery of the truth. Barna lists many reasons why this generation is open to the Socratic method, including their love of talking and discussing ultimate realities, their dislike of rote learning methods and imposed principles, their need to have their feelings separated from the facts, the relational basis of the method, and the true ownership it gives to someone who discovers truth in this way (1995:115).
Children are less open to this kind of approach, as their cognitive abilities have not yet begun to function at the abstract level. Children are concrete thinkers, and will invariably not be able to discuss abstract concepts at any deep level, and will certainly not be able to analyse inconsistencies within their own belief systems.
Teenagers question everything. They do not, however, simply follow the childhood pattern of the never-ending “why?”. Rather, they question the very nature of reality, and try to understand reasons behind physical realities. Their questions need honest answers. However, as Schultz points out, it is better to let the students discover the truth for themselves, using whatever forms of active and interactive learning may be appropriate (cf. 1996:40; 133ff.; 179ff.). Pure Socratic methodology may not be most effective with younger teenagers, who are still developing their abstract thinking abilities; therefore other methods of active learning should be employed.
Even if the Gospel is plainly and simply presented, and even if a teenager outwardly declares consent to the contents of the Gospel presentation, the nature of teenage thought is such that this will be continually questioned and discussed. Our programmes must allow teenagers to process the information they discover, to question it, to try out hypotheses and follow trains of thought, rather than attempting to force them to profess a dogma before they have internalised it.
2.5.3. Young Adults
Generation X young adults love to discuss issues, especially ultimate realities. Discussion groups, as discussed in 2.2.3., above, as well as one-on-one discussions can be very effective if they employ the self-discovery techniques of the Socratic method. The keys to the success of this method are to ensure that you know your subject matter, that you have internalised your faith, and that you are able to discuss it without resorting to irrational arguments or getting defensive. Most important, in presenting the Truth in this way, is to walk the fine line between not being dogmatic and yet not compromising the truth of the Gospel. This generation is extremely intolerant of any methods that begin by putting one ideology above another. Jim Leffel puts it this way:
Rule number one: it’s arrogant to suggest that someone’s religious beliefs might be wrong. By arrogant, most people mean intolerant–a term that has come to have a whole new meaning in recent years. Intolerance used to refer to bigotry or prejudice. That is, judging someone or excluding them because of who they are. In this sense, intolerance is offensive. But now, intolerance means that simply disagreeing about beliefs is wrong.
(Leffel, Jim. Postmodernism: The ‘Spirit of the Age’, http://www.crossrds.org/relrev2.htm)
The Socratic method starts where the other person starts, and slowly nudges and guides that person towards truth. It never goes faster than that person wishes to go. It is inductive and learner-based. Barna is convinced that this approach is destined to become the key method of presenting the Gospel to modern young people (cf. 1995:107-125).
2.6. Narrative Evangelism
God has chosen to reveal much of His Word packaged as a story. Narrative evangelism seeks to tap into this generation’s love of stories, to explain God’s story. The concept of “story” as used in modern phraseology encompasses more than just words on a page. A person’s story is their Sitz Im Lebem, a German term, referring to the entire life-situation in which a person has arisen. Evangelism occurs as a Christian tells and lives their own life-story in such a way that it is clear that their life-story intersects God’s story. Thus, by telling the story of our life and development, we naturally tell a part of God’s story, of how He wants to work in the world.
This is not simply a new title for the old concept of a “testimony”. “Narrative evangelism calls us not only to tell our story but to live it as well, with integrity and humility” (Ford 1996:230).
Burton says: “Today’s junior highs, teens and young adults are very discerning. A fake is spotted a mile away. For effective ministry to Busters to occur, leaders must be real. Transparency in personality is essential; as well, leaders must be vulnerable before Busters. A clear, realistic picture of the Christian walk must be painted before them. They want to see and know the reality of the lifestyle to which they are committing themselves.” (Richard Burton, http://www.epbc.edu/burtf94.html)
Children, teenagers and young adults can all be impacted significantly by narrative evangelism. The depth of the stories and profundity of application will be the only discernible difference. Thus, they will not be dealt with separately in this section.
Statistics tell us that modern young people do not know even the basics of the Christian story. They are so unfamiliar with Christian concepts, that an increasing number of people can no longer be classified as non Christian, but should rather be thought of as pre Christian. The key to reaching this person, is to tell them the story of the Gospel, without application or explanation. Let them work begin to out the implications for themselves. Tell them the simple story of Christ and then ask them what they think, and listen to what they have to say. In doing this, you can guide them to a better understanding of the truth. Becoming a Christian in the modern world is a more gradual process than most people would think. There is an example of this in Acts 19:1-7. Although it would not be a good idea to base an entire theology on this passage, it is clear from other passages of the New Testament, as well as the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, that salvation is a process.
The key to reaching pre Christian young people by means of story is to create opportunities to find a common language. The concepts of Christianity, such as grace, redemption, unconditional love, freedom, justice, forgiveness, etc., find many analogies in everyday life, and these can be used to illustrate God’s story. We must be careful not to explain everything we tell. Part of the elements of the narrative is to leave sections untold, gaps and spaces that must be filled in. Jesus often left his parables unapplied to the multitudes (e.g. Mark 4:33-34, quoted above). We must ensure that we create an element of mystery, that feeds the imagination and piques curiosity in the listener.
At later stages, as the pre Christian comes to understands essential Christian concepts, and moves to being a non Christian and then a seeker, some of the doctrines that have been left as mysteries can begin to be unfolded. This should be done using active learning and a Socratic technique, as described above. The power of story is an untapped reservoir of spiritual power that must be unleashed on this postmodern generation. We must learn to tell God’s story. We must learn to tell His-story.
2.7. Seeker Sensitive Evangelism
Willowcreek Community Church began, a number of years ago, to specifically target the unchurched person in their church services. This involves a radically different approach to “doing church”. The concept is to invite and attract unchurched people to attend a church service, in the church building, at some time during the week. When they are there, the entire service is focused on the perceived and real needs. The services tend to be more performance oriented, not expecting much congregational involvement. They usually involve the use of modern multimedia equipment, with very slick and professional activities. Some churches have taken this concept too far, and have compromised the message of the Gospel. It is a fine line to walk, but the rewards are worth it.
Rick Warren explains that the key is to make a distinction between the crowd (uncommitted attenders) and congregation (the members). “We cannot expect unbelievers to behave like believers until they are believers…. The congregation, not the crowd, is the church. The crowd service is just a place where members can bring unbelieving friends to whom they have been witnessing” (1995:216-7).
It would be unusual to think of a child as a “seeker” as Willowcreek define the concept. Nevertheless, if we believe that children are receptive to the Gospel, all of the activities for children should be “seeker-sensitive”, in that they are attractive to unchurched kids, and provide a caring and accepting environment.
Teenagers are testing the limits. They deliberately attempt to shock, in an attempt to find what is and what is not socially acceptable. While maintaining a certain level of decorum at gatherings of teenagers, we should remember that “the book of Romans teaches that it is impossible for unbelievers to act like believers because they don’t have the power of the Holy Spirit within them” (Warren 1995:216). Our meetings should be designed in such a way that teenagers can feel free to be themselves. We must meet them where they actually are, not we would like them to be.
2.7.3. Young Adults
The best way to evangelise a genuine seeker is to love them. In an interview on Larry King Live, aired CNN on 14 April 1997, Rio DiAngelo, a member of the Heaven’s Gate Cult who left the group a month before they committed suicide, spoke of the love and acceptance that was shown when he first arrived at one the cult’s classes. He was seeking truth, and found love. It literally changed his life.
The Christian message is one of love and truth. We should be genuinely geared towards seekers. Rick Warren’s book outlines, in great detail, what must be done in order to make a church attractive to the seeker. Willowcreek also have extensive programmes geared to the seeker. Their Sunday morning services are “seeker sensitive services”, where, amongst other innovations, the worship requires less congregational involvement, and is more geared towards performance (not entertainment), and fellowship and discussion are emphasized. The key to being “seeker sensitive” is to have a genuine love for the non believer.
3. The Role of Prayer
There are many aspects of evangelism that have not been mentioned in this paper. The intention of this paper was to highlight specific methods to reach modern young people. However, the role of prayer must be emphasized. Salvation is a work of God’s Spirit in the heart’s of people. It is God’s work, done in God’s way. We have a responsibility to pray that God would complete His work of salvation in the lives of the people we are evangelising. Scripture makes it clear that God has made many of His activities in the world contingent upon our prayers. Prayer should be the start, ongoing support and conclusion of all evangelistic efforts.
4. Implementing the Model
At each stage of the discussion, above, examples of specific implementations have been discussed. It remains, therefore, only to emphasize that no single model can suffice to reach everyone in the church’s community. Similarly, no single group can achieve all of these aims. Thus, the concept of a Youth Council is an essential element in the youth ministry of any church. A Youth Council consists of representatives from every ministry to youth in the church. It can also include specialists, such as a parental advisor, pastoral supervisor, training specialist, camp organiser, etc. Together, this body co-ordinates the functioning of the youth ministry of the local church.
In order to implement any of the above strategies for evangelism, the first step would be to translate this theoretical document into a strategy plan, unique to your church’s particular socio-economic situation, and tailored to fit your current leadership strategy. After discussion with each group, an integrated strategy should be put in place. Similar strategies should be in place across different age specific ministries, so that young people growing up in the church can have a consistent approach modelled and taught, irrespective of which group they are in.
The strategy plan must be publicised, and then the Youth Council must wait, praying all the time for the Lord to raise up leaders for new evangelistic structures. It is essential to have someone with a vision for the strategy – someone who will champion the ministry. Thereafter, training and education of the people is needed, followed by ongoing support and evaluation.
Traditionally, we have been told that we need to “win the right” to speak. This places proclamation in a far superior position to affirmation. “Winning the right to speak” is not a means to an end, it is an integral part of the process of evangelisation of a person. Yet, as Rick Warren says, “I always refuse to debate which method of evangelism works best. It depends on who you are trying to reach! Different bait catch different kinds of fish. I’m in favour of any method that reaches at least one person for Christ – as long as it is ethical” (1995:156). Scripture advocates and condones a multiplicity of approaches to evangelism, as we “become all things to all men so that by all possible means [we] might save some” (1 Cor 9:22 NIV).
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______. Sixty-Nine Ways to Start a Study Group and Keep It Growing. Revised Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980.
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