What’s Changing in Evangelism and Why Does it Have to?

Below is a ChurchPulse Weekly episode, Craig Springer, Executive Director of Alpha USA, joins hosts Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman to discuss the state of evangelism in America. It has some really eye-opening discoveries that you would not want to miss, so I plead with you to watch the video. Afterwards, I share my thoughts on the video and discuss where I agree and disagree with the conversation.

Synopsis of Certain Parts

[9:20 — 11:20] The video claims when it comes to the changes from the Boomer generations to the Gen Z generation Christians, he makes an interesting point. With Boomers it was a quest for truth. Those who ate up apologetics and craved to knowledge. With Gen X’ers it was a quest for significance and purpose. For Millennial and Gen Z it is a quest from brokenness to wholeness. This is an interesting shift, and you can almost see how post-modernism has changed the thinking from one generation to the next. This will be significant in the following segments.

[11:21 — 16:52] The group mentioned that a recent Barna study concluded that 47% of Millennial Christians say that sharing their faith is wrong. They are passionate about Jesus and want others to know Him, but they don’t like the way they are taught to share. They may claim to be equipped, but as we can see from this generation that they are not. If they were, churches would be growing. I think Craig hits the nail on the head that Millennials believe that disagreement is interpreted as judgment: if you disagree with someone, that makes it wrong. Are you starting to see how Post-modernism has infiltrated the church over the years. It has crept in to signify that feelings are more important than truth — which is different than Gen-X’ers. These younger generation view it as confrontation, and want a new way of doing it.

[16:53 — 26:47] Paradigm shift from proclamation to conversation. The same generations have many fears: rejection, feeling stupid, rejection, etc. They mention that we need to go from proclamation alone to having a conversation about faith in Jesus. That when you start to proclaim Christ, the culture shuts down and walls are put up. Craig suggests that Pastors should create spaces for conversation and train people to engage in conversation with an emphasis on listening. They note too that it Millenials and Gen-Z’ers can spot a fake a mile away and we need to be genuine in our pursuits. I agree with that, and I think we can be genuine in seriously asking tough questions on the street as long as we are not using a formula, but really asking deep questions and genuinely wanting to hear the answers we receive.

[26:48 — 31:49] Paradigm shift from explanation to experience. That people would be more open to Christianity if they had a spiritual experience associated with it. It is a relationship with the Living God, but they are wanting more. Maybe this is the reason for all these churches like Bethel and such who focus on the experience of God through worship and music. It’s all feelings based. That it’s not a truth and information exchange alone, but also a spiritual experience.

[31:50 — 33:55] The purpose of Alpha is to create a listening centered experience for the evangelist. Craig goes on to say in the video,

“As Alpha, we are trying to reframe evangelism as a listening centered experience for the evangelist. And its a very counter-cultural, counter-historical approach to evangelism of recent days. And telling church leaders to gather as many non-Christians into small groups as you can. Picture Levi’s party with sinners and tax collectors gathered around and all the riff-raff, and let them say what they think and don’t correct them. And then they’re gonna [sic] come to Jesus — just watch. Trust me, it’s gonna [sic] happen. …And the amount of, ‘No way, there’s no way I’m gonna [sic] get these guys and galls together to dismantle the absolute truth of the resurrection.'”

Craig Springer, President of Alpha U.S.A.

Craig goes on to say that they do proclaim and share a gospel centered film about Jesus that tells the truth of the gospel and has apologetics. But he reinforces that the group experience is listening and then unpacking scripture around that.

[34:15 — 36:45] Craig mentions that Alpha softens the hearts of those who don’t go to church, especially for the next generation because it is community based. That is pretty key when we start to put this puzzle together. Today, no one has true connection and friendship beyond social media, and Alpha creates that in a listening environment that young people are craving today.

[36:46 — 40:17] Paradigm shift from me to we. The years in the past either had no evangelism strategy, or either rested on the Pastor as the chief point of the evangelism strategy. To tell people to go into all the world and bring them to church so that he could share the gospel with them. He goes on to say that churches that he polled reported that only an average of 4% in the pews said they had the gift of evangelism, and that Barna Group proposes that it is only 1%. I would agree that it is only 1%. The Alpha program does teach unbelievers what it is like being a Christian before even “signing up” by belonging before they believe it. They start to experience the good things of faith, community and belonging before becoming a Christian. The church creates that space and learns as well in an environment that is less threatening and scary to them; that evangelism is as easy as inviting a person to dinner.

My Thoughts

I am glad that I am not the way I used to be, and have an open mind when it comes to such videos. There are good things that I see, and some negative ones. I would be more than happy to change my evangelism style as long as I remain Biblically sound and proclaim the gospel.

I believe it is important to discuss issues that the inquisitor has issues with, and try to help them and interpret the scriptures so that they understand where God and the writer of those books are coming from. It is important to interpret the scriptures in the historical and grammatical context, then bridging the gap into today’s day and age in which we live in from the parameters given to us by scripture. Where it gets weird is when you sit in a circle and ask, “What does this mean to you,” without backing it up with the truth. That can lead down a rabbit-hole with no escape. We must be able to correct and show the way without being labeled as ‘intolerant.’

I wonder if Millennials who say that they look at differing opinions as judgment, are really judging the other person who is witnessing to them because it’s not in the same fashion as they would do it. So in a sense they are reflecting the very thing they are condemning is wrong. That puts them in quite a predicament. If they say that a Gen X’s way of proclaiming the gospel with truth is wrong, they are actually judging Gen Xer’s.

Thoughts from a Gen-Z Christian Female

After watching this video several times, I asked a straight-A young lady who is graduating high school this fall to view it to see if what they say is true. These were her thoughts.

On the topic of mutuality, I agree and disagree with the idea of just sharing faith to understand someone’s point of view. Yes, it’s important to hear someone else out to understand why it is they are struggling or don’t believe in Jesus but my goal when sharing my faith isn’t just for them to understand where I’m coming from, it’s to get them to come to know Jesus as well. Understanding points of view is important when leading others to Jesus but I don’t think Christians my age stop there. From those I’ve talked to, we want to understand where they are coming from so we can use that to prove them wrong or walk them through specific parts of scripture to accept Jesus. In my opinion, the world we live in is all about feelings and they have become a huge part of any conversation. It’s all about making sure the other person feels validation in their opinions and we aren’t supposed to tell someone their viewpoint is wrong because it could hurt their feelings. I don’t think this has changed Christians in terms of thinking there are others ways than Jesus but feelings have become a big issue in any conversation. Sometimes just understanding point of views is all you can get from a person but I try to continue to push that person past just understanding each other.

K.F.

I like what she said. We need to understand each other’s point of view and where they are coming from so that we know how to respond to their concerns. Our conversations should be a dialogue, not a monologue. We need to hear what the other person believes, including feelings. But we must be able to correct when we need to. She goes on to say:

I found the point about conversations vs proclamation true at least for me. I find that conversations and applications are far more impactful and helpful than just points that are being talked at me. Just through one on one or small group discussions, I feel I understand way more and feel more engaged in the topic or conversation. I also believe that every age level learns and takes in information differently so through conversations, you can adjust the points or applications to fit them just by talking to them.

K.F.

I totally agree her point, and I think it’s one of the main reasons why I have focused more on conversation in the last few years than open-air-preaching or just passing out tracts. As an introvert, I am just as concerned with them receiving and understanding my words, and not just talking at them. I also think this is the main reason why groups like, Living Waters Ministry changed their way of open-air-preaching in giving the person they are talking to (among a group of onlookers) a microphone to speak their opinion and their mind. It’s just as important to hear from the lost as it is for them to hear from us. We learn from each other.

I think that with his statement that actions are more important than words isn’t entirely correct. Both are equally important in my opinion. Words mean nothing if you don’t follow through with what you are saying and actions without explanation can be confusing to nonbelievers. We may act different and set ourselves apart from the world but that won’t help non believers come to Jesus if we aren’t explaining WHY we act differently.

K.F.

She has a great point. It does the unbeliever no good if they see our actions and think to themselves, “Wow, he is such a nice person.” If we don’t bring up the fact that Jesus changes our heart, mind, and destiny; the bible is God’s Word and we believe it; and we want to invite everyone to come with us — it is pointless. We are not here to help good people get better; we are here to make dead people come alive.

When it comes to Millennial Christians sharing their faith, their fears lie as they said in the video — is the fear of being judged. She even goes on to say that it could be the number one fear.

I do agree that Christian’s my age have a hard time sharing their faith, but that is because we strive to “fit in” or we fear judgment. I did not agree with their statistic that most millennial Christian’s don’t share their faith because they believe it is wrong. In my opinion, that’s never the case. We know it’s truth and we want everyone to know it, but when you are surrounded by non believers, it can be scary because you fear the judgment or being singled out even when we are called to share anyways. It can be hard too if non believers feel we are judging them for their personal beliefs because this causes them to deflect and lose interest in what I’m trying to say. So judgment is a big aspect/fear of sharing faith.

K.F.

On the topic of earnesty, I didn’t agree that when teenagers come home from church camps or events they feel like the holy spirit wasn’t involved or that anything was forced on them. I think quite the opposite. I love when a bunch of believing Christian’s get together to grow in and talk about their faith and the conversations and fellowship I have is definitely spirit led. I could potentially see how a brand new Christian could think the spirit wasn’t involved when they got saved and it was just the hype because when they leave that camp, they aren’t always surrounded by a bunch of Christian’s encouraging them and cheering them on. You may realize the struggles or difficulties of being a Christian and think that it’s not as “cool” or “hyped up” as it was before at camp but I do feel that church camps encourage both believers and non believers to have spirit led fellowship and conversations. I don’t feel that anything gets forced on anyone and friends I’ve brought to church camps have never felt that way either.

K.F.

When it comes to the different types of evangelism, she agrees that community based evangelism will attract the younger generation because it’s more relationship based and personal; not only to the lost strangers, but the young evangelist as well.

I feel that Christian’s my age fear speaking to large groups or strangers. Speaking to one person or to a very small group is more comfortable and I think that staying within their comfort zone will cause them to be more open to sharing their faith. While it is scary either way, starting small and on a more personal and community based level would be beneficial to the younger generation. Then from there, they could possibly work their way up to larger groups. Like the football game analogy, this is just a more casual conversation/invitation on a relationship level, instead of an awkward interject that goes straight into a spiritual and deep conversation. While the deep conversations are very important, when it comes to those topics, there isn’t always a good time to bring it up so starting with a relationship first can be helpful and impactful to both the believer and non beloved. The digital aspect might also be beneficial because we spend basically our whole lives on our phones or technology so online conversations could help with comfort, but I personally feel that in person conversations are more impactful for both myself in gaining experience and for the person I’m talking with in receiving the message.

K.F.

While this was very insightful to me, it still opened up a can of worms, especially when in the small group sphere of things — that I will never see people I run into on the street again. This automatically eliminates community based evangelism. According to Gen-Z or Millenials, walking up to a stranger and starting a spiritual conversation is uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable. But we still need to do it.

In this picture, my wife and I had a unique opportunity to share Jesus with a group of teens at a Fourth-of-July Fair. We walked up to these young strangers and gave them million dollar gospel tracts. You can see that we were surrounded with activity, but with these two couples, they were engaged in the conversation. Why? What made this different? Was it that we were sitting down and just hanging out? Was it the body position we were in, not talking down to them, but ‘with’ them? I don’t know. All I remember is that I asked if I could sit with them and share something important; and they said–sure.

Now that we learned what we need to do to change, how can we apply it to our everyday lives? As an Evangelist, how can I make an uncomfortable situation more comfortable for those sharing their faith, and the strangers we are reaching without compromising the message? Comment below and let me know what you think.

2 thoughts on “What’s Changing in Evangelism and Why Does it Have to?

  1. Hey Frank.
    Thanks for sharing this. It seems to me that some of the issue is a product off age/maturity. I’m a solid Boomer born in 1958. Growing up in the 70s, a time of free love, drugs, and “the dawning of Aquarius”, I was full of fears. The fear of rejection. The fear of not fitting in. How can I be cool? Pretty much like today’s teens.

    I always liked engaging in conversations though. Finding out what others think and why. Much like today’s teens.

    I remember hearing a couple of open air preachers on the campus of ASU, thinking who are they to judge me! I dismissed their origination because I found it offensive.

    What really changed my life was 4 men that listened to my broken heart and then pointed me to Jesus. They each told me that it is Jesus who mends broken hearts.

    So my evangelism has always been conversational as you know. Even knocking on a strangers door and asking how I can pay for them. Listening and praying for the guidance and wisdom off the Holy Spirit. What to say. What not to say.

    I know apologetics and use it when it is needful. But listening and then sharing the truth has always been my M. O. Often it is hard and even arduous to listen but it is always important to also listen to the HS, knowing when to open your mouth and when to just listen.

    Closing thought. In the past 33 years, I have never met a teen that thought it was easy to talk to their peers about Jesus. Those that do have always been afraid but then fulfilled when they do. Yes, we are called to share our faith but He gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists. There operative word is ‘some’, so it’s it wrong for someone like Greg Laurie to do crusades? Is he wrong? Is he truly effective? Are there ‘true’ conversions as a result of his work? I don’t know. And I really don’t care anymore. He is doing what he thinks God is calling him to do.

    So be ready in season and out of season, which tells me to share even when I don’t want to.

    Love you brother!

    PS
    Please forgive any typos. I did not proof read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Love this! The point of my post was not say one thing is either right or wrong, but shouldn’t be the only way. I’m more concerned with 1. how to reach the lost Millenial / Gen-Z person, and 2. how to motivate the Millenial / Gen-Z Christian to do evangelism. Those are my biggest problems right now, and having trouble because there are so many things in the world and in the church that frustrate them.

      You nailed it and we totally understand each other when you said in the beginning, “Growing up in the 70s, a time of free love, drugs, and ‘the dawning of Aquarius’, I was full of fears. The fear of rejection. The fear of not fitting in. How can I be cool? Pretty much like today’s teens.” But in the midst of that, Chuck Smith grabbed ahold of it and ran with it. He created a place where young people can converse and share ideas freely; let kids express themselves, but also helped them to be so much more. In an age where you believed not to trust anyone over 30 — Smith was a 45 year old, bald, white man in 1972. What made him 1. Trustable, 2. Relatable, and 3. Worth listening to? Not only that, but how did he lead an army of young people to see his vision and bring many other kids to join him?

      I think when we figure out the answer to the last question and through much prayer we will begin to see revival. You made another good point that we are living in a different time. Parents are less trusting of adults wanting to invest in their kids, even for the right reasons. Pedophile Priests, kidnappings, crime TV shows, sexual predators, and the sexualization of youth frustrate the church’s ability to even reach young people. But in the same token, also frustrates the church when the church is afraid to be accused of something they didn’t do, therefore scared to move forward in this area.

      I’d like to keep this going, and value your input. Thanks so much for commenting. We need guys and gals like you & Brooke, and Kerry & Peggy to share what it was like when things were going great. Maybe we can talk about it over Zoom and have some coffee sometime.

      Miss you,
      Frank

      Like

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