Here is an honest look at the evangelical Church of today and how the
Christian community can better introduce our neighbors to Jesus.
The ancient practice of faith-sharing was, for centuries, an integral part of Christian faith. No question. But a question about faith-sharing for the 21st century church is emerging: are contemporary North American Christians leaving this ancient practice behind? Statistical models and eyeballs both indicate that this is exactly what is happening.
The statistical data comes from a 2013 report by The Barna Group. It’s worth the read. Here are a few highlights:
· While nearly 3 out of 4 “born again” Christians say they are responsible for sharing their faith with others, only half actually did in the year prior to this study.
· Which generation is most likely to practice faith-sharing? Millennials? Busters? Boomers? Hands down…the Millennials. 65% shared their faith with someone in the previous year before this study. The Busters and Boomers? Less than half.
· Another interesting statistic shows that middle-income Christians are the least likely to practice faith-sharing, with less than 40% engaging in faith-sharing in the year 2012.
This data means that middle-aged, middle-incomed followers of Jesus are not practicing faith-sharing. A case can be made that this group, which often represents the largest population base of most churches, is rapidly growing apathetic to this ancient, core spiritual practice.
The discoveries made by The Barna Group pass the "eyeball" test. It appears that faith-sharing is an increasingly marginalized practice among followers of Jesus today. I have been watching this trend Sunday after Sunday as a pastor for more than two decades. I see less and less people, who are decidedly Christian in conviction, willing to share their faith with others. Many show no evidence of feeling responsibility for faith-sharing measures, such as inviting a non-Christian friend to worship or to a Bible study or to an activity where their Christian friends will be present. Thom Rainer has listed fifteen reasons why this is happening. You should check out what he says. (His personal estimation is that his denomination of choice is 50% less effective and passionate about faith-sharing than it was 50 years ago.)
I’ve been thinking about this. Granted, my sphere of influence is limited: I am only one pastor of only one church in only one small community. But I am not satisfied seeing the church of Jesus embrace a post-evangelism approach to ministry. To accept this is to distort what is core in our faith. Therefore, I have made a personal commitment as a follower of Jesus and as a ministry practitioner to work towards a rebirth of evangelism in the church I shepherd. Here are a few things I’m going to do:
1) Model faith-sharing in my personal practices of following Jesus. I am going to double down on my commitment to practice faith-sharing in a culturally relevant manner in my community.
2) Build a 'both/and' missional platform. Specifically, this means marrying social justice and evangelism. These can no longer be allowed to exist as separate faith components.
3) Build a 'both/and' spiritual formation platform. Specifically, this means marrying praying and evangelism. As above, these core practices can no longer be allowed to exist apart from one another.
4) Model evangelism passion better in my preaching Sunday after Sunday. I’m beginning this Easter, crafting an experience and a message that will move people and seize them with the amazing grace of God.
5) Recapture the meaning of gospel. Originally, the gospel was a revolutionary challenge to the political, cultural, and spiritual powers of the time. It turned the ancient world upside down. Regardless of the consequence, it created a passionate core of men and women who embraced Jesus and his ways. Included in these ways of Jesus that were practiced by the many, not the few, was faith-sharing.
Here are four things you can do right now to begin preparing for rebirth of the practice of faith-sharing:
1) in the next 24 hours, bring a friend or family member to an Easter worship gathering with you. They are likely to come.
2) Pay attention as you read the gospels and Acts to how core this practice was to the first Christians.
3) Pray that God replaces complacency with urgency when it comes to faith-sharing.
4) Fasten your seatbelt. This is going to be fun!