by Joe Thorn @http://www.joethorn.net
I’ve written on the subject of evangelism from a theological/biblical perspective, and have been collecting my thoughts on it from a cultural perspective for some time now. Today I thought I’d share a bit. Some of these observations may also be true of your context, while others may only apply to my particular community. Either way, these are conclusions I have drawn about our church’s context from my own experience growing up and now pastoring in the Fox Valley (part of the western suburbs of Chicago).
1. Door to door evangelism is seen as an unwanted invasion.
I can’t tell you how many unchurched people have told me in casual conversation that they find almost anyone popping up on their front step without an invitation to be more than annoying. Some even describe it as rude. The exceptions are Girl Scout’s selling their awesomely delicious, crack laced cookies, and some of the people who stop by for the good of the local community. While I am sure there is a small percentage who may respond well to door to door, in my context it appears to turn many more people off.
2. Initiating conversation at Starbucks is welcome.
Panera, the coffee shop, the park, the dentist’s office - people seem to be generally receptive to open ended conversation in these shared spaces. Some want to be left alone, but many enjoy the opportunity to talk about life, culture, politics - whatever.
3. The evangescript is perceived as invasive and fake.
The unchurched can spot the evangelistic script before you finish that diagnostic question. If not because they are religiously savvy, it is at least because living in a consumer culture allows them to detect a sales pitch with little effort.
4. Showing how real-life concerns connect to the gospel is well-received.
While most seem to dislike the home invasion and scripted religious encounters, I do find an openness among my suburban neighbors to talking about biblical truth when it emerges out of a true dialog. When an authentic conversation continues from a discussion about the environment, film, government, or family to what the Bible says about these topics and how they related to God’s plan of redemption most people seem genuinely interested.
5. The churched are often as clueless about the gospel as the unchurched.
I meet a lot of people who go to church who are more than unclear about the gospel, and I’m not only talking about people who go to “liberal” churches. Of course, when people go to a church where the gospel is not believed I expect there to be ignorance or confusion. But the vast majority of people I have met who frequently to regularly attend a local, evangelical megachurch (from my old tattoo artist to strangers at the car repair shop) have all been clueless about the gospel. I am not suggesting that everyone at this church is not a believer, or that the gospel is never preached there. I am only reporting what I have found in my conversations. In the end, just because someone is reading a Christian book, or attending a Christian church does not mean they understand the good news.
No, this isn’t technical research pulled together by Ed Stetzer and the people at Lifeway. These are conclusions I have come to after living in this community for 31 years, sharing the gospel here for 14 years, and serving as pastor here for seven years. While I believe God can use all kinds of approaches to evangelism, I am convinced that in my suburbia unscripted, conversational evangelism is generally a better way to share Christ with strangers than reading from a tract, or reciting a script. My culture requires more natural conversation skills that are developed through practice. It demands a strong theological framework from which we can make connections between real-life concerns of the people we meet to the gospel they need.