How to Make Converts in Post-Christian America

January 13, 2014

In the post-evangelism age people are increasingly resistant to any attempt at proselytism. Young pastors marvel at stories of old-time evangelists like Billy Graham who rallied stadiums full of people then watched them stream forward to receive Christ.

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That just doesn’t happen now.

In post-Christian America, people have grown resistant to mass evangelism and especially confrontational messaging. As a result, churches don’t know how to evangelize, and many are struggling to make converts.

But we still have a good news, and there are still ways to get it to people.

Resistance to any channel of evangelism is inevitable.

Resistance to any intrusion happens over time. Scientists are now warning of new super bacteria that have developed resistance to antibiotics.

Consumers have developed resistance to traditional advertising. That is why marketers will pay for product placement rather than commercial breaks.

Even commercials seldom “sell” the product. Instead they evoke an ethos or culture that the consumer can enjoy. Everybody knows an iPad is cool, but who knows what it’s for?

The same thing happens in social media as a channel that began as an innovative way to connect with interesting people degenerates into a medium for barking commands: Buy my book! Watch this video! Like my page!

Broadcast media cannot be used for broadcasting anymore because too many people have developed resistance to the direct pitch.

So where does that leave us?

Print newspapers are all but obsolete, and fewer people are watching broadcast television. Yet those with a message are still finding ways to get it across.

I’m convinced we can do the same.

Here are four rules for doing evangelism in a post-evangelistic era.

1. Offer, don’t ask.

Traditional evangelism—by which I mean the way we did it in the 20th century—depended on confrontation and call to action. “You’re a sinner, Jesus can save you, accept Christ now!” That is still true, but it will not pass through the filter of most listeners.

When people find out you are not asking them to do something but offering something to them, they are more open. And the good news really is just that. Everyone wants peace and purpose. Offer that with no strings attached and see what happens.

2. Show, don’t tell.

This mantra of fiction writing should be stamped on the forehead of every Christian. Don’t tell people that God loves them. Show them. Don’t tell people that there is a way to live in peace, show them. When you display the character of Jesus in the world, it will be attractive to people.

Your love for others will generate likes, shares, and comments. This is the “social proof” of the gospel.

3. Love, don’t judge.

People don’t come to Jesus because their lives were changed. Their lives are changed because they come to Jesus. So we must make a place in church for people whose lives haven’t yet changed. We must love them as Jesus loves them.

Grace really works. God’s unconditional love actually does transform people. Read the story of Zacchaeus and you’ll see this in action.

4. Call to belong, don’t call to change.

Of course God wants people to change. Life transformation is at the heart of the gospel. But we’re increasingly calling reasonably good people to a radical change based on the idea that their lives are vile—and they don’t buy it.

We could spend more energy trying to convince them that they’re wrong. Or we could offer another primary benefit of the gospel—belonging.

We used to say, “Believe first, then change your life, then become a member, then join us in ministry.”

Let’s turn that exactly around. Come with us. Help us change the world. And you will soon believe what we believe and live as we live.

Adapt and survive.

If we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’ll see diminishing returns. If we do nothing, we’ll get nothing. If we adapt our presentation of the one true gospel to the post-Christian, post-evangelism, post-everything age, we will see people come to follow Jesus.

What would you add to this list?

Lawrence W. Wilson

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I blog about Christian faith and ministry. I've also written a few books including The Long Road Home and Why Me? Straight Talk about Suffering.