Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Just one raised hand - part 2

Last week, I posted about something that, to be honest, really bothered me. At the end of a very powerful and convicting message, which usually draws many non-believers to repentance and faith in Christ, only one person visibly responded to the call of salvation; just one raised hand. After considering many of the likely suspects, last week I concluded that the following is making a significant contribution to the problem I noticed:

While it is plausible that any number of reasons with various combinations may in fact be the root of the problem, I am convinced that the primary reason we see so few unbelievers respond to the gospel [at my church/campus] is not because of the experience, the message, or awareness, but rather due to the evangelical philosophy of the believers who attend our church each week.

Alright, so what is this "evangelical philosophy", or "evangelism philosophy?" I'm sure you won't find the term in any text book, but the idea is not a new one. It is simply a way to describe how people (Christians) think that they themselves and others contribute to non-believers becoming believers. Based on my observations of the attitudes of others and of myself, I have found that people generally have one of the following evangelism philosophies:

  1. Evangelism is someone else's responsibility.
  2. Evangelism is my responsibility.

Those who would say that evangelism is someone else's responsibility would most likely say that "someone else" is their church, and maybe other Christians who have the gift of evangelism. And since someone else like the church or someone with the gift of evangelism is probably more effective at sharing Christ with non-believers, then my evangelism philosophy would be to get non-believers to my church, or to those that are evangelists.

Others might look at Matthew 28:19,1 Peter 3:15-16, or 2 Corinthians 5:17-20, and many others similar passages  and conclude that evangelism is every believer's responsibility, noting that the Great Commission to go and make disciples of all the nations applies to all believers.

As I look at these two evangelism philosophies, I don't see it as an either-or choice; either I only bring people to church to hear the Gospel, or it is dependent upon me to evangelize the lost in my life. Seems like there is a third possible philosophy, a both-and view, that not only should I be prepared to give a reason for the hope that I have with gentleness and respect, being and ambassador for Christ in the ministry of reconciliation to God, but ALSO actively pointing my unbelieving friends, co-workers, family, etc. to my church or other resources where they might hear the Gospel clearly and faithfully preached.

But if I'm honest about this, I don't truly think the reason for just one raised hand at the call for salvation was due to confusion between either-or or both-and evangelical philosophies. No, tragically, that there were so few non-believers present and that there was only one raised hand was more likely due to a neither-nor evangelical philosophy; a philosophy cares neither for their responsibility to personally share Christ with the lost, nor for contributing to their salvation by bringing them to church. This view of evangelism is rooted in apathy towards the lost, and is expressed as such when we rarely if at all, invite non-believers to church or tell them about our God. While most would be offended by such accusations and who would argue that they care deeply about the lost, their actions often communicate a philosophy that is very different that what they profess to believe.

And I am no different.

Though I would adamantly attempt to defend myself of such an accusation if made against me, my actions would fail to do anything but convict me. Sure, I post a lot about God, theology, and other things with intentions that it will give people reason to pause and consider their relationship with God, to leave the gray, and be the real deal and be a true follower of Christ.  But its probably been over 2 years since I've invited a non-believing friend with me to church. And if given the opportunity to even give a hint at my faith and spiritual convictions with my non-believing friends, I often avoid speaking the name of Jesus and miss crucial opportunities to begin a conversation that might lead a non-believer one step closer to knowing Jesus as their Lord and Savior. No, given the evidence against me, it's pretty hard to for me to rebuke all the other followers of Christ who attend our church week after week without a guest with them, if I myself am unwilling to change.

Thankfully, there was one faithful follower of Christ who was willing to change, who had the conviction that the message of the cross really is the power of God  (1 Cor. 1:18), who was bold and courageous enough to ask his friend to come with him to church. And what a blessing he received, to know that his friend was the one hand raised, who at that moment received the gift of eternal life, who now knows our risen Savior.

By God's grace, I have been saved. And by God's grace, I am now aware of His call towards a real both-and evangelism philosophy, that is substantiated not by what I say, but by what I do. It is also by this same grace that I am willing to change my actions, and I pray that you do too. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Just one raised hand?

Just letting you know, this will be a long post. In fact, I’ll probably have to break it into parts because there is a lot of ground work that I need to do before I can get to the heart of what I want to write about. I do hope you’ll read though. I don’t have the capacity, patience, or attention to write volumes upon volumes, so rest assure, I’ll make the point as quickly and as succinctly as I can, and then you can get back to reading your twitter and facebook updates J.

This weekend at church, we heard a great message about praying boldly. Too often, we pray safe prayers, because we don’t want to be disappointed if God doesn’t answer our request the way we think He should, and secondly, we know that He can, but we don’t really believe that He will. Getting to the heart of the message, we say that we believe in God, but we live (and pray) as if He doesn’t exist. Does God give us everything we ask for? Of course not. But we who believe do not have a pragmatic faith; a faith that only believes if God meets our expectations and grants our every request. No, the faith that we have, if we have been made new, is a faith not of ourselves, not of our own mustering. The faith of the believer is the gift of God that enables us to utter such profound confessions of belief, such belief that many times cannot be explained but cannot be denied by our hearts and minds. And so, if we have faith that God can do the supernatural- forgiving our sins and enabling us to believe in Him, wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect believers to have a similar faith expressed in the kind of prayers they pray? Not safe prayers; bold prayers. Not safe faith; bold faith. And most assuredly not faith in faith, but faith in God.

Needless to say, it was a sobering message to all. And like every other message taught at our church at any weekend experience, it was aptly bookended with a call for spiritually unregenerate individuals to make a bold demonstrated act of faith by raising their hand in response to the call of salvation, signifying to all present their confession of faith, acknowledging their sinful nature and need of a savior, and that they are placing their trust in Christ, to be the complete and final fulfillment of that need of such a savior; to be reconciled to God.

Experience tells me that when a strong message is given for believers to believe and live like true believers, and non-believers to leave their unbelief, there is a significant number of hands that would be raised (10 to 15 or more). This being such a message, I expected several hands to be raised. Want to take a guess at how many hands were raised?


Not two. Not ten.

Just one.

In light of what is at stake- forgiveness or remaining condemned in our sin, peace or enmity with God, heaven or hell eternity- this is a big deal. Our auditorium seats somewhere around 800 people. Granted, there was probably somewhere north of 500 in attendance last night, but to have only 1 person raise their hand was anti-climatic to say the least, in response to such a strong and well-articulated presentation of the gospel and call to Christ. The tragedy of the situation is that this isn’t the first time that this has happened. In fact there have been a number of times that no one raised their hand in a given experience.

So what gives? Why did only one person respond to the gospel? Was the message not clear? Was it not compelling enough? I don’t know for sure, and neither does anyone else. I am sure that there were likely several non-believers in attendance. I also acknowledge that not every non-believer will respond to the gospel when given the chance. Still, for a service as full as it was, I am compelled to believe that there were far more confessing believers in attendance than non-believers.

And this is really the question that I want to wrestle with: Why are there so few non-believers coming to our church services?

Is it because our church staff and volunteers are unfriendly and unwelcoming? Definitely not. From the moment you get out of your car, you are greeted by a friendly face, and offered a ride to the front door by one of the many golf cart drivers. From there, you are greeted by warm smile and welcome as they hand you a copy of the sermon notes and campus bulletin. From the child care staff, host team, and all the other volunteers in place, you can’t help but feel welcomed all along the way as you finally make your way to your seat.

Is it because the message is irrelevant and unimportant? Hardly. Real life is relevant to everyone, and every message that is taught is tethered to reality, and the Gospel. Each summer we spend a month discovering biblical principles found in current movies- it is our most effective series each year in terms of attendance and response to the gospel. And when we are not talking about movies, we are talking about sex, pornography, finances, marriage, parenting, purpose, belonging, and many other relevant issues that affect every person on the planet.

Are non-believers not coming because they don’t know about our church? That there isn’t room for them to attend one of our experiences? No and Nope. We have 14 campuses, each offering around 5 services each weekend, not to mention our online services that are ministering to thousands through more than 40 services each week, getting them to our services through the use of Google ad words and facebook. And our means of getting the word out is not limited to the bumper stickers, social media, and other mass media that is being used. Each week we put invite materials in the hands of those who attend one of our services so that they can invite their friends, neighbors, co-workers, family, and the random guy they run into at the convenience store.

While it is plausible that any number of reasons with various combinations may in fact be the root of the problem, I am convinced that the primary reason we see so few unbelievers respond to the gospel is not because of the experience, the message, or awareness, but rather due to the evangelical philosophy of the believers who attend our church each week.

This is the issue that I want to deal with, but needed to set the stage first. I’ll explain what I mean by this evangelical philosophy, and attempt to provide some biblical arguments for my conclusions, as well as identify some realistic solutions that might successfully address the issues I’ve noted.

So what do you think? Would this assessment apply to your church as well?