The data across North America suggests that while churches often talk about evangelism, very few are actually doing it. But where would a church start in order to change this?
Why not try some experiments!
Throughout the fall and heading into the winter, Institute of Evangelism director Judy Paulsen has proposed three experiments for churches to try, to help them share the faith with their unchurched or de-churched friends, neighbours, or colleagues. Each experiment should first be solidly grounded in prayer, as we learn to trust God to help us join in His work of drawing new people to Himself.
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Most Christians affirm that it’s important for their church to share the faith. But many also think someone else is better suited to that task than they are.
- Some think evangelism is the job of pastors, who have theological training
- Some think it is best done by especially gifted communicators known as evangelists
- Some think it requires someone who has great answers to tough philosophical questions
- Some think it can only be done by someone who knows the Bible far better than they do
- Some think it must be done by people whose lives are way more holy than their life is
But what if we believed that God is already calling people all around us back into relationship with himself, and we are all called to participate in that work of reconciliation? What would happen if all Christians across Canada believed that, just as they are, they could be used by God to help someone take steps toward him?
There is plenty of data that indicates there are many people across Canada with spiritual questions and longings who would be very open to exploring faith issues, if they were just invited by a friend to do so. In fact, a public opinion poll conducted by Angus Reid in 2017 found that roughly 30% of the Canadian population self-identified as ‘privately faithful’. This group was made up of people with no connection to any faith community or sacred texts, but they reported believing in God, praying to God, and wanting their children to learn about faith through a recognized faith community. This poll suggests there are over ten million such people in Canada. If we cared about reaching such people, how might we do it?
The final proposed experiment in our tripart series of articles is something churches can work on together. They can intentionally offer several evenings specifically geared to helping explorers and seekers address some of their spiritual questions and longings, requesting that their church members invite people in their lives with no connection to a faith community to attend these evenings with them. That last bit is key. Data indicates people are much more likely to come to something offered by a church, or even something held in the home of a church member, if they personally know someone there.
Resources for Churches
There is a wealth of free or very inexpensive downloadable resources that churches can use for these evenings. Here are four that we recommend:
- Christianity Explored
This ten-session course uses a series of videos to help people engage with scripture so they can explore such questions as: Who is Jesus? Why did he come? Why did Jesus die? What was his resurrection about? What is grace? What is a Christian?
The website also provides a series of short videos that address some of the most difficult questions people pose about the existence of God, suffering, evil and good, religion, and what God has to do with our lives today. A discussion group focused on these short videos could be another great way to spark conversation that addresses people’s questions. https://www.christianityexplored.org/Groups/276317/Home/CE_ORG/Tough_Questions/Tough_Questions.aspx
Nua, which means “new” in Irish, is a series of short films produced by Scripture Union Ireland. These 15-minute free downloadable films address such questions as: How did we get here? Jesus: fact or fiction? What about the resurrection? What was Jesus really like? Why do I like Jesus, but struggle with Christians? How can you say that God is good? Has the Church caused more harm than good? What’s Jesus got to do with me?
- Jesus the Game Changer
This ten-part documentary series explores how the life and teachings of Jesus changed the world and why it matters. Each film touches on how Jesus changed the way the world viewed issues such as equality, forgiveness, women and children, democracy, care, leadership, health, wealth, and science. The series includes footage from all over the world as scientists, theologians, political leaders, financial leaders, historians, and biblical scholars from many different cultures are interviewed.
- The Alpha Course
This course is one of the most widespread and popular courses aimed at helping people explore Christianity. The fifteen video sessions (three of which are usually run as part of a weekend retreat focused on the person and work of the Holy Spirit) allow people to address questions such as: Is there more to life than this? Who is Jesus? Why did he die? How can I have faith? How and why should I pray? How and why should I read the Bible? How does God guide us? How can I make the most of the rest of my life? How can I resist evil? Why and how should I tell others? Does God heal today? What about the Church?
- Christian Foundations
Unlike the courses profiled above, this resource is not a film series. Instead, it uses a workbook format that includes short narratives, discussion questions, and a variety of interactive exercises to help people explore questions such as: How can I know and serve God? What is the story of Israel? Who is Jesus? What do Christians believe? Why are there so many sorts of Christians? How can I grow in my faith? What is my part in the kingdom of God?
Some churches have used these workbooks as a baptism prep program, as a resource preparing teens or adults for confirmation, as a small-group resource to better ground Christians in the faith, or as a tool for one-on-one discipleship.
Clearly, there is a wealth of resources for churches to use and adapt to their context, to help the many people around us who are interested in exploring the Christian faith. As we head into 2023, may every church across Canada commit to intentionally reaching such people, helping them take steps toward becoming followers of Jesus Christ.