Sam Simmons thoughts on, “How Culturally Engaging Is Your Evangelism Strategy?”

This page quotes Sam Simmons’ article “How Culturally Engaging Is Your Evangelism Strategy,” Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox, Issue 247, February 22, 2006. For more about Sam check him out at Rockbridge Seminary a fully-online seminary.
Business guru Peter Drucker was fond of asking two questions:

What’s your business?
How’s business?

According to John Mark Terry, 80 percent of the Protestant churches in North America are plateaued or declining. If true, business for churches today is not good.

Could it be that the strategy or approach churches take to evangelize needs to change? According to Reggie McNeal, a “missional church” not only risks involvement with the world but goes so far as strategizing ways to engage the surrounding culture. How culturally engaging is your church’s evangelism strategy? Here are four questions that will help you and your leadership team make an evaluation.

Whose LANGUAGE Is Used?

Imagine sending a new missionary into an unfamiliar culture to evangelize, develop leaders, and plant churches. An immediate and critical task is finding a way to communicate – through an interpreter, by learning the language, or by using an understandable translation of God’s Word.

Few church leaders would question the need for a missionary to learn the language of the culture needing to be reached – he or she must use the language of the culture to communicate the Gospel. Yet, a similar communication challenge may exist between your church and those in the surrounding culture – a culture that knows nothing of the “language of Zion.” To the unchurched, “church-speak” is like a foreign language.

A pastor friend told me of an adult guest who approached him after his second church visit. “I tried to find the book you mentioned last week, pastor. None of the bookstores had heard of it,” he said with frustration in his voice. “What book is that?” my pastor friend asked, not remembering any book he recommended in his sermon. “The book of Mark,” stated the visitor, who did not know that “The Book of Mark” is a part of the New Testament.

What language does your church use to communicate the gospel to surrounding culture? Evaluate your church’s evangelism strategy for assumptions about language. Does the strategy assume that seekers are able to understand “church-speak” or does it lead your church to take responsibility for communicating so that an unchurched listener can understand?

Who Builds the BRIDGES?

On the mission field, a strategic component of the missions task is to find bridges over which people can come to Christ. The most common bridges are based on relationships, needs, and interests. Donald McGavran, missiologist and church growth expert, called these the “bridges of God.” He believed that God is at work in every culture preparing potential bridges over which people can come to know Him.

What is true on the mission field is true on your church field – seekers likely need a bridge to move from where they are to a place where they can hear and receive the Gospel message. Some evangelism strategies are based on programs, buildings, or weekend services that communicate – “come to us,” leaving the seeker with the responsibility to build the bridge. Other evangelism strategies assume that bridges built decades ago are still effective in spite of the fact that the surrounding culture has changed dramatically.

Does your church’s evangelism strategy lead your church to take responsibility for building and updating bridges over which people come to Christ – bridges that are understood, inviting, and safe for the seeker?

Whose CULTURE Adapts?

Every church communicates a “culture” to the unchurched visitor – how members dress, the accent of their speech, the age and gender of the ushers, how announcements are made, the style of music, the order of service, the way the sermon is communicated, the ethnicity and/or race that is most visible. A church’s “culture” is not expressed through one single thing, but by a general impression the visitor forms based on multiple factors. Without meaning to do so, a church may communicate a “culture” that is not welcoming to the very people they seek to reach.

For instance, a church may be concerned about how few young adult families they are reaching, though there is an explosion of young adult families in the community. A church consultant might advise leaders to visit nearby churches that ARE reaching young adult families and to study what makes that church’s “culture” so inviting. The result might be a list of “culture adjustments” that can be made for the sake of reaching young adult families, though the adjustments may take years to implement depending on the amount of change involved.

Does your church’s evangelism strategy call for “culture adjustments” if they are necessary for the sake of Kingdom influence?

What FENCES Need To Be Removed?

A fence is a perceived barrier that makes it more difficult for an unchurched person to connect with a church. In contrast to bridges that connect, fences disconnect. Fences turn away seekers before they ever hear the claims of Jesus Christ.

Fences take on different forms depending on the church – and are more visible to the seeker than to the church. In fact, long-time church members would probably be shocked to know what keeps unchurched people away from their church. A helpful exercise is to ask an unchurched person to visit your church and point out the “fences” you overlook. Removing a fence may be as simple as changing the wording on your church sign or adjusting the way guests are welcomed in the service.

Is your church’s evangelism strategy committed to removing fences that can keep seekers away before they are ever exposed to the Gospel message?

Use these four questions to evaluate your church’s evangelism strategy. Missional churches seek ways to engage the culture in which God has placed them – by the language they use, the bridges they build, the culture they portray, and the fences they remove. This unit will give you specific tools that will help you do that.

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