It seems to me that fewer people are coming to Christ and being saved today in America than in other times. I don’t have hard statistics. For those who are interested, I suggest you check out Ed Stetzer, or George Barna, or someone else who specializes in investigating these types of things. I do know that, from a global perspective, this is not necessarily the case. There are places in the world today where many, many people are coming to Christ and the church is growing by leaps and bounds. There are also some places and local congregations in the United States today where relatively large numbers of people are coming to Christ. But, I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume most of you would agree with me that, in general, evangelistic results today in America are languishing. As Southern Baptists, we are no exception to this trend. But, why is it more people aren’t being saved in America today?
In this post, I am not going to give the answer. I am not sure I know the answer. What I am going to do is throw out some possible answers, and leave it open for us, who are interested in this question (and I hope many of us are) to discuss amongst ourselves the possible answers. My hope and prayer is that perhaps this discussion can shed some light on the subject, and lead us forward toward the goal of more people coming to Christ, rather than pointing the finger of blame at others, and/or beating ourselves over the head.
For some, the answer to this question is simply that God has elected some to eternal life, and others to eternal condemnation, and it is not our place to second-guess God. I don’t really want to go there with this post, either, though. I will leave it to others in other places to discuss these matters (if anyone is curious about my take on this, which is admittedly not very sophisticated, you can see it here). What I want to discuss here are the human factors and variables in evangelistic results.
For instance, if no one ever shared the gospel with lost folks, I think it is a pretty fair assumption that no one (or very few) would get saved. And, at least on the plane on which we live our lives, day-in and day-out, this depends on whether we decide to share the gospel or not. As Romans 10:14 clearly says, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”
So, one reason why more people are not being saved (among possibly others) is, evidently, because more people are not sharing Christ with lost folks. But, why is it that more people are not sharing Christ? Is it because we are lazy? Is it because our hearts are hard and we don’t love the lost and are not concerned for their souls? Is it because we are afraid? Is it because we don’t know how to go about it, or how to get a handle on it?
It has been pointed out by some that the presence of vocational evangelists among us is down from what it once was, and that, in times past, a significant number of professions of faith in our churches have been tied to “annual church revivals.” But that is likely related to the fact that local churches themselves are sponsoring fewer evangelistic campaigns. And, that is perhaps related to the fact that it is harder to get people—especially lost people—to come to evangelistic campaigns than it once was. And, we have to ask ourselves, even if we are calling in fewer itinerant evangelists to proclaim the gospel, to what degree do we have truly anointed evangelistic preaching in the pulpits of our churches Sunday after Sunday.
It has long been known that effective public evangelism is closely tied to faithful personal soul winning. If people are going to get saved at church, somebody has to take the initiative to see to it that lost people get to church in the first place. Traditionally, many churches have had a focus on door-to-door evangelistic visitation. It seems, however, that that is not as popular as it once was. Why is that? Has it become more difficult to do effective door-to-door work? Are people more reluctant to open the door? Are we, as Christians, more reluctant to intrude on people’s privacy than we once were?
In our churches, we have gone through all sorts of evangelism training programs. We have taught the Roman Road. We have taught how to use the Four Spiritual Laws. We have taught EE. We have taught CWT. We have taught FAITH. We have taught The Way of the Master. We have taught GPS, etc., etc. I am not opposed to evangelism training. I suppose it would not be out of line to ask ourselves where we would be today, if we hadn’t carried out all these evangelism training programs in the past. But, then again, that doesn’t seem to be the silver bullet, either.
It has been observed that the number of those claiming to have the gift of evangelism has declined in recent years. Is this because God has stopped sovereignly distributing this gift quite as profusely as He did in the past? Or, are there other explanations? Is it, perhaps, that the typical profile of a gifted “evangelist” seems a little more daunting, and a little bit less like how we want to see ourselves, than what it did at sometime in the past? The course Becoming a Contagious Christian attempts to get around this, claiming that all of us are called to evangelize, but not all are called to use the same evangelistic style. God gifts each one of us differently, and we need to discover how he has gifted us, and operate primarily within our area of gifting. I think this is a helpful observation.
Maybe, in some cases, we’ve stopped making the main thing the main thing. Maybe, in some churches, we’ve begun to focus more on social work, culture warring, politics, or self-help, etc. than on getting lost souls into heaven. Maybe, in other cases, we’ve done so much of an overkill on full-force, straight-ahead, in-your-face evangelism, the ground is burned over, and no one wants to listen to us.
Maybe, in some cases, we’ve isolated ourselves in Christian ghettos, and we don’t have any non-Christian friends. I know, in my own case, since I’ve come home from Spain, that has been a problem for me. If we are not intentional in seeking out relationships with non-Christians, especially in the case of those of us who are in full-time Christian ministry, it can be easy to find ourselves relating only to other Christians. Others who work secular jobs, or who have unbelieving family members, don’t necessarily have the same problem.
In addition to all this, even when we share the gospel faithfully on a regular basis, if we don’t do it in a way that is understandable, the results will not be as positive as if we did it in a way that was more understandable. With actual languages, this is undeniably true. If we talk about Jesus to someone all day long in English, but they only understand Spanish, it is going to be hard to get very far with them. The truth is our society is getting more and more culturally diverse. Even among those people who speak English as a first language, many times, their cultural presuppositions and backgrounds are so different from ours, it is hard for us to understand them, and for them to understand us.
Closely related to the factor of cultural language are stumbling blocks that get in the way of our communication. Is it possible that, in some cases, the reason more people are not getting saved is they can’t hear our words because our actions are speaking so loud? Perhaps actions and words of some in the Christian community have prejudiced lost people to us, and even though we ourselves have done nothing to erect this barrier, it nonetheless exists. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Are our constant bickering and the divisions among us getting in the way of more people coming to Christ? Have we perhaps communicated the idea that being a Christian is all about taking a particular political viewpoint? Have we de facto eliminated, right off the block, all the people who are on the other side of the spectrum politically from us? Are we so separate from the world we don’t have anything to do with them, and they don’t want to have anything to do with us? Or, are we too much like the world? Do the people of the world not see anything different about us that might make them interested to know about what we have? Could it be, perhaps, that Christian television (or, at least, a certain type of programming) has made Christians such a laughing stock in this country that people are reluctant to jump on board?
A whole other line of thinking has to do with spiritual causes. Are we not praying for lost souls the way we ought? Do we not have more spiritual awakening, in terms of lost souls being open to the gospel and multitudes being saved, because we have not had, first of all, true revival among ourselves? Is God, perhaps, holding back a greater spiritual harvest, waiting on us, as His people, to truly get right with Him first?
Perhaps a part of the reason why more people are not coming to Christ does not have so much to do with us as the gospel communicators as it does with the condition of the harvest field itself. Perhaps we live in a time and cultural setting of thorny soil, in which, in comparison to other times and cultural settings, “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and [cause] it [to prove] unfruitful” (Mark 4:19).
Perhaps there are certain intellectual challenges today that are harder to deal with than they were in other times. Perhaps the evolutionists, atheists, and universalists have done such a good job at communicating their message, many people are unable to give a fair listen to our message.
What do you think…?
1. Which of these factors do you think are the most significant?
2. Have I left anything out that you would include?
3. What are some practical steps we can take to counteract these factors?