Evangelism is the key to fulfilling the Great Commission and spreading the Good News of the Gospel across the world. But in the 21st-century United States, something seems to have gone terribly wrong. Although many Christians describe themselves as Evangelicals, they seem to do very little evangelizing, instead living two concurrent but rarely-intersecting lives: Normal Life, and Church Life. There are a few Christians who are very good at evangelism and sharing their faith with others – but they are only a small percentage of believers in the church. Most of us (at least in our own perceptions) have little opportunity to talk about our faith with others or give some kind of Gospel presentation while we’re at work, or riding the bus, or while standing in line at the grocery store. And so church growth is accomplished mostly by importing Christians from other churches, who leave one church to join another – like shuffling deck chairs on a sinking Titanic.
The easy solution to this is to excoriate the Church for not being as good at evangelism as the few with this particular spiritual gift (see Ephesians 4.11). But this rarely accomplishes anything except to inspire guilt and shame-based compliance – a technique that is inconsistent with the Gospel.
The ideas I am going to share in the following posts are my own, based upon my own struggles with evangelism, church community, living in Japan, and other experiences over the past eight years. I’ve never read of anything quite like what I’m going to suggest here, and I don’t know if others have posited the same ideas. But I believe that this hypothesis could be the long-missing key to energizing and equipping Christians to share their faith with the entire world.
The scripture at the core of Rethinking Evangelism is John 13:38:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
I believe this verse has been frequently misunderstood. I don’t think Jesus is talking about Christians loving other people, in general. Of course, I think that Christians should show love toward everybody. There are many other passages which attest to that truth. However, there are plenty of good people in the world who don’t follow Jesus. Simply behaving like this in our day-to-day interactions is not what I think Jesus has in mind with this command. Look very closely at what he says to his disciples: he tells them to love one another. This means that a disciple in isolation from other believers cannot carry out this command. It is a collective instruction: by showing the love that Christians have for one another, the world will see our faith in a way that it can’t when we operate merely as individuals.
Jesus calls us to bring our Christian community to others, and to bring them into our community. Jesus is calling us to show our community, to share it and allow outsiders to the faith to experience and see what Christian community – and God’s Kingdom – looks like.
What I am proposing is a radical shift in the way the church views evangelism and the accomplishment of the Great Commission. It is a call to abandon the selfish individualism that makes superstar Spiritual Heroes and Christian Leaders, and to embrace voluntary collective Christian community as a means to evangelize and disciple. That is why I am calling this concept collective evangelism.
By embracing collective evangelism, we will be freed from the constraints of conventional evangelism, in which individual believers in isolation, alone and with no support from each other, are burdened with sharing the Gospel all by themselves. As a result, few Christians ever share their faith at all, because they have few opportunities and resources for performing this task. But in collective evangelism, we make a new kind of community, one where there is a context for spiritual discussions and presenting the Gospel which rarely occurs in day-to-day life. And instead of being burdened to do all the work of evangelism ourselves, we share it with our community. This not only makes it much easier and less intimidating to share the Gospel, it also makes us more effective in actually doing so.
In the collective evangelism model, we support each other in witnessing and reaching out to others, by forming a body of believers bringing their varied gifts together in order to do something greater than the sum of its parts. In an an increasingly isolated and socially-dysfunctional world, sharing our faith through small communities might be just what the world needs to see what our faith is all about.
And if this is what God has in mind for us, we’re in for a revolution.