Throughout history there have been many explanations for various things from science to spiritual matters. It was once thought that ocean waves caused the wind, and since one always came with the other that seemed plausible (wind causes waves). When I was young I thought that cold water passed through a glass, but I now know that it is just condensation. I was also puzzled and annoyed that the underside of my pillow was always cooler than the top side. What was the mysterious source of heat on the top side? It turned out to be my head.
There are as many opinions on evangelistic methods as there are abandoned exercise machines in basements and attics. Some methods work in one church only to fail in another as do exercise machines for those who place their hope in the machine. There is no mystery with the exercise machines because some people really think that if they buy one of those machines that they saw models using on TV then they will lose weight even if they continue a sedentary lifestyle in front of the TV while eating TV dinners and watching infomercials about exercise machines.
The same is often true of outreach ideas. Churches buy into something new without realizing what really caused it to work in another church in the first place. They thought it was the new form, but it is often a hidden principle behind the form. In deciphering why some things really work I would like to look at just one element. Community.
While I lived in Asia I saw tremendous growth in our churches, and my friends in the west attributed this to a new method for small groups. They copied these methods which simply did not work for them. In Asia there was this one thing that was so much in plain sight that it was actually overlooked. Community. Everyone knew everyone, and believers still had many friends who were unbelievers. It was natural to simply invite someone to a group.
In the west community has all but vanished in many areas. In my home state of North Carolina people are very friendly and polite, but they don’t really know their neighbors. When churches in these areas buy into a new outreach idea such as small groups they find that they are immediately intimidated by the fact that they don’t really know anyone well enough to invite them to a group. They try the new outreach machine for a season, but upon finding out that it requires work to reach people they soon send the new model to the basement.
Fortunately for missionaries like me – and unfortunately I might add – we can rely on little in Christendom to help us reach the lost in unchurched societies. Attractional methods don’t work well, and people are suspicious of us. We are left with little recourse but to actually start from scratch and build community.
I am not speaking of Christian community though. I am talking about spending an extended season getting to know unbelievers, doing things together; serving them until the point they “invite us in”. This is the tipping point where real ministry can begin, but it only happens in proportion to the net of community that we have built.
This is one of the missing links in outreach, and there are no shortcuts. It takes time. It takes patience, and the only thing that helps us stay patient is to have a goal of reaching people rather than a goal of filling a church building on Sunday mornings. God will add people to the church if we do our part.
A few more random truths: I still like cool pillows, Evolution is just a story with no scientific mechanism, glass does not sweat, fasting does not eliminate toxins (your liver and kidneys do that), running your car on a full tank does not give better gas mileage and those TV models did not get those fabulous abs on those exercise machines that were invented just last week.
However, people sweat when they exercise, and it would not hurt the church to start a few evangelistic exercises and fast from spiritual junk food and Christian infomercials that clog the airways.