To evangelize, simply put, is to “good news” people. It is a missional practice as old as Jesus’ mandate to “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). Few things are as embedded in our faith as the impulse to share with those who do not know what we have “seen and heard” (1 John 1:3).
Yet, to remain effective and true to the Spirit’s leading, evangelism has to be reconsidered and reformulated in every generation. As culture changes and old paradigms fade, the Church must discover new methods to meet new challenges in reaching people for Christ. While the message stays the same, the messenger typically does not.
For the last 10 or more years, evangelism has been strongly reconsidered by scholars and practitioners who are grappling with the immense challenge of relating the faith in a post-Christian culture that is increasingly secular, diverse, and pluralistic. They understand that persons who formerly saw Christianity as their primary spiritual option must now weigh it against a host of other faiths, pseudo-faiths, or even non-faith options. In a context where secularism predominates, appeals that ask people about their eternal destination fail to resonate as they once did.
With more options for the unreached and unchurched person to consider, it is not surprising that many decisions for Christ arise from authentic relationships of love and trust that provide the support needed for people to leave their old ways and embrace a newfound faith. The need to help people grow in Christ has kindled a deep interest in Christian practices that help shape, nurture, and sustain how individuals and faith communities are formed. More and more, we recognize that evangelism is not just a point on the road; it is a journey, and one that requires an enduring investment by others. In his book, Reimagining Evangelism: Inviting Friends on a Spiritual Journey, Richard Richardson suggests that the image now best suited to evangelism is no longer the spiritual “salesperson” bent on closing a deal, but the “travel guide” who mentors others along a path to Christlikeness. As churches work to find relevance in secular culture, it is important to be aware of the dangers in overaccommodation. Bryan Stone, the E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at Boston University School of Theology, warns that “our greatest challenge is that in reaching secular people we fail to offer them anything specifically Christian.” He goes onto to say, “The most evangelistic thing the church can do today is to be the church—to be formed imaginatively by the Holy Spirit through core practices, such as worship, forgiveness, hospitality, and economic sharing into a distinctive people in the world, a new social option, the body of Christ.”
In our historical moment, an ecclesial-shaped evangelism is being re-emphasized by many Christian theologians and practitioners who remind us that the relationship between evangelism and discipleship is held firm by the support and nurture of a loving faith community. This is something that Wesleyan-Holiness people and early Nazarenes have understood quite well. While holiness people have always been committed to Christian conversion, their deeper longing was to stress the sanctification of believers and holiness of heart and life. Among other things, what should characterize a holiness church is love, and this may be one of the strongest advantages Nazarenes have in reaching people in the spiritual marketplace, especially young people.
The Millennial Values Study, a joint study by the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, found that “College-age Millennials (ages 18-24) are more likely than the general population to be religious unaffiliated (25 percent vs. 19 percent in the general population).” While 76 percent of Millennials indicated that present-day Christianity has “good values and principles,” more than six in 10 Millennials (62 percent) believe present-day Christianity is “judgmental.”
If the church is serious about reaching people for Christ, we must focus on an unbridled love for God and neighbor that expresses itself in compassion. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us, “The church is only the church when it exists for others.”
Grace and Peace Magazine