||This article was originally posted at LandonWhitsitt.com and reprinted here with the author’s permission.||
Last January, I offered a few thoughts on what a “New Evangelism” might look like. In that post, I cribbed the ideas from a documentary I had watched aboutinfluencers, asking if the church could reframe its thinking on evangelism in light of what we’ve been able to learn from those who have influenced our idea of culture. “What would a postmodern evangelist look like?” I wondered.
This past weekend, I was reminded of these thoughts. I was wrapping up a speaking gig on the “10 Commandments of Open Source” and some one asked what reason I had for being so hopeful about the church and the Christian Faith given my professed belief that God does not exclusively call people into relationship through Jesus Christ. Or, to ask it another way: “Why should we devote time to making a case for following Christ when there are a ton of other good offers out there?”
This is a good question, I think. Many people I know claim that Christianity is not the only religion that we could give our lives to. However, we have stopped short of spreading the Good News because we don’t want to get painted with the same brush strokes as “Those Christians.” This is totally understandable. The moment that you allow for there to be more than one option, the less likely you are to insist that yours is the best option. And, yet, I can still think that my option is really, really great and worth considering while, at the same time, being honest about its flaws etc.
So that’s what I think I’d like to devote some time and thinking to over the next month or so. What does evangelism look like in an open source world? While I’m not going to say that others have it wrong, I want to figure out how to make the case for why we’ve got it right. How do we make a case for a consistent worldview and life ethic that doesn’t insist that others are not worthy of consideration and devotion?
And so, to get us started, I want to offer some realities that I think would be helpful and necessary to acknowledge when considering our question.
- Evangelism is not a dirty word. I have had bad experiences with the “E Word” growing up. As a Charismatic Fundegelical, we treated evangelism like selling a product and we tried everything in our power to get you to buy what we were selling. Even if it meant lying a little. I’m not kidding. But if the Good News really is good news, then we should want to make it known. We’ve got to get over our fear/revulsion/whatever of evangelism.
- There is no such thing as on message for the whole world. Anyone with even a passing understanding of contextualization will know that treating everyone the same is just ridiculous. We may want to say that “Jesus is the Answer,” but I think that grossly overstates what we think the question is. Not everyone is asking the same question, and if the Good News is going to actually be good news then is must berelevant news.
- No one knows who we are anymore. And no one seems to care. The recent Pew study is only the latest evidence to us that Christianity is seen as irrelevant, and where we’re not irrelevant, we’re often despised. We can’t trust that anything we do will be held up as important. Sure, some of us still get our names in the paper, but those stories are so few and far between that they will have no impact on our standing in the community we’ve been called to serve.
- Evangelism is part marketing, and its online marketing at that. We need to stop thinking that “Invite a Friend Sunday” is going to do anything to stem the tide. People are still spiritually seeking and they will give us a look-see, but we need to make it easy for them. And this means that, damnit, we need to get over our aversion to social media and accept that people are increasingly online. It seems so silly to write that statement, but so many churches are not heeding Carol’s advice that the website/FB page/Twitter account are the main door folks use to enter a church.
- People don’t want to interact with “First Church” but the people of First Church.Those “clear boundaries” that we have been encouraged to set up are now seen as the latest ways that we fragment our lives. Seeing church people as blank slates that only hold the church’s message is kinda silly. The fact that Jerome is the one tweeting for First Church makes a difference to how First Church is seen. And, in the end, isn’t it the people that make church worthwhile?
- We don’t need to spend a lot of money on evangelism programs. We just need to believe that what we are offering (Christ’s Freedom, Grace, and Peace) is worth spending our time sharing. Seriously, if we believe that what we’ve got is worth it, the rest is just tactics and logistics.
- We can’t control people’s opinion of us.But we can be around to help mitigate it if it’s bad. The Pew study showed us that most USAmericas love God, Jesus, prayer, etc, but they don’t like us. If we are not out and about – physically or digitally – we will have no chance of changing that impression. Did you know that we are all seen as homophobic, judgmental asses? Of course not. Because we’ve holed ourselves up and are concerned with saving ourselves, rather than help God save the lost, release the captives, and heal the sick.
I’m sure there are many more realities than that. Those are just the one I can think of right now, on a sunday afternoon. What else do we need to contend with as we think about engaging an open source world?
About Landon Whitsitt: Landon is the Executive and Stated Clerk of the Synod of Mid-America (PCUSA), and served as the Vice-Moderator of the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
When he is not engaged in the life of the church, this trained writer, director, actor, and musician can be found speaking about his book, Open Source Church: Making Room for the Wisdom of All (Alban, 2011) and serving as Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of PLGRM Magazine (plgrmmagazine.com).