At Dundonald Church, Raynes Park, we’ve changed our focus slightly when it comes to evangelism. Don’t worry – the content is the same; we’re still preaching the gospel. Jesus Christ is still Lord. That remains the message and always will.
But we’re trying to change the culture of evangelism.
Because the danger, I think, is that we just carry on with the status quo. Year in, year out. Putting on events of varying quality but then scratching our heads when the numbers of guests attending slowly declines, no-one becomes a Christian and evangelism begins feeling more like a burden than a joy, because our friends won’t sign up to the 7-week follow-up course.
So we’re trying to change the culture. And as such, we’ve started talking about being committed to creating an ARROW culture of evangelism, something adapted from Tim Keller's “Center Church”.
Let me explain what ARROW stands for:
ACTIVE: the desire is to have a culture of evangelism at the church where all believers assume responsibility in evangelism - the recognition that each member is part of the crew on the lifeboat, not a passenger on a cruise-ship. This means that evangelism isn’t primarily staff-led and driven out of the church building. Of course, we want to provide training and resources, but the desire is that there is an ACTIVE culture of evangelism amongst everyone in the church family.
RELATIONAL: this means evangelism being done within the context of informal, personal relationships. We live in a day and age where loneliness is something of an epidemic, and as such, relationships go a long, long way. As a result, some have even contended that hospitality is the key to evangelism in the 21st Century (David Mathis, The Key to Evangelism in the 21st Century). We want to be all about evangelism that is relational.RISK-TAKING: there’s no two ways about it; evangelism is costly. For us to be active and relational in our evangelism, there must be a willingness to “cross the pain line” (Rico Tice, Honest Evangelism) There are lots of reasons why it might hurt, but I guess for lots of people, it’s the fear of being socially ostracised - particularly in our post-Christian culture, to stand and say that you believe the Bible to be the word of God is tantamount to lunacy. And so we are going to need to be committed to RISK-TAKING evangelism.
ORGANIC: we want evangelism at Dundonald Church to be organic, in that it is seen primarily as spontaneous ministry being done outside of church programmes. This is really important. Members of the church shouldn’t have to wait for a formal event or course to be organised - rather, we should be encouraging one another to get on with evangelism organically. I think there is a real danger of an over-reliance on ‘Come & See’ evangelism - carol services, mission events, centrally run Christianity Explored-type courses etc. That’s not to say that these things are bad - of course not - but they can’t be the only thing in the diet. In his excellent book “Evangelism”, J. Mack Stiles writes “We seem to have an insatiable hunger for programmes to accomplish evangelism. Why? Programs are like sugar. It’s tasty, even addictive. However…a strict diet of evangelistic programs produces malnourished evangelism. Just as eating sugar can make us feel as if we’ve eaten when we haven’t, programs can often make us feel as if we’ve done evangelism when we haven’t. We should use them strategically but in moderation…”.
I find that immensely helpful. And so while we still run carol services & guest events, and still do the occasional centrally run follow-up course, they aren’t our bread & butter. At Dundonald Church, we want to be committed to ORGANIC evangelism.
WORD-DEPLOYING: it’s the last letter, but it’s the most important. Active, relational, risk-taking, organic evangelism doesn’t come at the expense of prayerful word ministry. The desire in creating this ARROW culture of evangelism is that individuals are able to prayerfully bring the Bible into connection with people’s daily lives, whether that’s through informal conversations at work, or intentionally sitting down to read a part of the Bible together. The power in evangelism isn’t down to the slickness of an event, the oratory of a preacher, or the intellect of a study leader. The power is in the Spirit-inspired Word of God, at work in people’s hearts and minds - which should give us huge confidence, because it means that anyone can be involved! It is God who is at work through His word, using clay pots like us to make His glory shine all the brighter.
Please pray for us! That we would model and strive for an ARROW culture of evangelism at Dundonald Church.
What does this look like in practice? Let me just share one thing we’ve been working on, with the aim of resourcing and equipping the church family to go and tell the gospel.
A BETTER HERO
“A Better Hero” is a pocket-sized booklet which runs through four short passages from Mark’s gospel. There are three simple questions on each passage, and a “food for thought” question which prepares for the next study.
The vision for these little booklets (and they really are little) is for multiple people across Dundonald to be reading the Bible with friends, colleagues and neighbours, all as part of our “ARROW” culture of evangelism, and ultimately seeing lost people come to Christ. Now hold on, do we really need another 1:1 resource? What’s wrong with Uncover? Or The Word One to One? Well, nothing’s wrong with them - they’re brilliant resources. But “A Better Hero” is a bit different. Here's why:
- The layout and structure of these booklets is different, in that there’s a lot less content. “A Better Hero” is deliberately designed to be as straightforward as possible – with just three questions per study, on a 2-page spread – with the hope that it’s a lot less intimidating for Christians to give it a go with a friend.
- As a result, they’re designed to not require any training in advance. You don’t need to have a “Leaders Handbook” to guide you through it. It does what it says on the tin. You can just open it up with your friend, read the passage, and then ask each other the questions.
- The aim is that these “mini-studies” are a primer to a conversation on the Bible. When we launched these in December 2017, the line we kept repeating is that this booklet is designed to help start the conversation. They don’t provide all the answers by any means, but they’re a launch-pad for a simple, straightforward conversation about the Bible. For some people, the conversation might be over in five minutes; for others, it might be an hour. But conversations will be happening!
- The design of the booklet is such that it can be done anywhere. You can have a couple in your back pocket. You can fit a bunch of them in your bag. And so you can read “A Better Hero” with someone, wherever suits you – down the pub, in a cafe, at home, on the train, at work. And because it’s small, it’s cheap to print – you could order 500 and stick them at the back of church for members to grab whenever they want to start the conversation with a friend. We have them in big piles at the back of church, and we’re always talking about them - so people can just pick them up and grab them whenever they need.
Just to encourage you – I’m having weekly conversations with someone else who has started reading “A Better Hero” with a friend. There are people reading with elderly neighbours; teenagers reading with school friends; people using it to start a conversation in small groups at work. Now - cards on the table - I’m not sure if anyone has become a Christian yet directly as a result of reading it with someone, but the culture of evangelism is undeniably beginning to change – there is a growing confidence in getting into discussions about Jesus with unbelieving friends - and our prayer is that we will see fruit as a result!
Here are some stories I’ve heard recently:
“I’ve just finished reading through A Better Hero with my friend. She really enjoyed it and now wants to keep reading Mark with me 1-2-1. God is at work!”
“Read it with a friend today, was really nervous going in - but worked really well. Spent 30 mins on how sin may be a bigger problem than physical paralysis. Amazed how interested he was!”
“Recently completed it with a colleague, who now wants to investigate the resurrection claims further…and now my boss has just agreed to do it with me!”
And so while I know that this isn’t the silver bullet in evangelism, that people are still going to be hardened to the gospel, that it’s still going to be hard work, that it’ll still feel risky - for a time such as this, in 21st century London, I’m excited about resources like this helping to foster an ARROW culture of evangelism – and I’m thanking God for a growing confidence in our church family to go and tell the gospel. We’ve got such a long way to go, but heaven & hell are real, so we’re giving it everything we’ve got. Please pray for us at Dundonald Church as we continue to work out what this looks like in practice, and pray that we’d see lost people found, for the fame of Jesus’ name.
It’s been exciting to see other Co-Mission churches begin to use A Better Hero for their own evangelism over the last year. If you think your church would benefit from using it, then please get in touch, or visit somethingbetter.org.uk for more information. Plans for the next iteration, titled “A Better Life” (Four short studies in John), are underway; stay tuned for more details.