By Ken Dillingham
Spiritual Conversations and Gospel Connections in the 21st Century
When you think about sharing the gospel with someone what comes to mind? Is it a bible study chart or a tract complete with pictures of a cross forming a bridge and a step by step process leading someone over the bridge to salvation? Is it a scripted evangelistic speech? How about a clear and compelling presentation of the truth? It is likely that if you were in an evangelistic church in the latter part of the last century or were influenced by, and potentially employ, any or all of the above ‘tools’ for gospel presentation.
The Informational Launch Point of the 20th Century
Consider this. In the predominately Christian 20th century it made sense to communicate the gospel to people with an informational focus. Logical biblical arguments were often the most successful means of communicating truths such as the danger of sin and the hope of the new birth. Think about it, most people held a high view of the Bible as the source of truth. Therefore, this information-saturated appeal was predominately Logos-oriented with heavy emphasis on proving to someone their lost condition and their need for salvation. The arguments were built to answer a particular “what.” What you should do. What you should believe. Or why you should give your life to Jesus. The direction of the conversation was often “at” another in this high stakes gospel presentation.
However, the religious landscape has changed considerably in the last decade or so in North America. A 2020 Gallup poll (https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2021-03-29/church-membership-hits-all-time-low-in-2020-gallup-finds) demonstrates that for the first time in over 80 years church affiliation and attendance in America is below 50%. The increasingly secularized culture means that we have a much different audience than just 30 years ago. So the question is, should we, in light of a shifting socio-cultural perspective about church and truth, rethink our approach in sharing the gospel with others?
The Incarnational Launch Point of the 21st Century
Based on these trends toward secularization, the idea of reaching an increasingly skeptical culture is a daunting task for many Christians who have deep multi-generational roots in the Christian church. It is obvious that the world around us is listening less and less to the message built around the 20th century informational model. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not open or interested in spiritual things. In fact, in the book, “Lost and Found” by Ed Stetzer, statistical data is cited that suggests around 80% of Millennials are actually open to a spiritual conversation with someone they trust.
This is actually amazing news. Admittedly this data seems to suggest that people are turned off by institutional, programatic, franchised and consumeristic Christianity. But on the other hand it suggests that people are not turned off by the message of the gospel. In fact, as we have mentioned, the majority of people are actually open to discuss matters of the soul. But this will require a pivot to reach them. The missional launch point cannot start with informational evidence; rather, it must begin with incarnational evidence. The appeal of the Ethos that results from a community of believers demonstrating the power of the gospel through their own personal transformation stories is key. This means that people need to see the gospel in you before they hear it from you. It is incarnational in us just as it was when the world saw the hope and truths of the kingdom through the life and actions of Jesus. This approach opened up a different (and more effective) appeal. Rather than arguments that prove, Jesus used questions that helped people discover their need for the hope he had come to bring. And this Incarnational Ethos also establishes the direction of the spiritual conversation as speaking with someone rather than at them.
Obviously the Incarnational Missional approach requires that we develop relationships with people who need Jesus. The transparency of relationship will allow them to see the power of transformation in our lives while at the same time create opportunities for candid conversations. When this occurs we will begin to tap into the potential for a true multiplication movement in our land and in our time.