Tomorrow morning in youth group, I am going to tell my students that they don’t have to bring their friends to church. As a part-time youth pastor with only a handful of regularly attending students, you might think I’m crazy to tell them such a thing.
I promise I haven’t jumped off the deep end. Bringing friends to church is a wonderful thing for anyone of any age, but a dependency on anyone or anything except the Holy Spirit in order to share the gospel, is not.
There is a quote I love by Erwin McManus that sums up the modern-day crisis:
“This move (passive church attendance) has made the pastor the only minister, while making the members the only recipients of ministry. What is lost in the process is an army of healers touching the planet.”
How did we get this way?
In Acts 2:38-41 We see the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit is given to the followers of Jesus. One of them, Peter, filled with the spirit, speaks to a crowd that has gathered. After he has spoken, the Bible tells us that “About 3000 were added to their number.”
I don’t want to take away from the sacredness of Pentecost, but this is your typical church formula, isn’t it? A church leader, filled with the Holy Spirit, preaches to the crowd and the people respond by becoming part of the church. Nothing wrong with that, it is a biblical method of evangelism. Yet somehow it has turned into a modern-day evangelism that is church dependent. In other words, we think that non-believers have to hear the pastor’s sermon, respond to the altar call etc. This makes it so that the pastor is the only one doing the evangelizing, when in fact we are all called to do it (Ephesians 4:11-16).
Let’s call this traditional formula, the addition method. You see, we look at the “3000 added daily” and we think to ourselves, “Wow, it would be great to have that many people coming to our church!” because we’ve grown up with this idea that more bodies in the church pews means healthier, better, stronger church.
But what if there is another method? Something that doesn’t have to replace this original method, but needs to supplement it (because it’s more about both/and than it is either/or). What if I told you that you can evangelize without the person you are telling about Jesus ever coming to your church? I’m not suggesting they won’t go to church or shouldn’t, just saying that they may not end up in your church building.
One of the last things Jesus tells his disciples to do is “go into all the world and make disciples” We call this the great commission. In Acts 8, Phillip does just this when an angel tells him to meet an Ethiopian man traveling the road from Jerusalem to Gaza.
We don’t know at exactly what mile down the road, out of the sixty or so, Philip met this Ethiopian and shared the gospel with him. However, I like to think that maybe God whisked Phillip away in the end of the story (Acts 8:39) because he had already walked so far. I guess I like this idea because it shows Philip’s commitment and God’s compassion.
Let me ask you a question. If you were walking through the hot desert for miles, would you feel like telling someone about Jesus? I wonder myself. You see, like most guys, “get in and get out” has often been my mantra when it comes to being out in public. Don’t talk to anyone, just do what you have to do. Maybe that is the fuel behind our church-dependence evangelism. We live in a society were we just don’t talk to anyone. Everyone minds their own business for fear of offending anyone else or we stare into our phones. We are more and less connected at the same time. So we let our pastor take care of evangelism, after all that is what they’re trained to do.
What if we thought differently? Just recently, I’ve been thinking about how God might be putting people in my path or how I can purposely see people again, such as the same barber, cashier, in what I would call being purposeful (and some others might call stalking). Yes, I am a pastor during the day (and sometimes night too), but more importantly, I am a follower of Jesus called to share the good news.
This is multiplication evangelism. It’s less concerned about adding people to your church and more concerned about people coming to know Jesus and then those same people telling others about Jesus, again whether they ever step foot inside your church or not. Do you think the Ethiopian man Philip shared the gospel with ended up going to Philip’s church or back to Ethiopia to share the gospel there? Follow up question, which do you think would have been more effective in sharing the faith with new believers?
Multiplication evangelism recognizes that you have the ability at anytime, anywhere to have spiritual conversations with people and that people, all people, have at some point or another wondered about God’s existence. If any conversation has potential, it’s this one! That is what I want my students to know, because at the end of the day, multiplication excels much faster than addition. 2×2 might be the same as 2+2 but things start to change quickly after that.
The idea that we have to get a friend to church in order for them know Jesus, often slows us down and prevents us from being prepared to multiply anytime, anywhere. A great example of this is in Matthew 17 when the disciples, after their failed attempt at driving out a demon, bring the young man to Jesus for healing. Jesus gets the job done, but His response to the disciples is sobering.
“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? (Matthew 17:17)
He goes on to tell them that if they had even the faith of a mustard seed they could have healed the boy themselves. The point is two-fold. First, we have to make sure that our faith is where it should be. Second, when it is, we no longer have to rely on bringing people to someone else to do the healing, evangelizing etc. Think about it. Which would be more effective? The disciples having to bring every person they encounter back to Jesus, or going out into all the world and being able to accomplish miracles with every step they took and every person in their path? Can you imagine what we could accomplish as mustard seed faith-believing disciples of Jesus? We wouldn’t have enough buildings for the amount of Christ followers there would be!