I tried. I really did. When I was a young man I tried to use those “evangelism in a can” methods of outreach. We were trained on how to use them to go out, find people to study with, sit down with them and go through the information. At the end of the lesson there was always a question (or several) that asked if, on the basis of the information they had been given, they would like to be baptized. Some would but most would not (I was eager but probably not too persuasive). We made arrangements to baptize the “converted” and asked the others to continue in thought and prayer about their decision. It was all well and good. The information was biblical with a strong Church of Christ leaning application. The presentation was cordial and conversation kept polite without arguing too passionately on the areas where we might disagree. All in all I would say the interaction was…clinical and academic. In retrospect it is not hard to see why people seldom responded as we hoped they would.
Far too long our ‘go to’ strategy for outreach/evangelism/discipleship has focused on disseminating information to people we barely know or don’t know at all. While there is nothing wrong with knocking on doors or inviting the community into our facilities for meals and events, that kind of strategy has yielded unsatisfactory returns for decades. The reason is that this strategy routes us around the very thing that allows people to genuinely see Jesus in us. That thing is – relationship.
Jesus and his disciples used the information blast method as well but it was not their ‘go to’ strategy. They preferred relationships. They wanted to serve those with needs, to heal the sick and wounded and to do life with those who followed. They got their hands dirty and not only told people of the Kingdom of God but led them there and allowed them to experience it with them.
We will rarely be successful in making disciples by merely teaching people what we know about Jesus. They will want to see our faith working through us. They will seldom respond to the challenge to “dig a little deeper” or to “read their Bibles and do what it says” if they don’t know that people of faith will be there whether they respond with increased faith or not. We can’t expect people to leave the support of the world and a lifestyle they know (regardless of how dysfunctional) if they don’t know we will be there for them regardless. We need to stop being afraid we’ll get messy. As disciples we are asked to meet people where they are and lead them to the kingdom.
As you plan to make disciples, rather than relying on the hope of meeting someone new why not start with someone you know. Begin praying for people you now know who have “messy lives” and ask God to reach them through you.