A Message From the Unchurched

(This article originally appeared in the August 2016 edition of the Baptist Courier.)

It’s been an exciting few days here at the Amplify Conference at Wheaton College.  Ed Stetzer designed this inaugural conference “to lead the conversation in evangelism and then implement the renewal of evangelism in our local churches.”  I attended on behalf of Anderson University and at the invitation of Dr. Stetzer to serve as a scholar/fellow this week at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.  In the next few weeks, I will continue to reflect on the truths shared by the speakers and break out leaders regarding evangelism in the local church; however, I cannot wait to share with you a study of the unchurched released this week by Lifeway Research and the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.

The study occurred right before the summer of this year.  It involved 2000 unchurched Americans from all over the United States.  The researchers asked these unchurched people a number of questions related to the gospel and the effectiveness of evangelism in our churches.  I share just a few results and reflections in the following paragraphs.

Of the 2000 unchurched Americans participating in the study, seventy-one percent of them (1420 people) said that no one had ever shared with them how to become a Christian.  Friends, many of us in the church frequently speak of being “missional” and “gospel-centered;” however, the research from this study coupled with the statistics related to declines in conversion and baptisms in our churches indicate that we talk a good talk regarding sharing the gospel, but few of us are doing it.  We need to repent of this grievous sin against the Lord’s command in the Great Commission and begin to share the gospel with people frequently, fervently, and individually through personal evangelism..  Pastors must take the lead in evangelism, or our people will never do it. (I’ll address pastors as leaders in evangelism in next month’s column.)

Regarding tolerance to friends sharing their faith, seventy-nine percent of the unchurched people surveyed said that they did not mind their friends talking about their faith if it’s important to them.  So the overwhelming majority of our unchurched friends, assuming we have them, are open to hearing us talk about our relationship with Christ simply because they know it is important to us.  This openness to hear the heart of a friend regarding his/her faith should go both ways and provides fertile soil upon which the gospel can be planted, cultivated, and harvested.  In the words of Christ, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”(Matthew 9:37-38 ESV)

I encourage you to take a look at this study on the unchurched and pray how God can use its results in your efforts to reach them.  My comments above focus on only two results from the unchurched surveyed.  I will focus in the coming months on a few more reflections regarding its results and how they might influence our efforts at personal evangelism in our local churches.

 

Tim McKnight has 21 years of experience in ministry. He served in youth ministry for 12 years and in the pastorate for 9 years. In addition, Dr. McKnight served as an infantry chaplain in the U.S. Army, deploying on Operations Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom in 2001. He earned his Ph.D. in Evangelism, with additional studies in missions and church history, from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He co-founded Carolina Family Planning Centers and founded Twin Vision Consultants, a church consultation team that helps congregations become healthy and growing churches. He has also served as a disaster relief chaplain in multiple settings in recent years, including in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake and Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina. He now serves at Anderson University as Assistant Professor of Youth Ministry and Missions.

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