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UnChristian 04 GET SAVED

“Although Mosaics and Busters generally resonate with spiritual topics, they don’t like feeling “cornered” into conversations about faith. A generation reared in a marketing-drenched world is quick to sniff out what they believe to be the underlying motivations and superficialities.”

There is a plus and minus to the spirit of the age among these younger generations say Kinnaman and Lyons, on the one hand they’re ready and open to discuss spiritual matters, but on the flip side they don’t want to be driven toward a ‘hard sale’ kind of conversion. Part of what makes them weary to buy into the ‘hard sale’ is that they seen shifty sales tactics before in the world of consumerism around them and they’ve been trained to hold out for the best. They can deconstruct us better than we realize, they understand the myths many of us buy into in evangelism tactics and techniques. This is perhaps the most helpful part of Kinnaman and Lyons chapter, the part where they list the leading myths we buy into and what they fall short. Here they are;

1. The best evangelism efforts are those that reach the most people at once. In response to this myth K & L say the most effective efforts of sharing ones faith are interpersonal and relational.

2. Anything that brings people to Christ is worth doing. While K & L acknowledge you can’t put a price tag on a persons’ soul they also believe we’re called to be driven not by numbers but by stewardship of the image of God we bear.

3. We cannot worry about the possibility of offending people when sharing the truth about Jesus.  The offense of the cross is not an open door to offending people at all cost, the cross offends but often times they don’t get to see the cross because they don’t get beyond our own personal offensiveness.

4. People embrace Christianity because of logical arguments. While acknowledging that some people do come to Christ through logical argumentation K & L say that statistically the greatest percentage (69%) of people say they come to Christ because it “feels right to them personally”.

5. Everyone has an equal chance of becoming a Christ follower.  For K & L they say this simply isn’t so, only six out of a hundred people accept Christ after the age of 18.

6. We just need to help outsiders find a connection with God. K & L say experience and feeling are two separate but related things, young people are weary of ’emotional leverages’ because they don’t want to be manipulated.

(I should stop here and say that I’ve noticed in other Barna books that there is a tendency to read issues, raise questions, etc. from a more Arminian or Anabaptist trajectory than a Reformed one. Its worth pointing out, its impossible to be theologically non-committed in researching trends in the church. Noting this now aside, I don’t think this should be seen as a weakness, rather it should be seen as either a point of difference or shared interest depending on the tradition ones reading their materials from.)

Now at this point you may be scratching your head and saying, “Do outsiders really have that good a read on us?” Yes, they most certainly do. And why? Because they’ve “been there, done that” and quiet ironically at times “they have the T-shirt” to prove it 🙂 What the Church has to come to grips with is that in these Mosaics and Busters between the ages of 16-29 more than half have been involved in a church for a least a few months. As K & L say, ” This leads to the sobering finding that the vast majority of outsiders in this country, particularly among young generations are actually de-churched individuals.” K & L say American Christianity is wide but not deep, and their answer to the defeater of ‘Get Saved-ianity!’ is ‘Get Discipled-ianity’. The chart below compares these younger generations with the older Boomer generations, one of the startling findings of the Barna group is that only 3% of 18-41 year old possess a clear biblical worldview.

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Its not hard to guess what K & L do with this data, their response? Superficial faith must be confronted – but how? First, we need to be real with where we’re at as a Church, there is a superficiality crises in our midst. Second, we need to do a little deconstructing of our own, starting with the concept of conversion [I’m choosing this term, they did not, but I think its appropriate].

“Intentionally or not, we promote the idea to outsiders that being a Christ follower is primarily about the mere choice to convert. We do not portray it as an all-out, into-the-kingdom enlistment that dramatically influences all aspects of life…In a get-saved culture, too many of the conversions become either “aborted” believers or casual Christians. How do we convey to people both the gravity and buoyancy of the decision to follow Christ?”

According to K & L they way out of all this is to pursue spiritual formation, or a more holistic approach to understanding conversion than we have. This involves seven items: 1) worshiping God intimately and passionately; 2) engaging in spiritual friendships with other believers; 3) pursuing faith in the context of family; 4) embracing intentional forms of spiritual growth; 5) serving others; 6) investing time and resources in spiritual pursuits; and 7) having faith-based conversations with outsiders. These seven items flow out from having clear outcomes in mind in the spiritual formation process, particularly thinking (needs deepening), loving (needs widening), and listing (needs softening) to God and others.

Bringing people to a place where spiritual formation can be encouraged and deepened doesn’t ‘just happen’, it takes intentionality on our part, which is itself built upon God’s shepherding care. I think they captured this well when they said, “When people become Christians, we must describe appropriate expectations for them; engage them in significant, accountable relationships and fashion environments where deep life change can take place.” Whats called for in today’s church climate is a careful maneuvering between the dangerous waters of ‘minimal resistance’ evangelism, and ‘in your face’ evangelism. So what does this dredged pathway look like? “…cultivating relationships with people and developing environments that facilitate deep spiritual transformation.”

The chapter closes out with three brief pieces by Chuck Colson, Andy Stanley, and Rick McKinley.

Further Thoughts:

One of the things that has surprised me as I’m moving along through K & L’s book is the percentages of people who’ve been in a church community or profess faith. It surprises me because one of my favorite descriptors of the current context of the Church’s mission in North America is Post-Christian. At first glimpse the percentages seem to take the spinach away my Popeye category and leave me scratching my head. BUT rather than these percentages leading you or I away from the notion that our culture is Post-Christian I think they ought to remind us just what it means for North America to be Post-Christian…its not the same as Europe…its Christianity-lite to borrow a phrase from Dick Staub. Its increasingly de-churched society getting angry, indifferent, and dismissive all at once at a church who’s image is anything by ‘Christian’ and who’s gospel looks like ‘total victory’ in Texas, ‘666’ in Miami, ‘morality’ in Atlanta, and ‘only social renovation’ in many burgeoning cities. Post-Christianity in America is not marked by the absence of something claiming the identity of the church, rather its marked by something that isn’t the church being branded and sold as though it were the church. We’re selling God as Twitchell has critiqued us as doing.

Something else I wanted to say was how much I appreciated seeing Michael Green’s suggestion that evangelism contextual methods must address the ‘feelings’ of postmodern man more than the thoughts or utilitarian interests find another witness here in K & L’s research. This does not mean the gospel gets swallowed up in the vacuous hole that the 21st century persons BPD’s history has created, but it does mean that part of presenting the gospel will mean developing a deeper relationship with the person your ministering to, which will also entail a more incarnational form of evangelism whereby things like counseling rather than proselytizing will begin to be reclaimed as the priestly right and charge of every believer…resources like CCEF and Peace Makers are bound to grow in their use and service to the body in this new and exciting climate. I found my own series on Evangelism at East Lanier to tie in very nicely with some of their concerns…