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Reaching People…Why it’s so Difficult Today

It’s much more difficult to reach the average American with the Gospel today than it was 50 years ago.

Let me illustrate with a variation of the Engle scale…popularized by Dr. James Engle decades ago.

“1” is a person with no faith and quite far in their journey to becoming a Christian.  

“10” is a person in whom the Spirit of God has worked through the Word to bring to faith in Jesus Christ.

In 1960, the “average” unbelieving person in America probably knew…

  • Some basics of the Christian faith, including the deity of Jesus.
  • Truth exists and the Bible is trustworthy.
  • Church, Christians, and leaders in a favorable way.
  • A positive experience of church in their own  background.
  • A sense of guilt when they broke fundamental laws…like a car hitting a curb.

Let’s put a 1960s average unbelieving person in America at an 8.

By comparison let’s put the average unbelieving American today at a “3.” Little explanation needed!

The Spirit can work through the Word anyway He wants. Right?  

Look at Acts!

  • Cornelius and his household
  • Lydia and her household
  • The jailer at Philippi

(All of them may have been closer to our 1960’s “8” than our 2024 “3.”)

So, the things that simply worked years ago—friendship Sunday, congregational evangelistic campaigns popular in the 1960s in my own denomination, invitations to Christmas Eve, Sunday school, the Sunday sermon, etc. They don’t work like they used to work.

Most churches keep acting like the world is full of 7s, 8s, or 9s.

Today, for the most part, it takes more time. Living in relationship longer. Demonstrating integrity and love…because there’s a longer journey across the scale!

That’s why it’s critical that churches think differently. That they…

  • Allow/expect their pastor and/or staff to spend time outside the church in relationships scattered across the scale.
  • Help members winsomely share the hope that is within them.
  • Create community outside the church where 4s, 5s, and 6s can share life with the 10s that love them. Like the Early Church. Like missional communities.

My wife Gail, an evangelist by my experience, patiently follows a simple pattern:

  • She listens to their story…including their place of brokenness.
  • She shares her own story…in a way that connects.
  • She shares the piece of God’s story that offers good news.

3s and 4s are sometimes nudged to 5s and 6s, and occasionally the Spirit brings someone to believe in Jesus.

Where there’s more sowing of the Word, there seems to be more moving of people by the Spirit.

  • thred is doing an amazing job of engaging Generation X and older millennials.  
  • Champions (like you) in the PLI family incorporate this into your regular rhythms.
  • And, 1,000 Young Leaders…some of the most wonderful young women and men… are being equipped and sent as indigenous missionaries to a generation that looks nothing like a 1960’s “8.” Any guesses on what the Spirit might do through this bunch?

James Emery White’s book Meet Generation Z introduced me to the scale of comparison.

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