A month ago, I conducted an unofficial survey at our evening service. To the 40-50 people in the room I asked the following three questions. First, I asked how many of them were led to Christ by a family member or close friend. Roughly half the hands in the room went up. Next, I asked how many of them were led to Christ through a regular ministry of the church like Sunday School or VBS. The other half of the hands in the room went up. Then I asked how many people responded to the gospel at an evangelistic event like a revival meeting, evangelistic crusade, or community outreach event. Four hands went up. Four.
What does this mean? It means that only 10% of the people in our church came to Christ at an evangelistic event, while the other 90% were brought to Christ by someone they were in relationship with. And Forest Baptist is not a statistical anomaly. This is how most studies say people respond to the gospel.
So why is it that most churches focus their energies on doing evangelistic programs when that only effectively reaches the 10%? Now don’t get me wrong. I think having some well planned evangelistic events is a good thing. After all, that is how 10% of Christians are coming to a saving knowledge of Christ. We do not want to lose that voice. Yet it should not be the primary voice in gospel proclamation.
Most people who respond to the gospel do so because someone they know explained it to them. They listen to these people because they trust them, have seen the power of the gospel in their lives, and have experienced their love in practical ways. Most people must see the results of gospel before they will accept the propositions of the gospel. This means that we must be engaging with unsaved people regularly, welcoming them into our lives and showing them how our faith shapes our actions. Actions do not replace gospel proclamation, yet they do give credence to our words.
We see this approach to evangelism being played out in the life of the disciples. In John 1:35-51 we see an elaborate chain of evangelism taking place. John the Baptist sees Jesus and proclaims to the crowd (vs. 36) Behold the Lamb of God! Two of his disciples (people who were in close relationship with him) heard his declaration and began to follow Jesus. They were Jesus’ first followers, and they followed Him because of the witness of John the Baptist.
One of these first converts was Andrew, who immediately went to his brother and told him (vs. 41) we have found the Messiah. Peter came to Christ through the witness of his brother Andrew.
The chain goes on. The next day Jesus calls Philip to follow Him. Although this seems like a cold call, a careful reading of the text reveals that it was not. In verse 44 we learn that Philip was from the same town as Andrew and Peter. When Philip speaks to Nathaniel later in text he says we have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote. Who is the we? It is Peter and Andrew. This helps explain Philip’s willingness to respond to Jesus’ call. People he was in relationship with were already following Jesus.
Then there is Nathaniel. After accepting Christ’s call, Philip finds Nathaniel and proclaims the gospel to him. Nathaniel was skeptical at first (vs. 46) yet comes to meet Christ simply because Philip, a man he trusted, invited him. Once he was introduced to Christ, he also believed. He came skeptically, yet he came anyway because he trusted Philip.
In this chapter five people respond to Jesus with saving faith. All five responded because someone they were in relationship with told them who Jesus was. Salvation is ultimately God’s work, yet He uses His people to accomplish His work for His glory. This is why Jesus calls us to be His witnesses (Lk. 24:48; Acts 1:8).
God has created us for relationship…relationship with Him and relationship with each other. It should therefore be no surprise that God’s primary way of bringing people to a saving knowledge of Himself is through relationships rather than events. This remains true today even in our entertainment filled, media driven culture.
If this is true, then what are you and I doing to build relationships with non-Christians so that we can tell them about a gracious God who loved them so much that He sent His only begotten Son to die on the cross so that anyone who believes in Him might not perish but have every lasting life? Effective gospel outreach into a community happens because Christians permeate the community with the hope of the gospel. They show people the love of Christ and then take opportunity to speak about their hope in Christ when God opens an opportunity for them to do so. This is God’s normal means of saving people. This is how 90% of us came to our understanding of the gospel.
So who do you know that does not believe in Jesus, and what are you doing to invite them to meet Jesus?