Is commitment harder than it used to be?
Resisting gym and phone contracts, and contracts generally. Posting a “Don’t Know” Facebook RSVP instead of a hard “Yes” or “No”. Cohabiting before marriage (“trying each other out”) – even when the research says it makes us more divorce-prone. Today becomes a beta test for the tomorrow that never actually materialises.
As I’ve written elsewhere, keeping our options open seems to be one of the gods of our age. And churches often experience it when they invite friends to evangelistic courses such as Christianity Explored (CE).
One course leader at a large church told me that when they first started running CE over a decade ago, the average weekly attendance was around 120 people. Now it’s hovering around the 40-50 mark. Why? One reason is that many non-Christians – not to mention Christians who could be course leaders – are uneasy about committing to a course, even if it’s a relatively short one.
How should we respond?
One Christian may answer, “We should stop expecting commitment, and quit running courses. It’s unrealistic. Most people aren’t coming. Nagging church members to invite their friends is a guilt-trip, and being declined is a morale-killer.”
Another Christian says, “No, they need to change, not us. If we stop running evangelistic courses at our church, that’s giving in to the culture. So we’ll keep running the courses. If we build it, they will come.”
I want to propose another way forward, one which acknowledges the cultural shift without capitulating to it.
What if you asked your non-Christian friend if they’d be willing to do Christianity Explored with you, one-to-one, one-by-one?
I mean something like this. You go and meet with your friend at a time and place to suit them. And the agreement is that you’ll take each session one at a time, with the option to bail at any point. If they decide after the first session that they don’t want to do it anymore, that’s fine – there’s no awkwardness, no obligation to continue.What if you asked your friend if they’d be willing to do Christianity Explored with you, one-to-one, one-by-one? Click To Tweet
I can think of at least six benefits to this approach, benefits that larger, centralised courses don’t enjoy:
- instead of expecting people to “come and hear”, we “go and tell” the gospel. Isn’t that the impetus of the Great Commission anyway?
- you overcome your friend’s aversion to a longer commitment by only suggesting a single get-together, to see how it goes.
- the times and places where you meet are as flexible as you are. Would your friend be more likely to agree if they knew you’d be meeting with them on their own turf? During a lunch hour, rather than during the evening?
- the setup and prep time is minimal. It’s just you and a friend, watching a short film on a phone/tablet/laptop/TV, and looking at Jesus in Mark’s Gospel together. You’re done in less than an hour; much less if you want to watch the film separately before you arrive.
- if one of you can’t make your usual time one week, it’s no biggie. You just reschedule, and pick up where you left off.
- you can give your attention wholly to the concerns and questions of your friend, going at a pace to suit them. And they get to focus wholly on the gospel, with fewer distractions.
What if a number of Christians in your church did this? Rather than a big push once or twice a year, imagine if, at any given time, there were multiple one-to-one CE courses being run all over your neighbourhood? Not centrally organised, but ad hoc?
It’s not a bad idea to run larger evangelistic programmes centrally in our church buildings. There are good reasons to do it, not least because it introduces people to the essential, communal, “one another” nature of following Christ.
So I’m proposing a “both…and” approach.
There’ll be some friends who’ll gladly come to our church building for a Christianity Explored course, be excited to meet with a crowd of strangers, and be happy to block out one evening a week for seven weeks.
But there’ll be many who won’t. Is your non-Christian friend one of them?