I enthusiastically support any evangelism strategy (be it media-based such as MTM (Media to Movements) on inter-personal such as DMM (Discipleship Making Movements), etc). These initiatives, in turn, supporting and/or accelerating individuals becoming followers of Jesus and, turn, their engagement with local fellowships into which they may group themselves.
The following issues well-known to many. But, I outline them so my assumptions are clear as I seek to make the case:
- The God design (Genesis 2-3) was for man to live in relationship; with God, himself, others, the created order, and with eternity. Blown up by Adam and Eve’s decisions, Jesus came to restore relationships as expressly stated repeatedly in John chapters 13-17. As difficult as it is to accept, His credibility is affirmed or devalued by our relationships as believers. Therefore, inter-personal communications, when possible, trumps all other forms communications.
- The bulk of the ‘unreached’ are in traditional, relationally-intensive cultures as reflected in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and regional variants in China and Africa. This is in sharp contrast to the West where individualism is prized – and often shapes that nature of our evangelism-related communications.
- In traditional cultures the challenge of adoption of innovation or new ideas rises as the implications of the proposed innovation reflects on the family – immediate or extended – and the community in which the individual or family lives.
- Multiple passages in the book of Acts and Paul’s writings indicate the characteristics of the existing/emerging community of believers is central to the credibility of the Gospel and the likelihood of individual conversion.
- While communication was limited to inter-personal and slow-traveling letters, research into the explosive growth of the church up to +/- 300 AD strongly suggest it was due to the evident alternative the community of believers offered to and experienced by general society. The work of Michael Green, Robert Banks, and Rodney Stark all affirm this perspective. One asks: Is the pattern of influence in traditional, community-based cultures all that much different today?
- In such traditional contexts, research suggests that ‘mediated’ communication regarding high risk decisions can have significant potential in raising awareness/providing information on options. Then, a potential value role in affirming and educating individuals “post decision.” But, at the critical point of decision making, inter-personal relationships are critical.
- The importance of proximity, that is, the distance between “sender” and “receiver,” in communication has been widely studied. Again, is attested to by multiple passages in Scripture. With trust and credibility as key components, as the personal implications of the decision being considered rise, implications of proximity also rise.
- The advent and widespread adoption of social media has been a massive step forward in addressing issues such as proximity and geographic specificity of messaging. We can get ‘”closer” to our audience and be much more specific in where the message is seen or heard.
- The challenge of media roles in identifying seekers and/or individuals of peace who, in turn, become key factors in ‘movements’ or multiplication/replication of the local church has haunted the contemporary missions community for well over 50 years.
- Ultimately, the challenge is that a decision to become a Jesus follower in traditional culture always occurs in a highly personal, relationally-intensive context over which the media have little or no control. The words and images of media must be translated into flesh and blood.
This brief BBC News piece chronicles the implications of a Muslim to Christianity convert – in London.
Imagine the implications for a convert in a village in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. The stories of often horrific implications for converts are widespread.
So, I ask –
Do we believe that existing fellowships and their leaders are so constrained by y an environment of ‘survival’ that they have no potential for innovation and replication? So that in effect, we must make an ‘end run’ seeking “direct to seeker” strategies?
Interestingly, the years of emphasis in ‘evangelism strategies’ have focused heavily on the early stages (sowing, watering, reaping, discipleship, leadership training). As a result, questions have arisen such as; “If we were to focus on strengthening the local fellowships and their leaders as an engine of replication/church multiplication, what sort of content is needed?”
In 2018 that question was put t 75 North African national leaders at the Malta Blue Med conference. 55 leaders responded.
Based on their’ feedback regarding leadership of existing fellowships, the priorities would seem to be:
- Strengthening the local fellowship leaders’ quality of personal spiritual life and leadership skills.
- Giving them a vision for a healthy local fellowship vision for both personal discipleship and the qualities of the fellowship itself.
- Alerting them to and educating local leaders and their fellowships in ways they can provide relational covering/safety for serious “seekers” and new converts.
- Helping them move to a vision for and ideas about how their fellowship can move from fear to favor in their local context. Bringing evident value to their community and strengthening their credibility and potential impact.
- Giving the leaders and their fellowships a vision for and “how to” ways they can be an engine of replication – key elements in a ‘movement’ if you will.