Relationships matter, and so does being intentional in evangelism

Faithbridge’s Samuel Craig, Sr. (left) shares with Robert, a McKees Rocks resident, at the Good News Place.

When I came to Christ I was taught direct, sometimes confrontational, approaches to sharing the gospel.

Initially I was taught to lay the groundwork for the Roman Road method by asking folks, “Do you know what would happen to you if you were to die today,” and I took to it as taught.

I led teams of young believers out to San Diego’s Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, downtown to the trolley stops, to Fashion Valley mall, where we sprung that question on many folks. The vast majority of folks tolerated us, some engaged in longer conversations and debate, and, over time, a couple of folks listened hungrily to a presentation of the gospel, prayed with us and made a profession of faith.

Then I saw my dear friend Tom Wilkins come to Christ. Tom and I were in college together, both unsaved at the time, and bonded, two aspiring writers looking for someone as excited about prose as our own hearts were.

I came to Christ shortly after that season of my life. Tom would let me talk about my faith, but he wasn’t there yet. He had other friends who’d begun their journey with Christ and were sharing with him and praying, but he had both intellectual doubts and, I believe, a deeper barrier created by losing both of his parents as a teen.

Over time, Tom would ask questions, voice objections, and listen. Just as importantly, he’d talk about Padres baseball, go to writer’s group meetings with friends of varied beliefs, and attend games, concerts and events with me.

In other words, his encounter with the gospel wasn’t just words on a street corner. He watched the early days of my personal transformation, realized that I didn’t grow three heads or insist that he be like me in order to warrant my attention. We were friends and I valued him as a person.

Eventually, Tom came to Christ, and honored me by asking me to be the one who baptized him. I was, and remain, thrilled. Last year, approaching 50, Tom finished seminary and serves at a church in Yuma, Arizona.

When my family moved to Pennsylvania, our initial efforts at “cold call” evangelism weren’t met with tolerance. They were rebuffed, often rudely, sometimes with menace. We were outsiders in a town that had seen lots of ministries set up shop only to disappear in short order as they found the populace tough and reticent.

The old saying is that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care, so we hit the brakes and started building relationships within our neighborhood. It was a slow slog, but it bore fruit. Cold call evangelism was replaced with “relational evangelism” and many folks have come to Christ. We’ve baptized 175 folks from our community, and are seeing God do much.

But, over time, there was a problem. As we engaged in, and taught, relational evangelism, we found that many of our folks were only practicing the relational part. They’d gain friends, but shy away from sharing the gospel. This really hit home when one of our folks was shattered at the unexpected death of a neighbor they’d befriended.

“I kept meaning to share Jesus with her,” my brother in Christ told me, “but the time never seemed right. She knew I was active at Faithbridge, and I’m pretty sure I invited her to come, but I always felt awkward, waiting for the ‘right time’ to share the gospel.”

I started asking folks, and sure enough, heard again and again how people had gained friends by being intentional about befriending people, but fear of upsetting their friend or losing the friendship served as a barrier to sharing the gospel.

The message was loud and painfully clear, so I shifted focus some and really emphasized the importance of being intentional with both the “relational” and “evangelism” parts of relational evangelism.

For some folks, who have almost a phobic reluctance to share the gospel, I’ve stressed the importance of inviting or bringing their new friend to church events and worship. Getting them to an event like a cookout gives some other believers a chance to also befriend their new friend, which means someone more confident in sharing the Good News may get a chance. I’m confident that If they can get them to worship, they’ll hear the gospel.

Cold call conversations still happen sometimes, as God leads and creates opportunity – mostly on public transportation and when someone in crisis is sent to the church – but even our most diehard advocates of the approach admit that as a primary system of evangelism for Faithbridge it’s been a pretty dry well.

Our initial read that relational evangelism would be necessary and prove fruitful was solid, but we needed to apply our tradition of “constant assessment” to it as we do with the majority of what we do. In truth, I was blind to the shortcoming, and it should have been assessed earlier.

Emphasizing evangelical intentionality with our folks has stoked the fire and landed the importance of loving others beyond our natural aversion to risk in our newest relationships.

Folks waiting at the Good News Place for  lunch, which is served free Mon-Friday.

This intentionality among the church family, as well as helping instill the same mindset at the Good News Place, a local Christian storefront we’re partnering with, has resulted in a big uptick in Sunday attendance – we recently added another service – and God has used it to draw several folks to salvation.

Study: Relationship building good, more discipleship needed

NASHVILLE (BP) — Building relationships with other believers seems to come naturally to Protestant churchgoers. But a new study, released Wednesday (May 8), finds that for many those relationships are built apart from Bible study and spiritual growth.

The 2019 Discipleship Pathway Assessment study from LifeWay Research found 78 percent of Protestant churchgoers say they have developed significant relationships with people at their church, including 43 percent who strongly agree. Fewer than 1 in 10 disagree (8 percent), while 14 percent neither agree nor disagree.

The survey of Protestant churchgoers identifies building relationships as one of eight signposts that consistently show up in the lives of growing Christians. The survey, conducted Jan. 14–29, is part of the 2019 Discipleship Pathway Assessment, a larger study identifying traits of Christian discipleship.

“In an American culture in which significant relationships are hard to form, most churchgoers have had at least some success at making friends at church,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “But the majority aren’t as confident as they could be about the significance of those relationships.”

While there is no evidence of a gender divide in developing significant relationships at church, age does play a role in the likelihood someone has strong friendships at church. More than 4 in 10 churchgoers 65 and older (46 percent) strongly agree they have significant relationships within the congregation compared to 38 percent of 18-34-year-olds.

Unsurprisingly, those who attend worship services more frequently — four times a month or more — are more likely to confirm strongly they have developed such relationships than those who attend less frequently (47 percent to 33 percent).

Relationships, not discipleship

Fewer churchgoers, however, are intentionally leveraging their relationships with other believers to help them grow in their faith. Fewer than half of churchgoers (48 percent) agree with the statement, “I intentionally spend time with other believers to help them grow in their faith.” This includes 19 percent who strongly agree. The same number (19 percent) disagree.

“There is a different element to relationships at church that the majority of churchgoers haven’t prioritized,” McConnell said. “One of the ways a believer shows they have love for God is by investing in other believers. The relationship isn’t just about mutual interests; it is about proactively being interested in the faith of others.”

While older churchgoers (65 and older) are more likely to say they have significant relationships, they are less likely to strongly agree they intentionally spend time with other believers to help them grow (13 percent). Young adults (18 to 34) are the most likely to strongly agree they are intentional about investing time in the spiritual growth of others (26 percent).

Hispanics (32 percent) are more likely to strongly agree than African Americans (22 percent), whites (17 percent) or churchgoers of other ethnicities (17 percent).

Black Protestants (24 percent) and evangelicals (21 percent) are significantly more likely than mainline Protestants (12 percent) to agree strongly they are intentional about spending time to help others grow spiritually.

While many churchgoers aren’t seeking to spend time with others to help them grow, they aren’t spending time with a small group that could benefit their own personal discipleship either.

According to the survey, 35 percent of churchgoers attend a class or small group four or more times in a typical month. Fourteen percent attend two to three times a month. Nearly 4 in 10 (38 percent) Protestant churchgoers do not attend a class or small group in a typical month, while 13 percent attend once a month.

“For much of church history, small groups or classes have been one of the most effective ways churches offer for attendees to connect with others, study the Bible and serve together,” McConnell. “This avenue of seeking God together is both relational and devotional.”

White churchgoers (41 percent) are more likely to say they never attend a small group of some kind than African Americans (35 percent) and Hispanics (26 percent).

Mainline Protestants (48 percent) are more likely never to attend a small group than black Protestants (36 percent) and evangelicals (35 percent).

Blessed are the peacemakers

In the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), one group of people Jesus described as “blessed” are the peacemakers. Half of churchgoers (49 percent) say they intentionally try to make peace at church, including 24 percent who strongly agree.

Nearly 4 in 10 are noncommittal (38 percent), while 13 percent say they aren’t trying to be peacemakers.

“As Jesus prayed about His future followers, His priority was their unity,” McConnell said. “It takes work to keep the peace among a group of people. Stepping in to make that happen benefits everyone in the church.”

Younger churchgoers (28 percent) are most likely to strongly agree they intentionally try to be a peacemaker.

Hispanic (34 percent) and African American churchgoers (32 percent) are more likely than white churchgoers (19 percent) to strongly agree they try to bring peace at church.

Black Protestants (32 percent) are most likely to strongly agree they try to be peacemakers followed by evangelicals (24 percent) and mainline Protestants (16 percent).

Building relationships is one of eight signposts measured in the Discipleship Pathway Assessment and addressed in LifeWay’s Bible Studies for Life curriculum. For more information, visit DiscipleshipPathwayAssessment.com.

Methodology

The online survey of 2,500 Protestant churchgoers was conducted Jan. 14–29. Respondents were screened to include those who identified as Protestant/non-denominational and attend religious services at least once a month. Quotas and slight weights were used to balance gender, age, region, ethnicity, income and denominational affiliation. The completed sample is 2,500 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 2.0 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.


LifeWay Research is a Nashville-based evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect churches. For more information on the study, visit LifeWayResearch.com or view the complete report.

Aaron Earls is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.

‘Dave says’ You always need an emergency fund

Dear Dave,

I’ll be retiring in the next couple of years. When I leave my job, we will have a yearly income of $65,000 through my pension. I don’t think we need an emergency fund with such a dependable, steady income stream like that, but my wife disagrees. She says she would feel safer if we had money set aside just for the unexpected. What do you think we should do?

Gary

Dear Gary,

A good pension can feel pretty solid, but nothing’s perfect. Nothing lasts forever. There’s always the possibility of lost income or large, unexpected expenses. What if one of you has a major medical event? Life can bite you at any time, and sometimes it will take a big financial chunk out of you. You need an emergency fund!

I recommend an emergency fund of three to six months of expenses. Put it in a good money market account with check writing privileges and a decent interest rate. That way, your money will work for you a little bit. With a solid pension like you’re talking about, you could probably lean toward the three-month side, if you wanted. Honestly though, I’d save up six months of expenses—just in case.

Trust me, a fully funded emergency fund will make you both feel better. Plus, it can turn a disaster into nothing more than an inconvenience!

—Dave


Dear Dave,

The school system I work for puts 12 percent of my pay into a public teacher retirement fund, and they match this amount. I’ve seen where you tell people to put 15 percent of their income toward retirement. If that’s the case, should I put three percent into another retirement fund? I have no debt and very little in terms of expenses. Or, what would you think about the idea of opening another retirement account at a full 15 percent of what I make?

Patti

Dear Patti,

I wouldn’t go as far as to pour an additional 15 percent into a different retirement plan, but I would consider putting maybe eight to 10 percent into a Roth IRA. I want you to have some money that’s separate from the school system account, just in case things go south with their retirement fund.

It sounds like you’ve got a pretty good pension plan, but you never know what might happen. I’m not predicting bad things, but at the same time there’s no way I’d lean on the school system fund as my one and only source of retirement income. You should never put all your financial eggs in one basket!

—Dave

* Dave Ramsey is CEO of Ramsey Solutions. He has authored seven best-selling books, including The Total Money Makeover. The Dave Ramsey Show is heard by more than 16 million listeners each week on 600 radio stations and multiple digital platforms. Follow Dave on the web at daveramsey.com and on Twitter at @DaveRamsey.