Although all the chapters in Rico Tice’s new book Honest Evangelism are good, one chapter in particular stood out to me. It’s chapter 7, called “Getting started (or re-started).” It outlines the changes that have taken place in culture over the past few decades, and how this affects the way we evangelize.
Tice writes in the context of the United Kingdom. He argues — correctly, I think — that the U.K. is a couple of decades ahead of the United States in these trends.
In the 1950s, people generally believed “in a Creator God, the notion of sin, and in the truth that Jesus is God’s Son.” When people heard the gospel, many were ready to respond.
By the 1990s, people were hardening against Christianity. It was harder to get them to come to a special service, or to hear a visiting evangelist. Some blocks (objections to Christianity) had to be removed first before the gospel could gain a hearing. In particular, Tice describes four: Christians are weird; Christianity is untrue; Christianity is irrelevant; and Christianity is intolerant.
When people met Christians, saw the way that they lived, and heard answers to their intellectual issues, trust would build. People would then sometimes be willing to give the gospel a hearing.
Twenty years later, Tice says, “people are on a totally different road.” Our culture is now defined by tolerance and permissiveness. People no longer engage with faith in order to accept or reject it. They simply dismiss it out of hand.
As a result, Tice says, two things are true. First, witnessing takes time and effort:
Research suggests that when people put their faith in Christ, on average it’s taken two years from the point when they came into meaningful contact with a Christian who witnessed to them — and that time period is growing. Witnessing is a long-term commitment to invest in a relationship, to pray tirelessly, and to speak the gospel over and over again, patiently and persistently. It is a journey of gospel conversations. It really does take effort.
Second, it takes us bringing the gospel to them. “It’s harder and harder to take people to hear the Bible taught; you need to take the Bible to them…Evangelism takes time, and evangelism takes friendship.”
These are great insights, and they make a lot of sense to me. I would add an additional note, though. How do you plant a new church in light of these realities? You plant relationally, and you plant patiently.
- Plant relationally — Many will not come to a church event. Relationships are key in sharing the gospel.
- Plant patiently — Growth will probably not be rapid. Our expectations need to be realistic. We need to be in it for the long haul.
We need to be honest about how evangelism and church planting are changing. Both are still important; in fact, they are more important than ever. But they will both look different than they did even a few years ago.