Monday, September 1, 2008

The Tyranny of Evangelism

Sounds like a strange title when one considers how precious sharing our faith in Jesus Christ should be.

So let’s crunch some numbers to see how the church has historically done evangelistically. Alan Hirsch, “The Forgotten Ways”, says that at the end of the 1st century there were about 25,000 Christians in the world. By the end of the 3rd century there were about 20 million. These numbers literally turned the world upside down and made the Roman government of the day shake in their togas.

At around 40 A.D. there were at least 5,000 Christians in Jerusalem. So let’s see if each one, won two, how many times would this need to be repeated to get to 25,000.

40 A.D. 5,000
70 A.D. 10,000
100 A.D. 20,000

20,000 new converts + half of the 10,000 from 70 A.D. = 25,000

Every 30 years the church doubled. Meaning each person would have to win 2 people to the Lord every 30 years.

Let’s keep going for another 2 centuries. The rate of growth actually increased during this period of time.

122 A.D. 50,000
144 A.D. 100,000
166 A.D. 200,000
188 A.D. 400,000
210 A.D. 800,000
232 A,D. 1,600,000
254 A.D. 3,200,000
276 A.D. 6,400,000
298 A.D. 12,800,000

The church was now doubling, approximately every 22 years. Keep in mind they were doing this without any buildings and few, if any, paid clergy. In other words, the basic core identifiers of the Christian church today, which some would say are necessary for growth and discipleship, did not develop until after 325 A.D., under the reign of Constantine.

The world population is estimated to be between 200-300 million during that time. It's growth was relatively modest until 1600 A.D., when it reached 580 million.

If the growth of Christianity had remained consistent beyond 325 A.D., the entire population of the world would have been Christian within less than 100 years.

The genius of Constantine to curtail the impact of Christianity on his empire was to legalize it, pen it up in buildings, and create a paid clergy. Paid clergy ensured that men would fight for power, position and wealth. It was around 380 A.D. that the church began to persecute itself.

So how have we been doing this past century?

I’m using David Barrett numbers from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.
560 million confessing Christians in 1900. Today there are 2.2 billion.

If the church had doubled every 30 years, the whole world would now be Christian. Doubling simply means one person, reaching two people, within 30 years.

1900 A.D. 560,000,000
1930 A.D. 1,120,000,000
1960 A.D. 2,240,000,000
1990 A.D. 4,480,000,000

What does this mean?

Billions and billions have been spent. Lots of guilt has been heaped on people and yet… the dynamic growth of the early church is missing. The rate of 1 person reaching 2 people has slowed down to every 50 years.

Some would say, "See, that's why we need professionals to get the job done." The average Christian doesn't care enough about others to even win one person to Christ, never mind the astronomical number of 2.

But here's another way to understand these numbers. The vast majority of Christians have never been released in such a way that they will reach even one person for Christ.

The early church grew at a much faster rate without the aid of mass communication techniques, professionals and beautiful buildings.

Billions of dollars have been spent and any dissenting voice to the cost is smothered up because we need to reach the lost. At last count, it cost $330,000 to reach one person for Christ. (see the David Barrett numbers as noted earlier)

It would seem that the idea of every Christian being equipped to be able to reach and disciple two others for Christ in their lifetime, has been abandoned in favor of modern day evangelistic preaching.

Since the early church only grew at the rate of doubling every 22 years, why are Christians often hammered at or made to feel guilty from pulpits about the need to "reach the lost."

The truth may be more surprising about how we are to live our lives. Instead of focusing on evangelism, maybe we should make it much simpler.

Stop holing up in divisive groups giving lip service to the need to reach our world.
(The catch phrase for let's build something big to bring glory to ourselves.)

Take the money we spend on pastors and buildings and share generously with our neighbors and the poor.

Stop terrorizing Christians with the need to "reach the lost" today. Performance and/or guilt, (mechanisms of control) is the only outcome when weekly or monthly evangelism is emphasized. Speed and numbers is only important to the person trying to make a name for themselves or to justify a pay cheque. Sadly, this technique seems to work for a short period of time. But when the personality driving this technique leaves, people are left with lots of guilt and little love for each other.

Let's not forget that Jesus didn't do much till he was thirty.
The performance preaching that tries to "guilt"everyone into evangelizing would have labeled Jesus as a slug because he was not using his giftings to their maximum.

Stop trying to evangelize people into a particular sect of Christianity. That smacks of cult like practices.

Maybe, we could even help the poor without the heavy administrative price tags that are generally associated with this kind of care. 95% for administration is not unusual for organized groups.

Who knows: we might even surprise our neighbors with Christ's love that is in our hearts.

Many people have outright rejected organized church and in so doing, have mistakenly associated Jesus with some of its shenanigans. The message of Jesus was love him and love others. His message was never join some organized, religious group. Sadly many people who are "doing evangelism" don't realize this and continue to alienate people from Jesus by trying to get them into their fold.

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