Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Puppy Eyes Don't Evangelize

The college campus is a place of eternal youth, where you are an "old man" at 25. Stroll through the cauldron of culture at your own risk. Frisbees fly by your head. Bikes barrel down the path before you, begging you to play chicken with their rotating rubber weapons. Two young lovers rub noses on the park bench, oblivious to the heat, rain, snow, or whatever elements may surround them.

It is in this environment my wife and I landed to do ministry in 1999. What better place to share the gospel! I was inspired by hearing Bill Bright say on multiple occasions, "If you change the campus, you change the world." How true. Most of our political and business leaders were reared on the University bottle. But the task of reaching the campus was not simple. Eighteen-year olds would stand in line to sign up for a credit card and a complimentary 2-liter, yet walk right past our free pizza.

But we were not the only old dogs on campus. Other groups also tried to share the gospel to these young, open-minded men and women. One group owned a building in the heart of the campus, and their evangelism seemed to consist of standing outside the building and inviting people inside. Various tactics were employed; impromptu volleyball games and free food, both with a heavy dose of sad puppy eyes that cried "won't you come inside… please?" Most students learned to steer clear of that building by week three of their freshman year.

The ministry we served with had no building, so we worked hard to mingle with the students on their territory. In the cafeteria, in the gym, outside of classrooms, in the student center, wherever they gathered, we were there getting to know them, hunting them down, receiving their "who is this old guy?" looks with joy.

One observation has stuck with me from that experience: Buildings are not a good ministry strategy. Sure they have some value, but it seems that merely owning a building creates an unhealthy dependence upon that building.

How shocking when we arrived at a new church and heard the constant refrain to "invite someone to church with you." Why was this the primary evangelistic strategy? Don't they know it does not work! Sure, people may come to the building, but they need something more than a sermon to experience change. Think about the state of our culture: there is an unprecedented amount of information available. People are seeking help for their marriages and life in a wide variety of places.

But even with all that is available, the problem remains. Families are still struggling. A recent poll showed that 44% of women consider leaving their husbands occasionally, some daily. The Census Bureau reports that 6.4 million couples are cohabiting, up from 1 million in 1980.

Lots of information is available, but information alone is not enough to bring about transformation. I know plenty about the negative effects of cheesecake on my waistline, but I still eat it. Smokers cannot avoid the Surgeon General's abundant warnings, yet people still smoke. Information is not bad; it is just an incomplete solution. If information is not enough, then what is it that people need

· Engagement with other people around the Scriptures.

· Experience and wisdom from other couples.

· Encouragement to persevere.

· Examples of success.

Bottom line: People need relationships, and one of the best places for people to experience relationships is in a small group setting. People are starving for relationships. Because of this hunger, many people that would never enter a church building will visit your home. With home based small groups your church can begin to push ministry out into the neighborhoods, where people already gather, instead of relying on a building.

Maybe you are not up for starting a small group yet. Start with having some neighbors over for dinner to get to know them. Or invite another couple to the movie Fireproof with you. Think of ways to begin connecting with your neighbors and loosen your dependence upon the church building for evangelism.

Our church has been emphasizing the power of shared experiences. Having people in your home, and attending movies together are both ways to create a shared experience. It is these shared experiences that lead to conversations about the gospel. Take a step of faith and pray for wisdom for how you can take a small step towards a neighbor this week.

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