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Why Do We Get ZERO Results?

Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor of the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church reported from June 2017 through May 2018, 308 churches in our conference accepted at least one new member through a profession of faith (new christian convert). The other side of that coin is FIVE HUNDRED SEVENTY-SIX churches did NOT reach a new person for the Kingdom! Translated, this means that 65% of the 875 churches in Holston Conference failed on their primary, Biblical mission; and the results are similar in all Methodist conferences and throughout the mainline denominations. From 2007 to 2014, the % of American population identifying as Methodist decreased by 46%.

I truly believe that the pastors in those 576 churches are firmly committed to living out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) in their ministries. But obviously there is a disconnect somewhere between desire and results. I think there are three issues that hold us back and 3 ways to bridge the gap between what we are called to do and actually living it out.

ISSUE 1: It’s not all on the pastors!
First and foremost, Jesus was speaking to all of his followers when he shared the Great Commission with the disciples that were gathered around him. The Great Commission has two parts: first, to go throughout the world and baptize disciples and then second, to teach them to obey his commands. Once we make the decision to follow Jesus, we are committing to share his story with people in our lives and then support them as we grow together as disciples.

The fun part of Jesus’ command is the teaching and growing part. Christians are really good at fellowship in worship and study; and if you are a Methodist, you have been to a potluck lunch or dinner! The hard part is going out and making disciples. Why? I don’t know; you would think sharing an eternity altering opportunity with your friends and family would come naturally. In my humble opinion, if you are at ease being in fellowship with other Christians, then it should be a piece of cake to start friendships with people that aren’t a part of that fellowship.

The hard part about finding and making disciples is that sometimes we have to get our hands dirty and face disappointment. People come with problems, like addictions and psychological hurts, that are very powerful. It takes a lot of courage and discipline to overcome them, even with God’s love, and it’s not pretty for us as we walk with people. But if you think about it, words like relapse and backsliding are issues we all face, because sin has an unrelenting grip on our lives. In reality, we aren’t leading our friends into recovery, we are all walking together with a God that has the power to heal our spiritual sins as well as our physical ones.

Pastors have to do two things to make evangelism a team effort with the congregation. First, they have to “let go” of control of the activity; empower leaders and teams to play an active part in the inviting, welcoming, and onboarding processes for new people. Second, pastors should model the relational evangelism process for the congregation, include demonstrations in your teaching, and tell stories and testimonials of evangelistic successes. It’s one thing to share the Biblical mandate and another to live into the idea that Jesus intended us all to be Kingdom Builders.

ISSUE 2: We all need additional training!
One of the great self-help books of the last thirty-plus years is titled, All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. It is a collection of essays that remind us that the basic rules we learned as children are still in play as adults. The book was written by a pastor, Robert Fulghum, and I want to believe that it resulted from his desire to help people live in community. I think it is a great reminder that we need to continually learn new skills and ideas that build upon the solid foundation of teaching we have received throughout our lives, even early childhood.

Seminary is a place that prepares pastors to grow followers of Jesus. My seminarian friends have taken classes that help them understand their faith in God from Biblical, philosophical, and even ethical perspectives. And, if they were lucky to get a certain professor, and if they were paying attention that day, they might have gotten some nuggets on leading and building a congregation. Seminary, college, business school, etc. all prepare us to begin a career, not sustain us for the rest of our career.

So, if we are going to introduce people to Jesus, we might need to refer back to what we learned in kindergarten, like sharing is caring and don’t eat the crayons. As pastors, we need to offer additional training to our congregations to help them understand how to build relationships with people that don’t understand faith, help them discover their stories of faith and transformation, and how to love people into a relationship with Jesus. If you are wondering why your church isn’t growing, then either sharing Jesus is not a core value of your church that is stressed and/or your church doesn’t prepare people to be sharers.

ISSUE 3: Maybe We Need Some New Friends!
As a parent, I now understand the consternation my friends caused my mom and dad at times. They understood the influence friends could exert on me and wanted me to associate with kids that would make smart choices. As churchgoers, most of us have carried that admonition into adulthood, as we hang out with other church folk. How can we meet people that don’t have a relationship with Jesus, if we just hang out with our church friends?

Jesus modeled this behavior for his disciples much to the chagrin of the Pharisees. Tax collectors, prostitutes, and Romans were all people shunned by the Church that Jesus sought out. If your church values sharing Jesus with hurting people, then there can’t be judgement when the pastor or anyone else chooses to befriend addicts or persons on the fringes of society. Keep in mind, I listed this as number 3 because you need the training in #2 to help you prepare to build healthy relationships with people you don’t normally associate. Proper boundaries, empathy, and skills/resources to deal with dangerous situations real people face in real life is critical to prepare and protect our lives and families. Jesus stopped to speak to the Samaritan woman at the well and pulled Zacchaeus down from a tree; who will God put in your path today that you need stop and listen to their story!

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