by Rick Richardson
(Editor’s note: This is the final post in an 8-part series called “What’s Your Evangelism Style?“)
We are in a series on different styles and approaches of reaching unchurched and non-Christian people. I will explore the role of relational evangelism. First, I want to set the context and give the bigger picture.
What is our context? The Church is losing our influence in our larger culture. Our evangelism challenge is growing rapidly. One indicator is that, today, many people who in the past identified with Christianity no longer do. Pew recently released figures that tell us that in the past seven years, the number of people in the U.S. who say they are Christian on surveys has gone down from about 78% to about 71%.
What’s more, the people who say they identify with no religion (the nones) have gone up in the last seven years from about 16% to nearly 22%. And for emerging adults ages 19 to 35, the change has been from 25% to 35%. Our mission field is getting bigger!
How do we best reach them? At the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, we are pursuing research right now to help us understand that challenge. But we do have research from the year 2000 conducted by Thom Rainer that tells us what was working then. Here are the conclusions related to relational evangelism. These findings came from interviews of the formerly unchurched. They express the impact of relational evangelism that leads to people becoming committed to a local community who were not before:
- For the formerly unchurched, relationships played a part in them choosing the church for 57%, they did not for 38%, and 5% were uncertain.
- Five conclusions about those relationships:
- Relationships are very important; it is the single biggest factor.
- Rarely do relationships alone explain the best way to reach the unchurched. Myriad other factors are at work.
- God sometimes works to reach the unchurched without using any relationships: using avenues like Holy Spirit conviction, direct evangelism, friendliness of the church, and the preaching.
- Of the relationships, family relationships are the most important.
- The wife is the most important single relationship in reaching the unchurched.
Since relational evangelism is the biggest single factor, the more we can mobilize the people in our churches to grow in that area, the better we will do.
How can we best break down the challenges of relational evangelism? How can we equip and mobilize ourselves and the people in our churches for relational ministry with the unchurched?
In my church, we are equipping people to pursue what we are calling the “Bless” practices. Bless is an acronym for five practices that we are teaching everyone in our church to learn in their relationships with the unchurched.
- B: Begin with prayer
- L: Listen
- E: Eat
- S: Serve
- S: Story
We encourage every person in every one of our small groups to intentionally implement one BLESS practice a week in their families, neighborhoods, networks, and 3rd space (e.g. Starbuck’s) relational spheres of connection. It has made a huge difference. It is simple. It is doable. People don’t get overwhelmed.
This is also relational evangelism at its best: blessing people and loving on people in concrete and practical ways that help them take another step in the journey toward Jesus. Could you bless others? Would you like to?
Rick Richardson (@reimaginer) is evangelism fellow at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, professor of intercultural studies at Wheaton College, and director of the MA in Evangelism and Leadership and the MA in Missional Church Movements degrees. Rick consults widely with churches on evangelism and healing and reconciliation for the emerging generation and on contemporary missional churches and missional movements.