What I hear when people say they don’t like evangelism is that all it really does is turn the Methodists into Adventist, the Baptist’s…Episcopalian’s…Catholics…or the already churched into Adventist. Wouldn’t it be better to do something that really reaches the non-churched? Sure Adventism has better theology, but if those people are already saved, shouldn’t we find a method that reaches the non-churched?
Within this criticism of evangelism we find a foundational myth that doesn’t seem to want to go away. Let’s talk about the myth. The myth is that we only reach the already convinced and never really reach into the unchurched world. The myth suggests that our evangelism isn’t really evangelism, because people aren’t really finding Jesus, rather they are just switching their doctrine. Why do I call it a myth?
I’ve been keeping specific records since 2001 and incidental records for many years before. I’ve tracked people who are reached and what the reach and retention rates are of evangelism. I’ve also compared my spreadsheet with two directors of NADEI (www.nadei.org), with evanglists and pastors throughout North America and found that our numbers are quite similar – strikingly so.
Here’s what I’ve found. About 70-75% of the people we reach through our public evangelism come from an unchurched background. True story. Most, but not all, used to go to church. They used to be active and they might still consider themselves believers. But they have wandered – some quite far, some simply stopped going to church and have grown cold. I can track this. I can also say, it’s where I was when I was reached through evangelism. Then what remains, the roughly 25% of the people we reach, come from a churched background. They come to our meetings because most of their churches don’t ever talk about Bible prophecy and they want to learn more about what the Bible says.
Yet, here is where it gets interesting. When you begin to track the retention rates against the people we lose, you find that of the people we lose shortly after the event is done, are mostly,the already churched. In other words, the people who stay – roughly 70% nationally (for another post) – are from an unchurched background. The people who leave – roughly 25% – are from the churched background.
Yes, there are unchurched people who leave. There are also churched people who stay. But by far, the vast majority of those who leave are from the already convinced category. Why is that? They already have a strong network of friends, family, and spirituality at their former place of worship. These are all very big draws. They became convinced of the truth, but that didn’t break their social networks.
In other words, we primarily reach the unchurched in our public evangelism. In fact, we are discovering that Adventists are one of the best at reaching non-churched people. We need to get better at creating a better network to keep the people we have. In future posts, I’ll talk about retention, about creating those networks, about how people make decisions at events, but keep those decisions in small groups.