“Methods may change, but the message stays the same.” Those words will echo in my head for the rest of my life. One of my seminary professors, Dr. Elmer Towns, used to say this ALL OF THE TIME. While each of us in class used to smile every time he said it, and he said it A LOT, there is great truth in that statement.
If we think about it, things have changed in every area of our lives. We’ve come from the rotary dial phone to Siri. But we are still making phone calls. We’ve journeyed from snail mail to voicemail to email. But we are still sending mail. Even the church has moved from scrolls to personal Bibles to Bible Apps. But we still have the Word of God available. And the Word of God reminds us to make disciples.
However, the question on the minds and hearts of every church leader is this: How do we make disciples in this unique cultural and spiritual environment? ECON, the Statewide Conference on Evangelism and Church Health, comes at the perfect time. While the following is not a preview of conference content, this does prepare us to be open to change.
Let’s look at three areas that have changed over time as it relates to evangelism and the church environment as a whole.
In-Person Church Attendance
There has always been and will always be a desire for believers to gather in person as much as possible for Sunday worship. For many pastors this was the bread-n-butter of the health of the church. It served as a captive audience for announcements, giving, and pastoral care. However, we have seen attendance declining.
Even prior to the pandemic. Whether it is health reasons (not just COVID), family dynamics, or job shifts just to name a few, the magic hour of Sunday morning at 11am has changed. As it relates to gathering, the church has changed drastically in a small amount of time. Technological advancements have allowed all size churches to stream on Facebook and YouTube as well as utilize Zoom.
While some are mourning the death of “Sunday morning at 11am,” the next iteration of church could look more like the first century church with a splash of tech. Some churches are toying with the idea of the both-and approach. While using technology to watch services online, small groups are gathering in-person. They worship together, have communion together, and even shout at the preacher together…well, at least at the computer.
In the past, canvassing was a staple as it related to evangelism in the local church. As a matter of fact, those words were interchangeable in some ministry contexts. Evangelism was canvassing. Church groups would gather on a Saturday or Sunday after service and knock on doors. However, since the invention of these two technological marvels…THE GARAGE and THE RING DOORBELL…canvassing has become less and less effective as an evangelistic tool. The carport and the front door are now foreign territory.
One of the new areas that evangelism has shifted to is mass messages, both email and text messages. Instead of meeting people at their physical address, some churches are meeting people at their virtual address. While it is still a 50/50 chance people will read or listen to the messages sent, it is a 90% chance the recipient will receive the message.
Along with mass messages, canvassing has gone tech with social media. Some churches are following up with people that join their live broadcasts. Where the physical homes have closed, the virtual homes have opened wider than ever. However, responsibility and integrity are still the key in physical or virtual canvassing.
These thin but power packed pieces of literature that shared the essence of the Gospel were a staple many years ago as it related to evangelism strategies. However, there were many that abandoned this tool for more “advanced modes” of reaching the lost.
One that comes to mind is the V-Tract (a video tract). It is the same as paper literature only in video form. While the tracts are still a tool for evangelism, their use has shifted. Churches are no longer limiting the use of the tract for placing in door jams (screen doors are non-existent in some neighborhoods). The tract is now being used in welcome packets for new residents in apartment complexes as well as in food boxes. While the tract has not changed, the message is still the same. The goal is to get the news, the Good News, into the life rhythm of people that need Jesus.
While church attendance, canvassing and tracts are tools of evangelism that have been used and/or abandoned by some, the one tool that has lasted is in the mirror. The lives we live, day in and day out, are the best tool of evangelism for a world looking for hope. If you listen closely, you can hear Elmer Towns… “Methods may change, but the message stays the same.”