I was asked by a friend who pastors a suburban church in a fairly affluent area, “How do you evangelize in my community?” Very few churches effectively evangelize in suburbia but my friend was asking the wrong question. Evangelism is evangelism! It is the same everywhere. The better question is “What are the obstacles to evangelism in suburbia?”
My belief is that the answer is ‘privacy’. People who live in these neighbourhoods share the same desire for privacy. Each family lives in a silo of its own design. All truly effective evangelism is relational and so these households are ‘immune’ to evangelism by virtue of their isolation from those who are ‘infected’ with the Gospel. The key is not a slicker presentation but a patient penetration of individual silos.
Patience is not a virtue practised in most Church outreach plans. Churches that seem successful in suburbia are more likely to be recipients of a ‘shuffle of the sheep’ , than of real evangelism. We should not entirely discount this, though, we ought to ask what makes this church’s outreach more attractive?
I advocate a steady patient penetration of these individual silos. In the inner-city it is easier to gather larger groups around obvious felt needs but it is less than easy to infiltrate each private household. Suburban evangelism then cannot be done by an individual or a small group of individuals because of the sheer enormity of the number of households. The answer lies in the mobilization of all the members of the church to build personal networks that breach the silo barriers of privacy. In effect we need to be invited into the closed circle of privacy. This is a prerequisite of any evangelism!
Once the privacy barrier has been breached through friendship and shared interests evangelism can begin to take place.
The problem is that most churches have not the patience or vision for this task. We want it easy and instant and nothing of any lasting value is ever easy or instant. The leadership of too many churches wastes too much time on programs of attraction and too little time on the hard work of coaching people in penetrating households, building wholesome loving relationships.
Inner-city evangelism is not without its challenges. There is no easy place to do the work of the evangelist! Patience and prayer remain paramount whether for you in your small corner or I in mine.
I had a really encouraging encounter with Adrian. He made his third visit to our Healing Clinic”. He suffers with tinnitus and issues of anxiety. He came this week very excited as he is noting progress and he has found some dental treatments that are very promising to help him. He is grateful for prayer and will be back in a few weeks to let me know how he is doing. He is paying much more attention to his spiritual life as a result of our lengthy conversations and prayer. Please keep Adrian in your prayers.