What an amazing Christmas season it has been in our church family! We have seen many new people come and visit our church – but this isn’t the goal of our church, or of Christmas. The goal isn’t having people come in the door; our goal is to see lives transformed.
Transformation – true life change – doesn’t happen just by a person showing up to church. It happens through hearing God’s Word and choosing to follow, by being connected to those who care about you and challenge you to grow, and by taking steps to tell others about God’s love (the telling changes you, too). This is what we call evangelism – and believe it or not, Christmas has a lot to do with evangelism. Just think about God telling the Magi to come and worship, or the shepherds in the fields who got the angels. God was doing evangelism – and He still is – and He is inviting us to join Him.
The biggest problem with evangelism is that Christians don’t do it. Partially this is because we have the wrong understanding of evangelism, thinking that evangelism is about presentation and numbers rather than listening, praying, and lifelong growth with Jesus. Partially this is because Christians lack resources or perseverance, having tried “evangelism” for a season and finding that it didn’t work. We need to share more stories of when evangelism didn’t work, and encourage people to find the strength to get past this stage. Part of the reason might even be that we see churches growing (whether our church or other churches) and don’t think we personally need to be part of evangelism. Church growth is not the same as evangelism, though, and does not address each Christian’s call to join in the work of Christ to transform lives inside and outside the church.
Perhaps, though, evangelism does not happen because it is just not seen as central to Christianity. Evangelism is seen as a good thing, but not central – that spot is reserved for Bible study, ministry, and time with other Christians. Churches expect people in their churches to excel in these three areas, and implicitly teach that these three things define mature faith. For most people, the more they are involved in the church, the less they are involved in evangelism. We have a definition of discipleship or “strong Christian” that excludes evangelism.
The results of this mis-definition of Christian maturity are enormous. The percentage of the population that attends church has declined since the 1950’s, and is now about 23% of the population weekly (based on actual attendance records). In San Francisco the percentage is 14%, and in Modesto it is 13%. The perception in Modesto, and I suspect among many Christians in many places, is that many people go to church and that the Central Valley is a churched place. But as a church planter in town told me, if every seat in every church were filled for two services, less than 20% of the town could attend. Covenant Grove Church was started to reach some of the 87% who are not part of a church family; our focus is not on the churched, but on those outside of church.
God is moving in our church, and bringing many who have been out of church for a long time, or have never gone to church. Christmas has been exciting – this whole year has been exciting. May we keep joining in with Jesus and the work He is doing to change lives. The goal is to see lives changed. As we join in with the King on the Kingdom work, our lives are changed as well. Merry Christmas!