The Seismic Shift in OUTREACH You Need to Know

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Jesus wed mission and message together seamlessly – it's time for us to do the same.

There has been a seismic shift in outreach that few church leaders are understanding, much less pursuing.

From the 1950’s to the 1980’s, the vanguard of evangelistic outreach was direct proclamation of the gospel.

Whether it was in the crusades of Billy Graham or the creative approaches of Willow Creek Community Church, presentation led the way.

This led to joining a community, and, eventually, being discipled into participation with the cause.

From the 1990’s thru the 2000’s, community took the lead.

People wanted to belong before they believed. Skepticism was rampant, and trust had to be earned. Once enfolded, Christ was often met in the midst of that community.

Cause, again, was the last to take hold.

From the 2010’s forward, “cause” has become the leading edge of our connection with a lost world, and specifically the “nones” (and it is increasingly best to replace the term “unchurched” with the “nones”).

Consider the recent Passion Conference in Georgia. What arrested outside media attention was the commitment to eradicate modern-day slavery, not the 60,000 students in attendance, much less the messages related to the Christian faith.

In a word, “cause.”

This made the gathering of 60,000 college students in the Georgia Dome for that cause become attractive. In other words, then and only then did “community” come into play. Then, after exploring that community, Christ could be — and was — introduced.

Think of this shift in terms of moving people through stages of introduction:

1950’s-1980’s:

Unchurched >>> Christ >>> Community >>> Cause

1990’s-2000’s:

Unchurched >>> Community >>> Christ >>> Cause

2010’s and on:

Nones >>> Cause >>> Community >>> Christ

It is important to note how far the message of Christ is from the mind and sentiment of the average “none.”

It’s not that the church should “bury the lead” in terms of putting Christ at the end of the line — remember, we’re talking strategy. It’s just that leading with Billy Graham’s simple “the Bible says” was a strategy designed for people in a different place spiritually than many are today.

The more post-Christian a person is, the more evangelism must embrace not only “event/proclamation,” but “process” and “event/proclamation.” Earlier models were almost entirely “event/proclamation” oriented, such as revivals, crusades or door-to-door visitation. As I’ve written about in other places, this is only effective in an Acts 2, God-fearing Jews of Jerusalem context.

“Process” models are needed in Acts 17, Mars Hill, nones/skeptical contexts.

James Emery White James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book is What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary (Baker). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

More from James Emery White or visit James Emery at http://www.churchandculture.org/

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