John Alan Turner

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach, Facilitator

Go Fish

Jesus called his earliest followers and promised to send them out to "fish for people" (Matthew 4:19). When we think of fishing we tend of think of a rod and reel fisherman baiting his hook and casting his line out in hopes of catching fish one at a time. If we think of evangelism through this lens, it becomes pretty crass. "Baiting our hook" makes the whole enterprise sound deceptive and somewhat violent at the very least.

Fishing in Jesus' time was a kinder and gentler activity (although it had the same "net" result of killing fish and eating them -- still, I suppose all metaphors break down eventually, don't they? Oh, and the pun was intentional). Fishermen in Jesus' day would cast nets into the water and gather in whatever they could. Fishing was less dependent upon the attractiveness of their bait and more dependent upon strength of their nets.

Frost & Hirsch draw a strong point from this:

"Jesus' fishing disciples spent most of their working day, not out on the lake's surface, but on shore, mending their nets. If their nets were strong and tight, anything caught in them couldn't escape.... If the disciples spent so much time on their nets to ensure a catch, what might those nets be for us today? We propose that the web of relationships, friendships, and acquaintances that Christians normally have makes up the net into which not-yet-Christians will swim. We believe the missional-incarnational church will spend more time on building friendships than it will on developing religious programs."

In the attractional/missional hybrid model that I espouse, we call this strategy: Invest & Invite.

Invest in your friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc. Invest deeply in them. Help them. Serve them. Take interest in their welfare. Don't view them as a project. Really invest in their lives.

And understand that your investment will eventually earn you the right to say some things. When your friendship is strong enough (and that will likely take longer than you think), you can look for opportunities to invite them to an environment where they can experience a taste of the life of a Christian community.

Belonging to such a community often preceeds any kind of change in a person's belief system. This is backwards from the way we often think of evangelism and community. We usually think of winning someone to Christ and then including them in the life of the church. But people don't usually buy the whole belief system outside of the communal aspects of Christianity. Life change happens best in groups. So, it might actually be better to bring them into our community and allow them to sample things before asking them to buy it.

Sometimes, in the process of evangelism, heavy truths need to be stated clearly. But the bridge of your relationship (to switch up the metaphor) must be strong enough to withstand the weight of truth you deliver.

Build the bridge. Mend the net. Whichever word-picture you prefer, it comes down to the same thing: relationships are the conduit for the best evangelism.

Now, some harsh reality: In an average year, fewer than half of all existing churches fail to gain a single new member through evangelistic conversion. In the average church there is usually one convert per year for every 80 members.

What's wrong with this picture? Why are we failing at evangelism on this level? How do we change it?