I understand that the best church programming in the world can’t lead a person to conviction and conversion – people have this notoriously stubborn thing called their sin nature and, when it gets combined with their free will (sorry, Calvin), it makes them so hard to convert that only God himself can do it (sorry, Arminius). I also understand that the effectiveness of our evangelistic work is terribly difficult to gauge. A lot of good, no doubt, takes place beneath the surface, as the seed of God’s Word penetrates the soil of a human heart, germinates and begins growing long before any visible shoot appears. When a person comes to faith (or when faith comes to a person – whichever you prefer), rest assured much work has been done – seen and unseen – to prepare the soil, sow the seed and cultivate things before any harvest is reaped.
(This is extremely biblical language for evangelism, by the way, and I'm glad my dad brought it up in his comment to yesterday's post. Jesus taught in an agricultural context, so these are the metaphors he used. I have never been a farmer, so it feels strange for me to use this terminology, but I now live on 10 acres of land & my family has planted a huge garden. I'm learning the meaning of this whole seed and sower analogy. I trust you can understand the word picture.)
So, having said how difficult I know it is to measure the effectiveness of our evangelistic attempts and having said how our best attempts to evangelize others could never make someone get saved, I still believe we ought to be rethinking some things when it comes to sharing the message of Jesus with those who are currently outsiders to the Christian faith.
For example, Dr. Ed Stetzer of the North American Mission Board (who has conducted extensive research on how churches conduct outreach) found that the number one outreach program (used by nearly 85 percent of Southern Baptist churches last summer) is Vacation Bible School.
Eight-five percent. Vacation Bible School. Really?
Of course, having grown up where and when I did, I have fond memories of Vacation Bible School. Puppet shows. Memory verses. Booster, booster, be a booster and all that. But can someone tell me honestly why in the world 85 percent of the 42,000 Southern Baptist Churches in America (that’s 35,700 churches, btw) need to be doing VBS?
And that's just Southern Baptists. Factor in the Methodists and the Churches of God and the Churches of Christ and every other group of folks buying into the culture of VBS, and what do you have? Tens of thousands of churches all doing the same thing. None of them are really making a dent in the number of unchurched, unsaved people in our world.
Craig Groeschel's famous quote comes to mind: "If you want to reach people no one else is reaching, you have to do things no one else is doing."