I remember 9th grade science class very clearly. That’s saying something, because I don’t remember most of the classes I took as a teenager. I can’t tell you too much about what we covered, because in 9th grade I didn’t exactly have “science” at the top of my priority list.
The reason I remember science class is we dissected a pig. During the part of the year that we were dissecting pigs, we looked forward to our biology class every day. I remember the smell of it, I remember seeing different organs … at this point, biology was no longer just book knowledge—it was real!
I was reminded of this not too long ago when I was thinking about church, and I made a connection that’s helped me remember how people learn. It’s a simple formula that goes like this: Experience > Explanation. Experience is greater than explanation, every day of the week.
So often, we in the church—and I in particular—want to explain things to other Christians, when what churchgoers really need is an experience.
- This is why an internship often provides better learning than a college class.
- This is why people change their views on sexuality in relation to Jesus. Almost never do you hear someone say, “I studied Scripture, and I believe the church historically has gotten wrong what Scripture says about sexuality.” No. Instead, they say, “I have a son/friend/parent/etc … who I love very much, and because of what they do, my view has changed.” What are they saying? They’re saying their experience has led them to change their view.
- This is why a lot of people say, “Church isn’t for me.” They had a horrible experience.
I wouldn’t for a second say that explanation doesn’t matter. Proverbs 19 says that enthusiasm without knowledge is no good. Explanation matters; we stand on truth. But we leaders in the church must recognize that we are creators and curators of great environments. We create environments for people to experience Jesus.
Jesus himself lives this out. When he meets Andrew, he doesn’t say, “Let me give you some facts.” He says, “Come and see!” He doesn’t say, “Read and learn.” He says, “Come and see!”
Think of your favorite meal. You don’t JUST think of the food. You think of an experience.
- If it’s Maryland crabs (a delicacy where our church is), you think of summer heat and cold beer, being with friends and relaxing for a couple hours.
- If it’s Thanksgiving, you don’t just think of turkey, you think of cool weather and wearing a sweater and maybe being with family, being lazy, going shopping, watching football, etc. It’s all part of the experience.
That’s why—especially in the United States—I believe the best way to practice evangelism is to bring them to a great church. It’s to say, “Come and see! I’m not going to debate theology with you … come experience it.”
Just because I create an experience doesn’t mean lives are changed. I laughed at a satirical article titled, “Holy Spirit Unable To Move Through Congregation as Fog Machine Breaks,” because I’ve been guilty of similar shallow thinking at times.
We must remember that Jesus alone creates life change. But people aren’t going to remember the facts I tell them; they’re going to remember the experiences they have. So I must help create experiences where they can bump into the real Jesus in a real way, and have their lives changed by him forever.
Carl Kuhl is the lead pastor at Mosaic Christian Church in Elkridge, Maryland. This article is part of our From the Front Lines series, in which several church planters share what they’re learning as they lead their congregations.