Finding common ground with people of every stripe.
For over seven years, the Billy Graham Center has been gathering senior pastors into cohorts that meet monthly to receive encouragement and accountability in their personal witness, and to be equipped to lead their churches in evangelism. Jeff Matteson, senior pastor at Hope Summit Christian Church in Rochester, Minnesota, is one of about 60 pastors currently in an evangelism cohort.
I grew up liking Jesus but wanting nothing to do with church. I was a pastor’s kid and attended good churches filled with good people. But I also saw “good” people ruthlessly condemn others, resist change for the sake of tradition, ignore blatant hypocrisy and avoid opportunities to love people in need and crisis.
I questioned my faith and the validity of the gospel because I couldn’t believe that people who claimed to follow Jesus would live in such a way. Because of these experiences, I understand why so many people want nothing to do with church. As a pastor, I desire to build a church that reshapes people’s opinion of church and, in turn, Jesus. We are in no way a church that has evangelism figured out, but we are learning some good lessons.
First and foremost, evangelism begins with believing that everyone gets a chance. Whether someone is conservative, liberal, gay, straight, agnostic, atheist, addicted or a felon—it doesn’t matter. Everyone is given a chance to meet Jesus.
We do not hold those outside the faith to Christian standards. But we lovingly and gracefully walk alongside people to show them the love of Jesus and help them see why his gospel and way of living is better than the world’s.
Over the last 12 months, I’ve overheard others say, “I didn’t think churches helped people like me” and “I like coming to your church because I feel like you guys don’t judge me” and “I know I am Buddhist and you are a pastor, but could we talk?”
Comments like these are music to my ears, because they are proof that we are changing the stereotypes that some people have had of church.
We also are learning that evangelism needs to be integrated into everything we do. Evangelism isn’t a ministry that is represented by just the pastor or volunteer leader. Our children’s pastor, youth pastor, worship pastor and really any pastor you can think of needs to have evangelism as a foundational part of their ministry.
Each ministry must have a focus on how to reach out and love those outside the church. This effort helps takes the focus off the leadership or those who are naturally evangelistic, and it puts it on each individual follower of Jesus.
Finally, we have been challenging our congregation to seek out people where they are already gathering. For example, if Rick plays softball, he can join a local team instead of a church team in order to intentionally build relationships with those who don’t know Jesus.
In order to live this out in my own life, I spend time at a local game store and play table games every Sunday night. Most of the people whom I meet there have no desire to come to my church, but they are happy to play Dungeons and Dragons and other nerdy board games with me.
Stepping into their world like this gives me the chance to build friendships through which they can experience the love, grace, patience and kindness of God. As these relationships deepen, I often have the opportunity to share how Jesus makes a difference in my life. As I intentionally look for ways to share the good news of God’s love, others are given a chance to meet someone who, as one person put it “isn’t like any Christian” they’ve met before.
Slowly and steadily, God is changing the stereotypes that unchurched people have of Christians as our members develop genuine relationships with their friends, coworkers and neighbors. May you find that to be true in your own life and ministry.
To learn more about Billy Graham Center pastor cohorts, visit Wheaton.edu/BGC.