A New Zealand pastor realised his members were not sharing their faith, and so he decided to do something about it.
Firstly, he began to consistently preach about outreach, and highlight what a conversational approach looks like. Secondly, this learning was reinforced in church small groups. Thirdly, good application was modelled through testimonies. And finally, regular gospel outreach programmes were run to support it all.
As a result of these habits, over two or three years, church members became friendlier to newcomers – and they randomly began to get more visitors too. There was an increase in the number of members coming back with stories of spiritual conversations and an increase in the number of people coming to faith.
Significantly, all this happened without running any extra outreach programmes (other than what was already being run). Who could have believed?
This is the kind of story we’re hearing from a number of New Zealand churches right now. So, how widespread is this change?
Well, 650 churches partnered with the Hope Project for, on average, less than two years. When asked if they were more evangelistic as a result, the average church gave themselves an astounding 6.1/10 (where ten meant ‘totally changed’ and zero meant ‘not changed at all’). With hundreds of churches affected from Kaitaia to Invercargill, this represents a profound turn in a tide that has not shifted for many years. What led to this?
It seems that the pastors involved have understood that a talented leader who runs great programmes for a church is no match for one hundred active members. As a result, they’ve intentionally begun to shift their focus from motivation alone to the intentional equipping and mobilising of their congregations, in order to facilitate conversational approaches to outreach… and it’s been working!
Even the word ‘evangelism’ is returning to common use in many churches after years of awkwardness.
All of this is what also brought about the first national evangelism conference in New Zealand after a fifteen-year gap. Engage Conference was initiated in 2016 and hosted at City Church in Tauranga. It endeared the involvement and partnership of leaders from more than seventeen outreaching organizations – many of whom had not met before. A remarkable unity resulted, which flowed over into the full conference when many pastors, leaders, and church members arrived.
Shining Lights Trust Director (and Hope Project Coordinator) Dave Mann commented: “About five years ago, I read about a study that shows if just 10% of a population becomes fundamentally convinced of something, then the majority will end up following their view. In other words, most people simply follow the ‘strongest’ viewpoint, and they found that 10% is where the ‘tipping point’ is. (1) So the fact that Christian influence is losing its sway in the public square simply reflects a situation where less than 10% are fundamentally convinced Christianity is true, while those fundamentally believing the ‘atheistic-secular’ viewpoint may now represent more than 10%. But if culture can change one way, then it can also change the other, right?”
What the Hope Project team are suggesting is that it’s sometimes the simplest things that have the greatest effect. After decades of prayer and motivating for outreach, and with an incalculable number of outreach programmes and events behind us, the team suggest that we have been neglecting to provide basic conversational equipping through our pulpits and small groups that could enable church members to engage in spiritual conversations in this day and age.
Beyond the lights, enthusiasm, famed speakers, and music of our churches might it be that what we’ve been lacking is a practical and strategic approach that is realistic for mobilising Christians as every-day witnesses for Jesus?
To find out more, go to AllTogether.co.nz, where you can subscribe for the monthly news and prayer updates (or the pastor’s updates) at the bottom of the webpage. You can also check out one Baptist pastor’s story here.
Story: Dave Mann
Dave is the director of the Shining Lights Trust, which exists to serve a widely shared vision to see the gospel making a comeback in the New Zealand church. He is married with four boys and lives in Tauranga.
1. Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point (USA, Little, Brown and Company, 2000)
Photo Credit: Todd Helzer/Lightstock.com