Are you planning an evangelistic series? Stop.
We have become a community afraid to explain that the great things we do are inspired by the great One we follow.
Granted, that is counter-intuitive advice, but hear me out. In Australia over the past 25 years, another church has put us to shame. And it’s worth asking ourselves the hard questions before we continue business as usual.
According to the Australian census, in 1986 there were 26 per cent more Adventists in Australia than there were Mormons. By 2011, Mormons had managed to close the gap to just 6.7 per cent. Put another way, they were three-quarters of the way to closing the gap in total. I suspect the numbers would be similar in many other Pacific nations.
That’s humbling when we remember Mormons don’t run a single school, don’t have a solitary hospital, they have no media centre, health food company, territory institutions, aged care facilities, camps or TV networks in Australia. They do no large-scale public evangelism and, wait for it, they have no professional clergy.
From 1986–2006, Mormons grew in Australia a staggering 326 per cent more than Adventists. While recent trends have reversed,1 the disproportionate success of Mormons should force us to ask what we can do better.
The good news is, we don’t have to guess. Ellen White reminded us that the only way to grow the Adventist Church is to follow Christ’s three-step process:
“Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’” Reflecting on Christ’s example, Ellen White calls for more time spent in one-on-one ministry and helping people in practical ways, and less time “sermonising”.2
Which goes to the success of the Mormons. They get out of the church and into the community. Door-to-door works just as well, if not better, for us too. North NSW Conference president Justin Lawman recently told me about 72-year-old Stanley Nelson going door-to-door in Kyogle. Kyogle Adventist Church had an average attendance of 10 people in 2012. As a direct result of Stanley’s six months of door-to-door ministry, he now has eight people in Bible studies and 19 people receiving Beyond DVDs. Little Kyogle’s church’s mid-week prophecy seminar is attracting 36 people. That’s the power of following Christ’s example. If we want to do evangelism, the first step isn’t designing a poster; it’s meeting our neighbours.
The second step is to give people something of value. Jesus did this through healing. We can too.
Today, the health message God gave our Church is more relevant than ever. And others are starting to catch up. US mega-church pastor Rick Warren has made global headlines with his “Daniel Diet”. What is it? The good old Adventist health message. I’m glad evangelicals are finally on board—for generations they’ve castigated Adventists as legalistic for taking care of our health—but I’m ashamed how little we’ve done with what we’ve been given.
Today as our region is bloated with obesity and all the ills that go with it—heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, etc—we have something priceless to give to our community. It’s something people want and desperately need. And we have a modern, engaging, scientifically proven program that makes it easy to promote our health message today—the revamped Complete Health Improvement Program (CHIP). It makes the perfect second step in evangelism.
But running CHIP programs, depression recovery seminars, providing education, or any of the 101 other wonderful things Adventists do, isn’t enough. We need to engage in Christ’s third step—inviting those we help to follow Jesus.
A friend recently gave her heart to Christ because of the influence of an Adventist school. I was delighted until she told me she wished I’d invited her to follow Christ earlier. I felt a pang of guilt. I fear I am hardly alone. We have become a community afraid to explain that the great things we do are inspired by the great One we follow. We need to be braver, stronger, less discreet and more alive. We need to not only mingle and do good. We need to invite those we serve to make the greatest step anyone can—to follow Jesus Christ.
Hit the restart button on your evangelistic plans. And let’s, in the words of the Jackson 5, follow the “A B C, easy as one, two, three” steps of inviting others to follow Jesus.
1. Adventists grew roughly 30 per cent faster than the Mormons 2007-11
2. Ellen White, Ministry of Healing, p 143
James Standish is editor of RECORD.