Last night, my church in Nottingham hosted a big evangelistic event, centred on a half an hour talk from the guest speaker, J. John. During the time of worship before the sermon, it struck me that this was not normal church. The music was taken up a notch. The songs were particularly catchy. This was a church service, but very slick and polished. Not that the normal Sunday service is not done well, but there was clearly an extra effort being made that evening. You see, people had been told to bring guests. There were more people than I’d ever seen in that building (and in the overflow) because there were so many non-churchgoers there. In many ways, last night was a performance for their benefit.
Not all that long ago, I would have criticised such an event. I would have argued that it was consumerist, trying to sell the religion to non-believers. I would have argued that we should be wary of allowing consumerist culture to seek into Christianity. I would have argued that it inevitably leads to compromise and a lukewarm faith. But now, having seen and experienced something like this, and also taking into consideration similar events, such as Soul Survivor, I realise how necessary it is that the Christian faith is able to market itself well.
Let me make something clear, when I talk about Christianity marketing itself, I’m not saying that it needs to be some sort of product that the clergy sell and us laypeople buy into. It’s not a human transaction. What I am saying, is that it needs to be presented to non-Christians in an attractive, relevant way.
The parable of the shrewd manager in Luke 16 is an interesting one to get to grips with, but I want to pick up on something Jesus said there to help me explain it, “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. (Luke 16:8-9)”. Although it’s important that Christians do not allow the secular world to compromise their beliefs, they do need to make sure that they can interact with that secular world in an effective way.
At Trent Vineyard, my Nottingham church, we have an incredible plot of land with some fantastic facilities. We have an extremely talented worship team. We have the links to bring in a speaker like J. John. If we don’t make full use of these things to bring people to God, then what’s the point of having them? Doing your best to present Christianity to non-Christians in such a way that they want to get involved and no more is not compromising your own beliefs, it’s what we’re here to do! If you’re hosting an event aimed specifically at non-Christians, then you should make every effort to sell it to them. If they’re at the event, chances are they’re reasonably receptive to what you’re trying to do, so make the most of it! There’s no shame in making a good impression.
As I’ve been saying, this should never become an excuse for watering down the Christian message. We have to be wise in our presentation of our faith. I was impressed with the way that J. John didn’t skirt around tricky issues like the existence of Hell last night. Sure, in a thirty minute sermon in which he had to introduce the whole of Christianity, he couldn’t spend a lot of time on the topic, but he mentioned it and made it clear that most Christians believe it to be real. Yes, I want my faith to be attractive to other people, but once you start taking out the tricky bits in order to force it to be more attractive, you actually stop presenting your faith at all.
The onus is on us to be wise. We have to encourage non-Christians to interact with us without watering down what we believe. That takes a bit of wisdom. Thankfully, we have a God who is infinitely wise and is perfectly capable of imparting some of that wisdom to us. We don’t have to flounder alone in an evangelical sea. So whether you’re planning an outreach event aimed at hundreds of non-Christians, or you’re meeting up with a curious friend for coffee, you need to bear this tension in mind. By all means, do everything you can to engage them, get them interested, get them asking questions, get them excited about what you’re saying, but never forsake the truth to do so.
Be prepared. Do some research, find out the answers to hard questions, use your talents to present Christianity as well you can. No one gains anything from us presenting a false Christianity. And trust me, the actual message of Christianity is mind-blowing, it’s awesome, it’s amazing. Why on earth would you want to change it?