Communicating the Gospel in a secular postmodern culture
by Andrew Halloway
Andrew Halloway is Publishing Manager for
Christian Publicity Organisation in Worthing UK. (He was previously an
editor and writer at CWR, who among other things produce the daily
notes EDWJ/Every Day Light, also available by email from
Crosswalk.com. CPO produces evangelistic leaflets, tracts, booklets
and overprinted invitation cards for church events. They have always
based their ministry on two vital principles:
These two essential communication principles are equally important in online evangelism. Andrew kindly shares his view of these principles.
- that evangelistic literature should be as
modern, lively and graphically well-designed as secular
that editorial content should relate
to the things that people are interested in, and only then offer, in a
non-preachy accessible style, the Christian angle.
As secular culture has moved further and further away from Christianity, it has become increasingly necessary to change the traditional evangelistic approach in order to communicate the Gospel. On the whole, we can't earn an opportunity to be taken seriously when talking about Jesus or God until we have connected with people on issues they are already interested in. We have to earn the right to be heard.
In the not too distant past, there was a time when
most of those who weren't card-carrying Christians at least had an
understanding of the claims of Christianity, and assented to its view
of the world and its morality, even if they didn't have an active
The situation is now completely different:
Christian values are competing with a vast array of other competing
values, and people are either ignorant of the basics of Christianity
or misunderstand them. In the West we have reverted to a pagan culture
which is comparable with the first-century Gentile Romano/Greek world
that the first Christians found themselves in Jesus' own ministry was
to the House of Israel, and though he had a few significant
'evangelistic' encounters with Gentiles, he never left the environs of
Judea, Galilee, Samaria and Decapolis. In contrast, he commanded his
disciples to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. That meant that
his disciples would have to tackle evangelism in a different way to
preaching the Gospel in the Jewish monotheistic context they had been
used to. However, much of Acts features the apostles going to Jewish
communities in the pagan world before reaching out beyond that.
Therefore, there aren't too many examples in the Bible of how the
Early Church evangelized the Gentile world, but we know from history
that they certainly succeeded. However, the Apostle Paul's sermon at
Athens on 'the unknown God' is perhaps the best example we have of the
kind of evangelism that we now have to engage in, in our own
We can see two important points from Paul's
- Paul started where the Athenians 'were at'. He
took one of their own beliefs/interests and used it as a starting
place to explain the Gospel - a bridge from their world to the
He also went to where the cultural leaders were
- the Areopagus - rather than asking them to come to the Jewish
These two points explain CPO's approach, and that
of many other evangelistic agencies, and we're surely not the first.
Most of our directly evangelistic literature is designed to link to an
interest that people already have, and ideally it is used not to
invite people to a normal church service but to an event designed to
link to those interests too.
To take an example, one of our most successful
genres of evangelistic literature has been sport-related - successful
not only in terms of numbers of items being used, but in terms of
reaching people with no or little previous interest in Christianity.
Our 1998 World Cup booklet contained 75% purely football interest
articles, with only 25% Christian content. It was a gift that was
useful to the football fan, met their interests, and genuinely
celebrated football with them. At the same time, it used their
interests to introduce them to people involved in football - but who
also have a Christian faith, and then to explain why.
The most successful use of the booklet was when
churches put on football 'clinics', showed World Cup games on big
screens and invited fans to watch with them, or arranged other
football related events. In that way, Christians were entering their
world, their territory, instead of expecting them to come into the
Christian 'world' of normal church in the first instance. Another
example would be our tract about the film 'Titanic'. Capitalizing on
the success of that film, the tract explained the story of someone who
was actually on the Titanic in real life, and how that Christian gave
his life to save another. The similarity with Christ giving his life
to save us was then explored. This again was very successfully used by
churches. Our posters too have taken media interest subjects and used
them to spark thought about Christianity, whether that be major
movies, well-known TV adverts, or whatever.
For the Internet, the parallels are obvious. A site
about Christianity will only attract those already searching or
interested in faith. For those whose interests lie elsewhere,
Christians should be developing web-sites that connect with those
interests, and then bring in the relevance of Christianity to those
There will be accusations that we are 'tricking'
people - but is it dishonest? People are free to leave a site and surf
somewhere else if they get turned off. It is no different to an
advertiser using your interests to make you want their product, except
in our case only the Holy Spirit can really activate interest in our
product - we just have to provide the bridge for people to walk
Of course, this isn't the only method of evangelism
that works, but it is one that becomes increasingly important as
antagonism to 'traditional religion' grows in our society.
Paul famously became 'all things to all men in
order to reach some' - we must do the same, without compromising the
message. Jesus' two parables about banquets (Matt. 22 and Luke 14)
involved people being invited to a banquet, who didn't come. So the
host told his servants to 'go out' into the streets and bring the
outcasts in, rather than those who might have been expected to want to
come. In the same way, we must go out of our Christian sub-culture and
into the prevailing culture to meet people where they are at, 'on the
street', with an invitation to a banquet of life.
To ensure that we can make good 'bridges', not ones
that will fall down, we need to be as familiar as possible with
contemporary culture. There's nothing worse than trying to be 'trendy'
and failing because you're 'out of date'. The need is to keep your
finger on the pulse of what interests the target group you are trying
to reach. It's so easy to get so wrapped up in Christian activities
and terminology that we lose our ability to communicate to
non-Christians. Surveys show that many new Christians lose their
circle of non-Christian friends, yet we know that the most successful
evangelism is friendship evangelism!
Keeping up-to-date with current affairs is
essential for finding relevant subjects for creating 'bridge-building'
evangelistic material. Much political and social news has a moral
dimension which presents opportunities to bring in the Christian
message, and to which the Christian faith has the ultimate answers.
But it mustn't just be a 'the Bible says' type approach because we are
dealing with a post-Biblical generation that respects no authority,
least of all traditional religious authority. We need to demonstrate
the wisdom of a particular teaching from the Bible before presenting
the source itself. The skill of apologetics is needed like never
It is essential to keep in touch by maintaining
non-Christian friendships, but also to immerse ourselves in the
secular media - reading newspapers, magazines, watching TV and films,
and increasingly, surfing the net, etc.
Here at CPO I keep an up-to-date file on a range of
moral/social/ethical subjects from current affairs, plus testimonies
from well-known people, quotations from secular people that may prove
a Christian point (little do they know!), plus files on a range of
current 'hot' issues like genetics, the environment, Internet, or
whatever seems to be making the news regularly, so that when a need to
write on something like this occurs in the future I already have some
relevant source material. On a personal note, outside of work I also
periodically write a 'Christian comment' in a local newspaper, which
keeps me looking out for what people are interested in, so I can then
write on a topical subject.
This requires effort and time, and sometimes what
we have to watch or read may not be what we enjoy, it may be
distasteful and not exactly filling our minds with 'whatever is noble,
whatever is pure' etc. So we have to keep our critical faculties open,
and be careful not to absorb secular values ourselves, whilst
attempting to understand and stay familiar with them. But one thing is
certain - if we don't do this, we will end up being unable to relate
to non-Christians. In fact, in the past, the majority of Christians
who have been in the faith for more than a few years have probably
become incapable of being effective evangelists because they have so
little in common with non-Christians. This was partly due to the 'come
out from them and be ye separate' mentality which prevailed in some
evangelical denominations in past decades - where going to theaters,
cinemas, pubs, clubs, etc. was 'worldly' and a sin in itself. They
seemed to forget that Jesus was accused (falsely) of being a drunkard
and a sinner because he himself mixed with sinners and went to their
homes. He was loved by the sinners despite being holy himself. It was
the religious that despised him. It's a case of we need to be 'in the
world, but not of it'. That's real 'separation', real holiness.
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