Recently a lady tried to persuade my wife and I to offload $12,000 of our hard earned money into a holiday club. From our first introduction, she was extremely friendly, accommodating and kind. She smiled constantly, asked about our children, our work and our interests and made sure to use our names regularly. She expressed empathy and understanding. She listened carefully to our comments and provided supportive and encouraging feedback. In fact, she used all the techniques of persuasion that you can find in many books on how to succeed in business.
Studies have clearly proven that there are certain techniques that can influence people to make a decision, to buy a product, to join a cause or to make a personal commitment. If these techniques are so successful, why doesn’t the church use them to gain new members? Well, some churches do. Are these churches successful? To a degree, yes. The strategies have been proven to work time and time again. However, the real question to ask is, ‘Do these strategies lead people to a life of complete surrender to God or do they just fill churches with pew sitters whose lives and thoughts differ very little to those outside the church’?
MAKING A PURCHASE
When selling a product, the commitment the consumer makes is usually very small and in most cases, reversible. For example, if a good salesman persuaded me to part with $1000 for a really nice suit, I’ve handed over $1000. Big deal! I can make more money, I can take the suit back for a refund or I can just enjoy wearing the suit and be happy with my purchase. The purchase does not require me to commit anything beyond the $1000. I don’t have to change my lifestyle, my morals, my worldview, opinions, beliefs, etc. Let’s compare that to making a genuine faith commitment. This would require me to accept that I am a sinner, make significant lifestyle changes, hand over control of my life to God, submit decision-making to God’s will, perhaps change my friends, give up my personal ambitions, give up 1-2 hours minimum every week to attend church, contribute financially to the church, commit time on a daily basis to spiritual growth, volunteer my time to the church, etc, etc, etc. Also, the commitment is life-long. I can’t get a refund if I don’t like the product. It would take an outstanding salesman to persuade someone to make this type of commitment.
USING A METHOD
Interestingly, Jesus managed to attract large numbers of people to follow him.
‘And a great multitude was gathered to him,..’ Mark 4:1
‘And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude..’ Mark 6:34
‘..many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door.’ Mark 2:2
Wherever Jesus travelled, he was surrounded by great numbers of people. Yet, Jesus did not use the persuasive strategies of a salesman. So why were so many drawn to Him? One Christian author explains it in this way:
‘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”’.
-The Ministry of Healing, pg 143.
Breaking this down, we can see there are 4 basic components:
- Spend time with people
- Show you care
- Help them out
- Share your faith
In the quote above, the word ‘alone’ is very significant. What it means is that there is no other effective method. If this is true, churches that are implementing worldly strategies are destined to fail in making true disciples. There is something else implicit in this strategy that is necessary to have the same success in ministry as Jesus. Sincerity. I know that the sales lady who tried to sell me the holiday package was only being nice to me in order to make a sale. She had no genuine interest in me. Her kindness and attention was a two hour commitment. Once the sale was made, she would never have to see me again. She would have her commission and I would have my vacation membership. Jesus, on the other hand, had a genuine interest in and love for people. He had nothing to gain from winning them over. He never asked for money or favours. In fact, his sincerity and purity of motive was demonstrated in his willingness to suffer so that others could benefit. He went without sleep, got in trouble with the authorities, denied himself the joys of family life and gave up the opportunity to earn an income. Jesus’ greatest demonstration of his sincerity was his willingness to sacrifice his life, dying a painful, agonising death in order to offer salvation for the world.
Jesus’ method of evangelism is not about making a quick sale. It is not about implementing the latest strategies from best-selling authors. Jesus’ method is about connecting with people in a genuine way over an extended period of time, that demonstrates love and compassion for them. The product that Christians offer is the greatest product in the world, a reconciled life with God now and eternal life in a perfect place. However, most people are put off by the fine print, the changed lifestyle, the giving up of cherished sin, the handing over of one’s life to someone else. But Christ’s method transcends all this and instead focuses on developing a relationship with someone that demonstrates the love of God. It is this love that softens people’s hearts and draws them to God. It is this love that develops trust so that people are willing to listen to the message of Jesus. Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people.
By Jonathan Petersen
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