|Image Credit: RC deWinter|
I want to point out that this invitation-to-experience has both the "come and see" (attractional) and "go and tell" (missional) dynamics to it.
These twin aspects are on display in John 1:33-42, and the same pattern is replayed in John 4:28-42. In each of these episodes, the going and telling involves an invitation offered to other people to come and experience the qualitative goodness of Jesus for themselves.
This approach to evangelism moves beyond a lot of the apologetic sticking points that make people weary of even talking about Christianity. Whether they admit it or not, one reason people remain "hush-hush" about their faith is that they fear being asked a question that they can't answer. That fear alone is enough to cut off the non-specialist from participating in programmatic evangelism (like Evangelism Explosion) before the presentation even gets off the ground.
The invitation-to-experience is so effective and powerful that even John Stackhouse, a prominent Christian theologian who teaches at Regent College, recognizes that 'inviting people to come to church to see for themselves is a great way to move beyond the 'I say/you say' deadlock of personal discussion" (Humble Apologetics, 193).
It's always been this way, even if Christendom temporarily made us think we could set the terms and everyone had to listen to us. Reflecting on evangelism in the early church, Michael Green writes, "Their [early Christian] community life, though far from perfect...was nevertheless sufficiently different and impressive to attract notice, to invite curiosity and to inspire discipleship in an age that was as pleasure-conscious, as materialistic and as devoid of serious purpose as our own" (Evangelism in the Early Church, 381).
And now, in our post-Christendom (some would say post-Christian) world, the message has to be embodied once again in the church if it is to be intelligible to people who aren't Christians. "[O]nly against the backdrop of a concrete community that resembles Christ, albeit imperfectly, can the gospel be heard most clearly" (Brad J. Kallenberg, Live to Tell: Evangelism for a Postmodern Age, 52).
Tim Conder, founding pastor of Emmaus Way in Durham, NC, brings together the ancient and (post)modern on this point. He writes, "The conversions of the disciples parallel the typical 'postmodern conversion,' where a person first enters into a community and it's the involvement with that community that ultimately transforms the whole of his or her life" (The Church in Transition, 146).
Like it or not, believe it or not: the canned evangelistic presentations have gone the way of Quixtar (down the tubes). The days of knocking on the doors of strangers to ask them about their belief in God are over. It's time to work on ourselves, to be the change we want to see, and do the hard work of becoming a community of character.
Then (and only then), by the grace of God, will we have something truthful and authentic enough to invite someone to come and see.
Questioning "Personal" Evangelism
The Household of God
Church: In the Middle of It All