Shifting the paradigm and practice of evangelism

OOI Staff

October, 2017

Pastor Walt Bennett, Executive Director of Organic Outreach International, recently spoke with Bruce Bugbee, Executive Director of the Reformed Church in America Far West Region, to hear his thoughts on the shifting paradigm and practice of evangelism.

Bruce’s ministry in reaching others with God’s love spans 45 years. He currently oversees eight regions within the denomination in the western United States and Canada. Through his 40 years in ministry, Bruce has reached the lives of thousands of young people serving primarily in southern California.

Having been in ministry spanning four decades, he has lived through the structured or more “canned” approaches to evangelism. What he finds now is, “the culture has shifted, we’re really moving towards Organic Outreach, meaning it’s about your story interacting with His story to perhaps help people understand their story. It’s a transition that’s moving much more relationally, life on life, over against the feeling of a programmatic, ‘you’re a project kind of person’ approach.”

He articulates the various segments of growth the church is experiencing and the losses. Church attendance is on the decline. Why? Bruce reflects, “Twenty-five percent of the group that is the most mature, most giving, most serving, the most evangelizing, is thinking of leaving the church1.” He credits this move away from the church as a result of a codependent relationship that the church has developed with its attendees. “The church has not helped people to be independently dependent on Christ…the church has developed itself as a programmatic center of things. If you need help with your marriage, we’ll have a class. If you need to know more about the Bible, we’ll have a class. The church is built around this education model of the church that will give you what you need.” 

“The move today as Christians mature is to rely less on church programs and grow into a deeper, more mature relationship with Christ; developing the skill of discernment to know what the Spirit is saying to them. People have too long relied on programs at church to direct their relationship with Jesus. When it comes to moving into a mature, deeper relationship, and exercising the skills of discernment, they are looking elsewhere for growth because no program can teach listening, hearing, and obeying the Spirit of God. It is a learned practice acquired through good modeling. Hence the need to do “life on life” and share real stories and struggles in pursuit of a loving, deep relationship with God.”

"We check in, asking each other, ‘What’s your temperature?’ This shift may have rocked my world, but I didn't know what I didn't see until I asked God to show me."

The first shift is something he learned working with Kevin Harney over the years, training side-by-side. He gleaned from Pastor Kevin that people want to share their faith. It is not a fundamental lack of desire, they simply don’t know where or how. Organic Outreach provides the accountability and encouragement that makes all the difference. No need to be a superstar or memorize a series of coined phrases, it’s just outreach – a move away from those phrases and pre-scripted paradigm into a relationship, through the sharing of stories of what God has done in our lives. It’s real, it’s organic.

The second paradigm shift is a move away from results-focused evangelism towards a joy mindset that has at its focus the process of building relationships. The movement at RCA is called “Transformed and Transforming”. The three critical areas are life transformation, missional engagement, and emerging leaders. Bruce found in his region, RCA was doing a good job with missional engagement and emerging leaders but noticed an opportunity for growth and development in life transformation. As such, RCA decided to become the catalyst to give tools and processes to initiate a movement at the church level. Bruce remembers Kevin postponing a writing commitment to come to train his team. That was the start of a prosperous relationship with Organic Outreach International. 

“As I began looking around and asking God to give me eyes to see, for the first time I saw my neighbor Harold in a different light. I met Melanie on a plane. People started appearing in my life, as the Holy Spirit shifted my eyes to see. Additionally, with my fellow believers, it’s raised the bar on our accountability. We check in, asking each other, ‘What’s your temperature?’ This shift may have rocked my world, but I didn’t know what I didn’t see until I asked God to show me. Organic Outreach has enabled me to see those in my sphere of influence differently.”

Even before there is evangelism, there must be an authentic relationship. Bruce observes that as the relationship grows “then grows evangelism and eventually the joy and privilege of discipleship. The invitation before the church today is how to integrate the new believers, new questions, and new culture. There are just a bunch of new mindsets that haven’t been in the church.” He believes that the melding of the old and new will pose challenges for the churches. “Organic Outreach equips us to close the gap, focus on the process, and invest in relationships.”

The Millennials and all new believers need somewhere to adapt and learn. They are looking for Life on Life, not canned programs. They want real truth, from real-life experience. Are we prepared to share our life with them?

1Kinnaman, David (2011). You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church and Rethinking Faith. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

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