Check out this article:
“How Outsiders Find Faith,” by Mike Fleischmann in Christianity Today’s Leadership magazine. Fleischemann is a pastor in California who decided to take the efficacy of evangelism to task. With the help of two sociologists from Oregon State University, he polled groups of believers to figure out when, why, and how they came to faith.
Fleischmann had always heard that 85 % of Christians came to faith before the age of 18. While this is generally true among people who grew up in evangelical Christian homes, broader populations did not show this to be the case at all. Fleishchemann makes the big distinction between “churched” and “unchurched,” by which he means to differentiate people who had grown up with Christian parents or influences and those who did not. His findings are quite interesting, especially when we remember how important it is to think of our audience when we want to see people come to faith. Everyone comes from a different situation, and therefore everyone will be open to faith at a different time, and frequently during a time of personal transition or crisis, no matter when in life that time of change might fall. Fleischmann says, ” I’ve learned to pay attention to the person’s life, to be sensitive to what is happening, and ready to share when the window opens. Someone who has been closed to faith for their entire life may become inexplicably receptive when circumstances change.”
Here is an excerpt discussing the roles of church members in bringing people to faith:
Other differences, however, were more surprising. For instance, I assumed that pastors—”the professionals”—would have a greater impact on unchurched people. Not so. Statistically, a pastor or youth leader is more likely to nudge someone from a Christian home toward a decision than to help an unchurched person find faith.
What made the real difference with the unchurched were personal relationships. The majority who find Christ, look back and say that it was a friend who influenced them toward faith. In my interviews, over and over again, people shared about someone in relationship with them.
This friendship may have been for a lifetime or just a season, but it was the right person at the right time that helped bring them to faith.
Denise was befriended by a teacher at her daughter’s daycare. Tom had a surfing buddy who came back after summer vacation totally changed by Jesus. John had a neighbor who loaned him tools and helped him in the yard. Phyllis was new in town and met another mom at the park who invited her to an Easter service.
I place much more confidence in the people of my church than I used to. I understand now that most of them are far better situated to lead unchurched people to Christ than I am. And I’ve learned that if I do lead someone to Christ, I will likely be wearing the “friend” hat and not the “professional minister” hat.
Make sure you take the time to read Fleischmann’s article. If you are like me, it dispels a long held misunderstanding I’ve clung to and perhaps used as an excuse for not sharing my faith with others. I’ve sought both God’s forgiveness and empowerment to be more intentional about engaging older men and women with the Good News about Jesus.
Will you do the same?
Great article, Don!
I’ve really struggled with the validity of a similar idea thrown about, that being the “4-14” window (between the ages of 4 and 14 children are most receptive to the gospel, but once they hit 15, you’re in trouble).
My concern with these ideas is twofold:
1. They practically deny God’s sovereignty in salvation, making it little more than a “get ’em while they’re young” numbers game.
2. They strike me as a rationale for not sharing our faith. Don, you touched on this briefly at the end of your post and I’m grateful for your humility in suggesting that it might have been that for you.
When I hear or read stats like this it grieves me because, according to those figures, I should never have responded to the gospel.
I was 25 when Jesus saved me, far outside those windows. My wife was 23. My friends were all in their early or mid- twenties as well. I’m grateful that God is bigger than our statistics and saves according to His own purposes, and not according to an age range or demographic.
(Please forgive my rambling, by the way)
Aaron, thanks for your comment.
I especially appreciate your point concerning God’s sovereignty in salvation. You are correct, accepting this premise is a direct corollary of the erroneous theology that man chooses God rather than the other way around; in short, it denies election.
If we understand the Scriptural teaching that God calls us into a faith relationship with Him through repentance, then there is no logical reason why this should decrease or cease as people mature into adulthood. Is His Spirit incapable of breaking through to sinners when they become adults?
Soli deo gloria
Pardon my naivity, but why should we believe anything we read without bringing it to the bar or scripture. We claim to be bible believers, but we do an audit we find our views are formed more by others who tell us what the bible says! Even if we had the great apostle Paul preaching to us weekly, I think we should be just like the Bereans who went and found out if the scriptures actually said that. I recal Dr Lloyd Jones relaying a story about a barber who boasted that the thing he loved about the Roman Catholic church was that they did his thinking for Him. Brethren, God has given us brains, discernment, and His Word. Lets use them!
Yes, you are sadly correct – it’s so easy to be influenced contrary to scripture when we take our eyes off God’s Word, particularly when this influence comes from well-meaning people whose opinions we value.