Archives For Evangelism

“Every culture hostile to Christianity holds to a set of ‘common-sense’ consensus beliefs that automatically make Christianity seem implausible to people.” – Tim Keller

I’ve been working on new material for an Apologetics training class I’m teaching and came across this great article from Tim Keller that deals with Defeater Beliefs (that his book Reason for God deals extensively with).  Defeater Beliefs are commonly held ideas that make it impossible for someone to believe.

According to Keller, since most people hold to these Defeater Beliefs, there must be 2 parts to evangelism

  1. “The more negative aspect has to do with ‘apologetics’ – it consists in deconstructing the culture’s implausibility structure.
  2. The more positive aspect of sharing the gospel is to connect the story of Jesus to the base-line cultural narratives.”

But here’s what I thought was particularly helpful:

You can’t just immediately 1) Do apologetics or 2) Present the gospel

  • “If you try to do apologetics before you pull off a quick, attractive presentation of Christ, people’s eyes will glaze over and they will become bored.
  • But if you try to do a very lengthy explanation of the meaning of Christ’s cross and resurrection before you convincingly deal with the defeaters, they won’t listen to you either”

Keller explains there has to be a relationship where you have a Sandwich of 3 Layers:

  1. “Brief gospel summary. First, the gospel must be presented briefly but so vividly and attractively (and so hooked into the culture’s base-line cultural narratives) that the listener is virtually compelled to say “It would be wonderful if that were true, but it can’t be!” Until he or she comes to that position, you can’t work on the implausibility structure! The listener must have motivation to hear you out. That is what defeaters do – they make people super-impatient with any case for Christianity. Unless they find a presentation of Christ surprisingly attractive and compelling (and stereo-type breaking) their eyes will simply glaze over when you try to talk to them.
  2. Dismantle plausibility structure. Alvin Plantinga wisely asserts that people avoid Christianity not because they have really examined its teachings and found them wanting, but because their culture gives huge plausibility (by the media, through art, through the expertise and impressive credentials of its spokespersons) to believe a series of defeater beliefs that they know are true, and since they are true, Christianity can’t be.
  3. Longer explanation of the person and work of Christ. Now, if people find you have at least undermined the defeaters in a listener’s mind, you can now return to talking at greater length about creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.”

I highly encourage reading the full article.

Campus Ministry Links

October 4, 2010 — 1 Comment

Some great content put out there in the last few days from CCC staff.  If you’re in college ministry you should subscribe to each of these three blogs:

Midweek Links

September 22, 2010 — Leave a comment

Gary Runn’s Blog is consistently wise and good (as you would expect, if you know Gary). Two great posts from the last couple weeks:

Delegation largely raises up followers-empowerment raises up leaders.

Delegation is less work for you in the short run-empowerment is more work for you in the short run.

Delegation is more work for you in the long run-empowerment is less work for you in the long run.

GREAT comments on two CCCBlogference posts wrestling with very important questions for the future of building Cru movements and reaching every student.  Join the Conversation!

  • Are we really doing Evangelism in the first weeks on campus? – Great thoughts on whether Movement Building actually is just “Gathering” instead of “Winning”.  If you don’t have time, just skip the podcast and go to the comments!
  • This post has the same topic but the comments veer toward what needs to change for us to more effectively reach Hispanic students (because what we’re doing currently isn’t working).  Great stuff.

I have definitely not seen views on this change among students on campus, but hopefully it will trickle down in the coming years/decades.   This brief post says that many in academia are now saying that it is ridiculous/insulting to believe that all religions are just different paths up the same mountain (via DJJenkins‘ link on Twitter).

photo courtesy of Will Montague via flickr

Part 5 in a series on seeking to better understand our college audience from the research of the book Souls in Transition

Settling Down is for Later – College is a time to have fun.

I know. Not exactly ground breaking. But read some of the excerpts from Souls in Transition explaining this mindset of Emerging Adults and tell me this doesn’t have huge repercussions for ministry:

Rather than being settled, most of them understand themselves to be in a phase of life that is free, fluid, tentative, experimental, and relatively unbound. They want to enjoy it while it lasts. Here a bit of tension over life goals is expressed. They want to acquire independence and the ability to stand on their own two feet. But most of them also do not want full adulthood to come too quickly.

Someday in the future, when they’ve got their youthful passions worked out of their systems, then they will settle down.

Furthermore, when it comes to romantic relationships and sex, many – if not most – emerging adults see little connection between their lives now before settling down and the lives they will live later after having settled down.  Now . . . they can party, hook up with strangers, and generally play at being wild.  Later, when they settle down they’ll be sober, faithful, and responsible adults. The assumption seems to be “whatever happens in my early twenties stays in my early twenties”

As one young man said, ‘I think people should have a career and good income before getting married. Maybe get a lot of stuff out of your system, like messing around with girls and stuff, or partying, get that our of your system. Get all that stuff out of your system before you get married.  Once you get married, you won’t be able to do all that stuff.

The problem?  That “Stuff” doesn’t get out of your system.  That stuff is in you.  Sin is not external to you.  It is in your heart.  Lust is not a switch you can flip off when you get married.  You have the same heart.  The same sinful desires.

“They reflect only slight awareness that they may now even in small ways be establishing patterns and priorities. . . that will carry through the rest of their lives.”   pg. 71

We interviewed a student named Pete last spring who, I think, speaks for most college students.  He would likely call himself a Christian (as most students at the University of Arkansas do) but lives the wild college life – partying and hooking up with girls.

We asked him what he and his friends thought of Cru.

His response, “Most of my friends in my fraternity just want to have a good time in college.  So they don’t want to come to Cru or a Bible study because they don’t want to be good, they don’t want to be perfect right now.  They want to make mistakes and party and have sex with girls.”

So how do we reach Pete and his friends?  What have you seen that has worked?

We’re talking about this topic this morning at our team’s staff planning so I’ll share anything we come up with.

photo courtesy of Szymon Kochański via flickr

Getting Past Irrelevance

August 12, 2010 — 9 Comments

The random picture will be explained below.

Helping Students find Purpose (when they’re not looking for it).
There was some great discussion/comments on yesterday’s post The Chief End of College Students so I thought I’d solicit more specific help.

Crowd-source my ministry planning.

Using your collective genius to help us better reach college students with the gospel.

Stehanie N. summarized the question well in the comments yesterday:

“I understand that they aren’t already thinking about Life Purpose…but is it possible to get them there? And then create doubt about whether their ladder is leaning against the right wall, so to speak?”

So yesterday AM, our staff team spent about an hour looking for practical application points for our ministry. Here’s what we came up with in our first pass. I’m not posting this because we figured it out – I’m posting because maybe you/your team have found some things that work.

So if you would, take a look at what we came up with as a team and let me know what you’d add/subtract/change, etc.

It’s a bit long but hopefully very practical:

The main “solution” we came up with in “Getting Past Irrelevance” is relationships. As we see it, there is no one shot solution. It will take a sustained relationship and many conversations to help students see the incredible relevance of the gospel.

Just to be clear: we’re not going the relational evangelism route because we’re scared to share the gospel up front. Us? Scared? Please! If Campus Crusade drove a truck, we’d have 30 “Aint Skeered” and “No Fear” stickers plastered on our back windshield.

It’s just that our boldness with the gospel in the past (speaking for our team) has fallen on deaf ears because it’s filtered out thru the “not relevant to my life right now” auto-reflex of college students. So we will be bold by creating tension and then presenting the gospel.

Our vision statement is relational and provides the solution: “Equipping students so that everyone knows someone who passionately follows Jesus”.
As they really know (go thru life side by side) with a passionate Christ-follower they will see what is lacking in their own life (tension).
Then we can present the message of the gospel – because they have ears to hear.

So the long term solution is a relationship where the gospel is lived out and explicitly communicated through many mini-gospel presentations (best done in a conversational, “this is how the gospel is humbling me to the ground right now and how I’m finding hope in the grace/love of Christ right now”).

To get really practical, what do we do during the initial conversation?

  • In our particular situation, we have 2,000 contact cards at the beginning of the year. And hundreds of follow up appointments in the first few weeks. And throughout the year we (staff and students) are trying to “stir the pot” with whomever we talk to on campus, trying to start spiritual conversations. How do get past irrelevance in this initial conversation?

Here’s what we’ve done in the past on follow up appts:

  • Explain who we are as Cru and what we offer.
  • If the conversation is still moving along (i.e. their eyes aren’t glazed over), ask the Kennedy Questions (If you were to die tonight, how sure are you that you would go to heaven? & If God said, why should I let you into heaven, what would you say?) and try to share the gospel
  • If the conversation has hit a wall, yell as they’re slamming the door: “OK, so Tuesday night is Cru and we’ll see you at Bible study tomorrow night right???”
  • The goal – to invite them to a meeting/Bible study and share the gospel with them

Maybe we just suck at ministry but this hasn’t yielded much fruit for us (anyway you measure it – conversions, involvement in Cru, etc)

Here’s our best shot at a new approach – The goal of the initial conversation is to get a second relational connection (going to a movie, lunch the next day, a Bible study, playing Ultimate Frisbee). The primary goal of the first appointment is to launch a long-term relationship.

And to try to create tension starting with the first appointment or encounter.  Some ideas we had:

  • Quote/paraphrase Acts 17 – From before Creation God “determined the times set for you and the exact places where you should live.”
  • So God has you here at the U of A for a determined purpose.
  • So why do you think God has you here? What do you hope to get out of college?”
  • Their probable answer: “Get a degree. Meet People. Have a good time.”
  • Our response: ?????

That’s where we’re a bit stuck. How do you increase the tension in a conversational/non-preachy way: “I’ve arrived at the solution, let me tell you how yours is wrong”?   Because I think if you do that – you lose them again.

One idea – Use CCC’s Soularium cards and ask them to pick a couple pictures that best represent:
1. What drives you in life? What motivates you?
2. What does your spiritual life like now?
3. What would you like your spiritual life to look like by the time you graduate?

So help us out – what has worked for you in “Getting Past Irrelevance”. Additionally, how do you ratchet up tension in a bold yet conversational/non-preachy way.

photo courtesy of slambo_42 via Flickr (with the obvious Aint Skeered/CCC adaption)

One of the first rules of communication is “Know Your Audience”.  As we seek to communicate the life changing message of the gospel to this generation of college student, we have to understand their world.

Every day this week during our team’s staff planning we are getting to know a different aspect of our audience.

This morning we’ll be looking at: “What Drives College Students – What is their purpose in life?”. The book Souls in Transition, thru careful research, presents a fascinating view into the minds of the current generation of college students.

Here’s what the authors found:

“Some emerging adults have settled on what seems to be a clear and strong sense of purpose in life.  But they are the minority.”

So what Drives College Students, what do they organize their life around? The short answer: Themselves.

The fuller answer reveals

  • A driving focus
  • A long term goal
  • And thus the (perceived) irrelevance of religion/God:

Driving Focus = Standing on One’s Own

“The central, fundamental, driving focus in life of nearly all emerging adults is getting themselves to the point where they can “stand on their own two feet”.  Life’s major challenge for them is transitioning from dependence to independence, from reliance on others to self-sufficiency, from being under others’ authority and eye to living on their own.”   pg 34

Long Term Goal = Materially Comfortable Life

Most of the transitions, the figuring new things out, and the learning to stand on one’s own has the long-run goal of enjoying a materially comfortable life.  [The interviewees were asked] what they wanted out of life, to describe their life goals and dreams.  Nearly all of them replied with some version of the same essential answer: finish education, get a good job, marry, have children, buy a nice house with a yard, raise a family, become financially secure, drive reliable cars, enjoy family vacations, enjoy good relationships, maybe have a dog.  In short, nearly all spoke sincerely as if they still believed in the American Middle-class dream. Respondents voiced very few alternative life dreams, like achieving major social reforms, living overseas, serving the poor, or pursuing any other alternative lifestyles.  pg. 69

Unfortunate, all too common by-product of those two: Religion is irrelevent to life right now

One student summed it up well: “I’m not really involved with that type of thinking [religion] right now.  I’m really involved in my life and where I’m heading right now.”  pg. 145

“Emerging adults are primarily dedicated in this phase of their lives to achieving their own financial, identity and household independence from their parents.  Serious religious faith and practice do not necessarily directly conflict with that mission, but they are not crucial or intrinsic to it either.”   pg. 76

Those three things – 2 things they organize their life around, and 1 (religion) that they don’t – HAVE to affect how we do ministry.

Their focus has to be transferred from self to God.  They are not “captain of my ship master of my soul”.

They have to be shown a greater purpose.

But the third one is what it all rests on – how do you even get your foot in the door (to talk about 1&2) when Joe Freshmen you’re talking to dismisses you out of hand because he’s not buying what you’re selling? Your message is irrelevant to him.

I would LOVE to hear any thoughts you have.   How do you overcome this perceived irrelevance?

photo courtesy of depinniped via flickr

Scared to Share

July 25, 2010 — 1 Comment

This is part 3 in a series of posts inspired by the book Souls in Transition.

Young people are sharing their faith less, but why? My gut is they do it less because they believe (& have been told) a myth.

Keith Davy reports on an interesting survey called “How teenagers faith practices are changing” (link to a great summary on the survey – a quick, must-read for college ministers):

“The study suggests a significant decline in believing teens attempts to witness.  Believing teenagers were asked if they had attempted to explain their religious beliefs to someone else with different religious beliefs with a hope that they might receive Jesus Christ as Savior. In 1997, 63% of “born-again” youth answered affirmatively. In December 2009, that number had dropped to 45%.”

Here’s my 2 cents on what causes students (and all of us) to share the gospel less:

  1. Lack of understanding of the gospel. If we really understand it, we can’t help but share it.
  2. They’re gun shy. We’ve all heard the doom and gloom of “post-Christian” America and are scared to approach people who surely must hate Christians.

It’s something that I’ve noticed in students in the last few years – an almost embarrassment to tell others that they are Christians.  The book unChristian really hits the nail on the head as far as students’ reluctance to share their faith:

“2/3 of young born-again Christians say they believe that most outsiders have a negative image of Christianity. Another 1/3 say that the way Christians act and the things they say make them embarrassed to be a Christian. We heard many young believers say that in some circumstances they are reluctant to admit they are Christians. They don’t fear being unpopular, but they feel that raising the Christian flag would actually undermine their ability to connect with people and to maintain credibility with them.”

But here’s the interesting thing, and back to the whole “myth” thing.

Souls in Transition says something REALLY interesting: that it’s a myth that young people are hostile or averse toward talking about religion (christian teens’ fears are unfounded). In their research the authors find non-Christian students “generally seem happy to talk about religion if it happens to come up.” (page 144)

“In the ordinary lives of many emerging adults, religion doesn’t come up often as a topic of conversation, but that’s no because most are actively avoiding it.  It is . . .simply not something of central importance that most would expect to . . .come up in discussions. . . it is no particularly threatening or controversial.” (page 144)

So, to me, the 2 questions we need to address are:

  1. How do we help students more fully experience/understand the gospel (besides the obvious answer of having them listen to TIm Keller sermons 24/7)?
  2. How do we help them “get in the game” and simply talk about their faith as a way of life?

Any ideas?

photo courtesy of Tiago Ribeiro via Flickr

Pancake vs. Waffle

July 20, 2010 — 7 Comments

This is a snippet from our most recent prayer letter.  The reason I decided to start this blog is to share resources – those of you who send out prayer letters and want to use the above .jpg for your letter, right click here to download (the linked file has the references to the “University of Arkansas” removed).

This video gives a good snapshot of what God is doing in spreading his name to every “waffle pocket” at the University of Arkansas – students reaching students in their spheres of influence:

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It’s either or.  As a whole, college students are either hostile toward religion or ambivalent/open toward it.

Yes, I know every college student is unique and they range from passionate follower of Christ to atheist.  But when you think about doing college ministry, especially evangelism, what college student are you imagining you will encounter?  An angry, Christian-hating atheist or an open-to-discussion student.

Obviously, your approach to evangelism (as a ministry and as an individual) will be vastly different depending on your answer to that question.

Two landmark books have been published in the last few years on spirituality among the college-aged:

unChristian  &  Souls in Transition

I highly recommend both of them.  Incredibly eye opening.

I just read Souls in Transition this summer and will unpack its content over the next few weeks on this blog.

But, although they have some similarities in their findings  (and both are rather dry books written by researchers – Souls is far tougher to wade through of the two), I think they paint a very different picture of Young Adults (as they call those of college age).

This is a gross generalization but here’s what they conclude about Young Adults:

  • unChristian – There is a growing tide of hostility and resentment toward Christianity
  • Souls in Transition – Most “are OK with talking about religion as a topic, although they are largely indifferent to it”

Working with college students in the Deep South I find the results from “Souls” to be much truer to my experience.  But we live in the Bible belt and I know our students aren’t typical of the average American college student.  College ministers at Cal Berkeley or NYU obviously will encounter a different audience.

What has been your experience in working with “outsider” college students (as unChristian calls non-Christians)?