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New Believers

We interviewed 30 students (age 18-23) from different ethnicities and locations who have come to Christ within the past 12 months.  Out of 30 interviews, no two people shared an identical story (i.e. Their obstacles, mode of evangelism and reasons for believing were varied).  Below are common threads among the 30 that help us better understand the factors that led them to faith in Christ.

A. Common Obstacles
Many New Believers expressed having had misconceptions and a lack of understanding about what it meant to be a Christian.  Often Christians they knew while growing up exacerbated their misconceptions.  In fact, though many New Believers grew up around Christianity, they would say that they’d never really heard a clear presentation of the gospel before college.

Most New Believers hadn’t felt a need for change when life was good. However, when circumstances changed or things got emotionally difficult, they then considered Christianity.

B.  Modes of Evangelism
Most often, New Believers identified a combination of modes that were instrumental in leading them to Christ.  Rarely did any one mode stand alone, though it was clear that the most common combination of modes included natural-mode as a major portion of the persuasive action.

Natural: 95% of New Believers that we interviewed came to Christ through the influence of a friend.  The natural-mode of evangelism was by far the single biggest contributing factor among the three modes of evangelism.  Commonly, a friend talked with them over a period of time.  It was never a one-time event.

Body: Typically, body-mode evangelism took place in the context of a Cru large group meeting.  It often served to augment the witness of their friends, with students sometimes “awed” by the worship of other collegians around them.   They observed something special in others at these large group meetings and wanted that for themselves.

Ministry: The handful of students who would say that the ministry-mode of evangelism was primary to their coming to Christ would also recognize that this mode was still connected to the natural-mode of evangelism in their conversion.

An example below, of a New Believer named Kate, shows the interplay of all three evangelistic modes coming together in her conversion.  Though all three are present, it is clear she identifies the natural-mode as most decisive.

“I began my time at JMU as an atheist, angry at God for the years of abuse I’d faced.  Friends (N) convinced me to go to my first Cru meeting, but it was the worship that brought me back (B).  Then, my great-grandmother died (N), and her last words to me were: ‘God loves you’ (blend of N and M).  How did she know I’d been thinking about God?  I drove home, praying for the first time in my life.  I convinced a CCC friend (N) to read the gospel booklet (blend of N and M) to me, and I became a Christian on November 15, 2008!”

N = Natural-Mode B = Body-Mode M = Ministry-Mode

C:  Reasons For Placing Faith In Christ
Typically someone else took the initiative to reach out to the New Believer.  Very rarely, did anyone come to Christ without a Christian friend leading him or her.

Although this is difficult to be precise, approximately 50% of those interviewed came to Christ based on emotional needs (e.g. they said that they didn’t like themselves or felt guilty before coming to Christ).  In these cases, the greatest apologetic was always observing other believers who were emotionally healthy.  In this context, body-mode evangelism was the primary apologetic, coupled with natural or ministry-mode.

Most New Believers came to Christ after some obstacle was removed that kept them from faith.  For example, students understood a key truth concept about God, or observed genuine faith in other students.

Conclusion
These interviews with New Believers persuade us of the following:

• We need to know and understand common misconceptions students have about God and be able to help them replace any lies with truth.

• We must value all modes of evangelism, realizing that natural-mode is more powerful than ever before.  At the same time, we would be wise to create environments where non-Christians can be exposed to genuine believers living out their faith via body-mode.

• We must continue to take the initiative in evangelism, with the incremental goal of helping bring them closer to God, rather than feeling the need to persuade them to pray a prayer (choose or reject God now).

• We must be willing to establish relationships with non-believers and invest time in their lives if we expect our ministry with them to be effective.

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