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External Leaders

To examine evangelistic effectiveness outside of Campus Crusade, we interviewed David Bisgrove (Pastor of Evangelism at Redeemer Presbyterian); Ralph Ennis (Director of Intercultural Training and Research with the Navigators); Dave Bowman (Regional Director of Navigators); Terry Erickson (National Director of Evangelism with InterVarsity); and Denny Henderson (Pastor of Hill Country Bible Church, University of Texas).

A.  Success and Measurement
Significantly, only one of the external leaders we interviewed expressed a belief that they are witnessing “great evangelistic success.”

Terry Erickson (InterVarsity) reported that in the past four years, they have experienced more growth via conversion than at any other time in their history (with the exception of a one-year anomaly in the 1980’s when they partnered with Billy Graham).

Ralph Ennis describes the state of evangelism for the Navigators: “No, I don’t think we’ve ever been content (with our success in evangelism). Part of that is that we don’t count numbers, but instead count how many are walking with God later.  That is what is most disturbing.”

The Navigators do not keep any formal measurements of effectiveness.

“About a decade ago we had a revolt on keeping numbers, so we got rid of them,” Ennis said. “Now our feedback comes from stories.  We ask, ‘How are things going?’  We ask open-ended questions to our staff and expect them to share stories of where they are and what they are doing to reach out to others.  It’s an unsatisfactory business model, but as a spiritual model I think it’s Biblical.”

Dave Bowman, also with the Navigators, explained that the decision to discard the old form of metrics followed a change in focus on how they carry out evangelism.

“We stopped keeping stats in the 1980’s when we moved away from a proclamation model to what we are currently doing,” Bowman explained. “We were all about production and we measured everything. Now we find there is more value in an environment of grace than productivity.  It’s freeing, but there are negatives.  But a leader knows what is going on and what their people are doing (sort of).  We only track evangelism through prayer and one-on-one times.”

Though they do not have set metrics, Bowman reports about 20 to 30 conversions in a healthy year.

Denny Henderson, Pastor of HCBC-UT feels like they met their annual “goal” for evangelism, but determining “effectiveness” is more elusive.

“Ending the last semester, I think our conversion rate this past semester was about 17%,” Henderson said. “So that’s really high for us.  We feel like a healthy goal is 10% conversion rate.”

Henderson’s team determines the percentage goal based on how many students and church members are actively involved in the church. So if the number of active members is 700, then a goal of 10% conversion is 70 people.

“So we’ve reached our goal this semester,” Henderson said. “I’m still not sure if we are effective.  I think we’re very effective when it comes to engaging a people group through our missional communities, serving them. I think we’re good at the demonstration of the gospel to these people. I’m not sure how good we’re doing when it comes to the declaration of the gospel.”

B.  Approaches To Evangelism
Because of the declaration that InterVarsity has “experienced more growth via conversion than at any other time in their history,” we asked Erickson to explain the plan that helped make that statement a reality.

There seems to be an emphasis within InterVarsity to reach students with the gospel within the context of a “Comprehensive Plan,” which involves a semester-long effort by IV students who are:

• Praying for their friends.

• Doing “Gigs” (Groups Investigating God).  Gigs tend to keep students who come to faith.

• Doing “post-modern altar calls” at a semester-ending event (at some universities, like UC-San Diego, and yes, you read that correctly).  A big attraction of these events lies in the fact that they have “multiple calls for multiple audiences” (not just an altar call to receive Christ).  So, these “calls” for a public decision are…

• For the fallen Christian to recommit his/her life to Christ

• For the Christian student to make a Lordship decision

• For the non-Christian student to receive Christ right now

• For everyone, a decision about something else they just heard in the message

In the altar call, students must literally stand up, come forward, and receive prayer up front. Christian students are encouraged by the visible result of seeing many students making public decisions (of various kinds) for Jesus. This gives him or her further confidence to invite their non-Christian friends for the next time such a public altar-call event occurs.  Last year, at UC-San Diego, 57 students responded to such an altar call at the end of the semester.

In addition to the Comprehensive Plan, InterVarsity also:

• Uses Proxy Stations—interactive media stations that serve as discussion-starters. These are manned by four to five trained Christians. For example, a piece of provocative art (for example an eerie body image sign) is set up in a public place on campus.  Students approach it out of curiosity and are asked a simple question:  “If you could change one part of your body, what would it be?”  They are asked to put a pin on that one area of the artwork.  Intrigued, students proceed to the next station, which asks additional questions.  Finally, at the last station, they are asked, “Do you think that change is possible?” and, “How, if at all, would Jesus be relevant to that area of your life?” This approach emphasizes listening and question asking.

• Heavily emphasizes Social Justice themes. Annually, a big event (within the US chapters of IV) is held, where they attempt to make a big splash.  This year’s event will be at Ohio State University on the theme: “Sex-Slave Trafficking.”  (More information on this plan can be found in the report “Good Words, Good Deeds.”)

• Identifies regional “Champions” in each of their 14 IV US Regions.   A champion is someone who is tasked to pilot new ideas and initiatives in evangelism.  This is where their latest “best practices” come from.  Their National Office funds each Champion.

David Bisgrove of Redeemer Presbyterian Church depends highly on group meetings—small and large—for their evangelism. They strive to make these groups safe for non-believers—a place where they will feel respected. Two formats they use most often are:

• Members invite people to church where they hear safe, world-view deconstructing messages.  They always assume that non-Christians are listening so they have a tight filter on their word choice and they extend respect to unbelievers.

• Members invite their friends to small-groups–like book clubs to discuss Reason for God. They may rent out a bar, have wings and beer, and informally discuss skeptic questions.

On the Penn State campus, Bowman is working to train his students to be “Insiders.”

“We have a more intentional approach in which we equip students to share their faith for a lifetime,” Bowman said. “We encourage them to set themselves up in a place where they can be among the lost and move in as life allows them to.  It’s transferable to family, neighbors, work.  The core communication on this point is: ‘Become an insider.’”

Bowman recommended the book The Insider by Mike Shamey—a book he said can change your whole way of living. He also recommends The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges.

HCBC-UT has the goal of reaching 50,000 UT students with the gospel of Jesus Christ. In a recent case study done at HCBC-UT, their approach was expressed as, “The mission field (non-Christian UT students) is engaged through HCBC-UT student leaders living out their calling by proactively entering into Missional Communities, expressing faith, and exploring truth with other UT students.”

Missional Communities often revolve around existing groups inside the UT community.  Current groups include: gamers, music/arts majors, basketball, sailing, dorm geography, band, Arabic department, triathlon training, and more. These students are tasked with loving these communities and eventually proclaiming the gospel to them.

C.  Tools
It was interesting to note that within the Navigators, there are two different opinions on one tool—the Bridge Illustration (analogous to Campus Crusade’s Four Spiritual Laws).

“I stopped using the classic Bridge Illustration,” Ennis said. “I felt as time was going on, it was less effective in communicating the heart of the gospel to the heart of people.  Our audience has taken three steps away from my starting point.  For me, I want to interact with them in a way where they see the ‘kindness’ of God.  I must use kindness that leads to repentance—Romans 2:5.  What’s effective to me is making sure that by the time my talk is over they have experienced that kindness.”

Dave Bowman, on staff with the Navigators at Penn State, still uses that tool—among many others.

“We use the Bridge Illustration as a core reaping tool,” Bowman said. “We also teach people to ‘read the Bible’ with someone.  They might ‘read the Bible’ with one student or as many as five; we don’t care.  But we want every student to have the experience of reading the Bible with someone they know and are reaching out to.  For us, three to five unbelievers in a group is typical.  Pretty much everyone who tries it succeeds, even if it’s with only one kid.”

This “read the Bible” format is noteworthy because it significantly lowers the threshold for a successful Bible study. The Navigators also use an Investigative Bible Study curriculum that starts with the prodigal son and moves through other biblical stories and passages.

Redeemer uses books like The Reason for God and Journey to Jesus to breakdown stereotypes of “right wing, judgmental Christians,” and open the way for an understanding of the true gospel.

D.  Training Staff and Lay People
Redeemer Presbyterian relies heavily on leadership and staff to do evangelism through guiding group discussions and more formal talks during church services. They currently do not train their lay people. But they have realized that this lack of training for lay people is holding them back.

“One main reason people do not invite friends to these events is their fear that after the meeting they will be asked questions they cannot answer,” Bisgrove said.

So they see a need for stronger equipping.  They have talked about having Tim Keller create a resource with a long list of likely questions and a paragraph response to each.

Bowman explained that on the Penn State campus, they train their sophomores, juniors, and seniors every week. They do “randoms” (proclamation style) in the union for additional training.

As we examined ministries outside of Campus Crusade, we saw that they are making changes to their evangelism strategies based on the fact that much of their target audiences do not hold a gospel-compatible worldview. Ennis described this culture when he said, “Our audience has taken three steps away from my starting point. This is a difficult culture to minister in…The majority of the culture is turned off.”

These interviews with External Leaders persuade us that it may be valuable to:

• Come up with better metrics.
In light of the frustration that many of our staff mentioned in their survey, the fact that the Navigators haven’t kept statistics in over a decade was noteworthy.  We are not proposing to adopt their solution, but many of our staff feel our success criteria system isn’t as helpful as it would be.  Perhaps further discussions with the Navigator leadership could help us learn how to alter what we count.

• Determine what conversion rate we hope to experience.
We know that successful witnessing is “simply taking the initiative to share Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and leaving the results to God.”  But we also recognize an ongoing (but vague) disappointment in our conversion rate.  Denny Henderson believes that a 10% conversion rate is successful.  It may be valuable to us to have a rule of thumb that we can shoot for and celebrate.

• Learn from those who have embraced cultural changes earlier than Campus Crusade.
We are conscious that in many ways, Crusade has held on to our methodology longer than our peer organizations.  In this regard, we may no longer deserve our reputation for being as “evangelistically innovative” as in the past.  We may need to humble ourselves and be more willing to learn from those who are ahead of us in adapting to cultural change.

• Lead evangelistically by developing transferable training for a worldview-challenging mode of evangelism.
It was striking to us that at Redeemer, evangelism often means bringing your friends to an event where someone else does the talking.  That model clearly isn’t sufficient for us, where training the next generation of laborers is our mandate.  We have an  opportunity to serve the body of Christ by figuring out a way to make a much more sophisticated approach transferable.

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