Jun 11, 2009

Postmodern Methods

Postmodern Society can be very intimidating and overwhelming. The truth is that evangelizing postmoderns is probably no more difficult than understanding the era that went before it and reaching those peoples.

Following are two major characteristics of the postmodern world. These characteristics will be discussed and evangelistic strategies offered that can be successful.

1. Community
“Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthrow believes that the church of the twenty-first century will remain vital insofar as ‘it can provide people with a strong sense of community’. But that is precisely what is at issue. The church is increasingly unable to sustain a sense of ‘community’, at least a community ‘woven together in love’ (see Colossians 2:2) with which postmoderns can connect”.[1] Postmodernism is very loud to declare that one needs the role of community in their life. There is a great emphasis on the community rather than on the individual. Postmodernism pronounces that community is necessary in the process of knowing. The network of people that one has around them is vital to the discovery of truth. As we interact with others, as we do life with others, as we journey with others in our day to day-to-day life, we learn. “When we only expose ourselves to our own thoughts about things, those thoughts increasingly take on the status of self-evidence. It is only as we share our perspectives with others that they are able to point out considerations that we have overlooked or underestimated”.[2] Postmodern Culture highly values that people are in relationship with others as they walk through life.

The type of community or relationship that is being inferred here is not one whereby an individual comes along to an event where there are many other people, sits, listens and leaves. It is speaking of a group where people meet regularly, where people get to know each other and truly become a part of each other’s life. A group where deep community is formed.

The challenge for the church is to create an environment of community, to have a sense of deep connection and relationship. “From the postmodern perspective, the idea of relationships in the context of community is very important. Although rational, logical arguments alone have lost the strength of persuasion they once had, relational connection, authenticity, and pragmatic answers to life’s problems are key elements that can help open the door for the gospel. The context of relationship can provide a persuasive entrĂ©e for the gospel to be heard”.[3]

How Can The Church Be Successful With This?

Cell Groups
Postmodern people make decisions after they have been apart of community and have listened with intent what other have to say. Recently a year 12 high school student started attending a schools outreach program. She would come along each week to receive a free cup of hot chocolate and to have a chat with the friendly youth workers from the local church. Eventually the same girl, Kylie, was invited to attend a cell group on Friday nights with other girls her age. Each week Kylie would sit in her cell group with the same girls, hearing their stories on how they lived their lives as Christians. As the months went on, Kylie made very genuine friendships with these girls and they started to bond closer together. A sense of community had been formed; Kylie had found a new friendship group to hang out with. The exciting moment finally arrived. One night as the group was talking and enjoying each other’s company; Kylie decided that she wanted to follow the Jesus that the girls were following. That night she gave her life to Christ and has been faithfully following Him since.

Community was formed; Kylie had the opportunity to see Christianity in action and eventually made her own decision to follow Christ. “Postmodern people make decisions based on their experience within the community. The evangelistic process is more of a community affair than a one-to-one encounter. Post moderns experience a two-stage conversion: they become converted to the community – over a period of time they begin to identify with the group and feel a sense of belonging. At this point they may be a member of the community without having made a commitment to Christ. The next stage is making a conversion to Christianity.[4]

With this in mind, a church wanting to effectively reach postmoderns would be strongly encouraged to have cell groups as one of their main methods of doing evangelism. Postmodern people are more likely to come to Christ through attending a cell group than they are by sitting in a church pew each week. They are more likely to attend a group where they can form relationship than they are to come along to a church service where they are predominantly sitting in a pew whilst someone speaks. Small groups have existed in churches for a number of years, but few have made the transition to ‘cell groups’. Small groups can be defined as a place where believers meet regularly to discuss Christianity and grow in their faith. Cell groups, however, can be defined as a place to grow spiritually but also a place where outreach is done. Members of a cell group would have a two-fold focus: discipleship and evangelism. Small groups have only the discipleship focus. In a church with small groups, the church putting on big outreach events is the primary method of evangelism. Small group members and others in the church are encouraged to bring along non-Christian friends to hear a message of salvation. In a cell church, the cells complete the primary form of evangelism. Cell members invite non-believers to join their cell where they can see Christianity actively lived out. It is envisaged that that unbeliever would find a place of belonging in the cell, eventually coming to a faith in Christ. The cell method of evangelism is a highly effective tool for the postmodern church.

The Alpha Course

One phenomenon that is successfully converting post moderns and sweeping the world is the Alpha Course. In Alpha we see that people are invited into community for a period of time to enjoy each others company, hear from each other and discover Christianity. The coarse runs for fifteen weeks consecutively. Alpha caters to the postmodern cry for community. It is built around participants sharing a meal together, watching a video presentation and then spending time in discussion. The community that is formed is key to reaching the postmodern person. It is no wonder Alpha has been such a success in reaching the postmodern world.

2. Relationship & Bridge-Building
It is true to say that during the modern era, many people had a God-consciousness to their lives. People in society during this time would consider going to church, church was a talked about part of society. It would not be unusual for a modern person to attend church at least a few times a year. “The typical nonbeliever of the 1950’s more than likely had the following in their spiritual resume: a belief in the deity of Christ; a belief that truth existed and that the Bible was trustworthy; a positive image of the church and it’s leaders; church background, knowledge, and experience that was relatively healthy; and a built in sense of guilt or conviction when they violated the basic values of the Judeo-Christian heritage”.[5]

With the modern mindset it made sense for the church to run big events that were evangelistic in nature. The one-off event evangelism worked on the presupposition that people already had God deposits in their lives to be built upon. There was already a Christian foundation. When the church engaged in door-to-door visits it was productive as the homeowner viewed the minister or church member in a positive light. This does not exist in a postmodern world. Postmoderns are skeptical of the church and are more than likely to politely slam the door in ones face. Secondly, many postmoderns have no Christian foundation and have no friends who actually adhere to the Christian faith. The church needs to build relationships with post moderns.

During the modern era, churches would have their Sunday night meetings as ‘evangelistic’ meetings. They would hold a service that was geared toward the unbeliever, the presupposition being made that the person would actually attend church and secondly that they were interested in hearing about Christianity. A church-goer would bring their unsaved friend along. The postmodern world is not interested in attending institutionalized religion. The postmodern world is not looking to hear about Christianity, they want to ‘see’ Christianity.

With all of this in mind, it needs to be noted that the church in the new millennium needs to build relationship with non-believers so that they can ‘see’ Christianity in action. Postmoderns want to see people walking the talk; they are not interested in simply hearing the ‘talk’. Church has a negative connotation in the postmodern world; it has an irrelevant connotation.

The church needs to work hard at placing itself in the lives of postmodern people so they can ‘see’ Christianity at work. Relationships need to be formed where bridges can be built into the lives of unsaved people. Where bridges can be built so that unsaved people can cross over in to the church when they choose. Evangelism in the postmodern world is about building relationship with people so that overtime they can ‘see’ Christianity. Evangelism in the postmodern world understands that evangelism is a ‘process’ not a one-off event.

How Can The Church Be Successful With This?

Weekly Contact Programs In The Community
Looking back at the case study with Kylie, one can see that she came along weekly to a program in her school where she could simply sit and have a coffee. The key elements were that Christian workers dialogued with her regularly enough that they could build a relationship with her. Kylie begun on the process of evangelism the day she meet those youth workers. Each week she would sit and talk with them and learn about their lives. Little chunks of God ‘stuff’ were starting to be deposited in her life. The youth workers understood that Kylie would come to Jesus overtime; there was no need to try and get her to go through the four spiritual laws and to pray the sinner’s prayer immediately. Kylie needed to be given time to ‘see’ Christianity in people lives, to experience genuine care and concern from Christians and to feel loved and accepted.

Postmoderns can be successfully evangelized if the church could create programs outside of the church building where genuine friendship and care can be fostered. These programs can be referred to as ‘bridge-building’ programs. These types of programs may also be created inside the church building, however a neutral ground is encouraged as many have a negative connotation of church. It means that church members will have to put in a consistent effort to spend time with unbelievers. The work of evangelism is ‘time and care’ in this postmodern culture. One believer made the following comment, “Craft groups in our churches have been very effective and we have seen a number of unchurched become Christians through the relationships developed and the care shown. Creative, dedicated committees are required for such ventures, but the rewards are evident”.[6]

Bridge-building programs may include: weekly high schools lunchtime activities in schools; weekly seniors afternoons; after-school playgroups for primary aged children at school; weekly craft groups for women; playgroups for children and mums; weekly young mums education classes and weekly dance classes for teenage girls. The programs may be weekly or run in blocks of six to ten plus weeks, the objective consistent regular time with people so that relationships can be formed. A young mum attending a weekly program on parenting skills is more likely to cross the bridge and begin attending a weekly cell group with those women as she has already established some genuine relationships with them.

Bridge-building programs need to be focused on building relationship. They are about getting into the lives of the postmodern person whereby they can ‘see’ and experience the love of a Christian person. Jesus needs to be ‘seen’ by a postmodern world.

[1] Sweet, learn to Dance the Soul Salsa, 88
[2] Erickson, Truth or Consequences, 201
[3] Carson, Telling The Truth, 246
[4]Evangelism Among Postmodern Youth. (Internet) www.sonlifeafrica.com/model/pomo3.htm, accessed 26 August 2003
[5] Dockery, The Challenge of Postmodernism, 174
[6] Campbell, Practical Evangelism in a Postmodern Era. (Internet) 2001, www.Great-awakening.org/practical_evangelism_in_a_postmodern_era.htm . accessed 26 August 2003.