Redesigning Evangelism Like A Hacker

Written by Ben Cheek on .

jesus hackerVery few ordinary Christians see themselves as evangelists. I certainly wouldn't have called myself one. The word always brought to mind guys in slick suits with loud ties trying to pull on people's heart strings and wallets through TV screens. Honestly, an evangelist wasn't something I wanted to be. That is until I learned something that changed the definition of the word for me.

When Jesus picked the word “evangelist”, he did it with purpose. It had been used before. The word meant a “messenger of good news” and came from the days when warriors were sent from the front-lines of battles to announce to cities one key piece of news: Will we live or die? If the messenger came with news of victory, he was an evangelist. So an evangelist is someone who announces victory to people – the good news that they will live and not die. Now that sounds like something I could be into.

Right at this moment, every Christian needs to recover their passion for evangelism. As the world population explodes, the church – for the first time since it started in 33AD – isn't keeping pace with population growth. Part of this decline in Christian growth has to do with the de-Christianizing of the West, especially among the younger generations. For example, a new Pew Research poll has found that GenX and the Millennials in America are losing faith at increasing rates. GenXers (ages 34-49) are 5% less likely to be certain about God's existence than previous generations and Millennials (ages 18-33) are 16% less likely. For the first time in at least 5 generations, less than half (38%) of Millennials consider themselves “a religious person”.

Quoting statistics many add urgency to the call for rekindling every-member evangelism in our churches, but it does little to make actual evangelism easier. Evangelism is hard for two main reasons: One – the world is complex. Two – our individual lives are complex. Doing evangelism – announcing God's victory to people waiting to learn their fate – is a visionary exercise. It requires us to show people a reality they can't see or touch. This requires faith, which, like a seed, requires space to grow. The complexity of our world leaves little space in people's lives for this seed. In fact, for most of us, it takes all our energy just to keep the seed alive in our own crowded lives. The thought of sharing Jesus with friends, family, and associates just adds to the mess and threatens to make our most important relationships way too complex.

In order to recover our passion for evangelism, we need to start with seeing Jesus differently. If we see Jesus as a religious authority who wants to pile evangelism on top of our already over-burdened lives, we'll never be able to do it. I think we need to see Jesus as a hacker who knows how to defeat complexity with clever, system-subverting, and life-giving strategies.

What do I mean by seeing Jesus as a hacker? Watch this six minute video to find out more:

Hackers tackle complex problems using a couple of simple rules – really just some good design principles:

  • Rule One: People above systems: creativity, fun, and access

  • Rule Two: Respect the system, but don't get entangled

  • Rule Three: Create open, versatile, sharable improvements

  • Rule Four: Keep everything as simple and decentralized as possible

There rules line up surprisingly well with the Way of Jesus – His actual methods of ministry. If you read this list you can probably think of Jesus doing things that demonstrate each of these rules. These design rules can make a tremendous difference when applied to everything from software development to creating a personal workout regiment. I think there are three main implications if we apply these rules to evangelism in the church:

1. Makes it easier for everyone to get on the same page. Almost everyone in the church has heard a message about the importance of evangelism. Often, these messages leave us feeling more guilty than inspired. Most people want to do what's right, but there is usually a huge gap between our “should” and “how to” that leaves people feeling guilt-tripped and alone. Alone is the worst thing a person can feel when it comes to evangelism. When Jesus told his disciples that he would make them “fishers of men” (Mat 4:18-20), they would have envisioned a group pulling in a net of relationships together, not a single angler casting in a line with rod-and-real.

The church needs to cast more vision about how we can do evangelism together. Tom Miyashiro, Executive Directory of Faith-2-Faith Ministries International (F2FMI), and I worked on this vision for evagenlism for his youth outreach organization.  I think it's a good template based on Jesus' statement to the disciples:

What Does It Take To Draw In a Harvest?

  • Nets: we weave better nets of relationships.

  • Boats: we build better boats of churches and organizations which deploy and draw in those nets.

  • Fleets: we organize better fleets of partnerships that maneuver and coordinate to bring in the harvest that God has prepared.

Your church's vision for evangelism can vary, but it should be relational, doable, and sound like fun to most people when it gets down to the particulars.

2. Use Jesus' example to hack our relationships and social networks. Scientist who study social networks can now tell us two things we already know: First, our networks of relationships has a powerful influence over our lives for both good and bad. Second, our networks of relationships are gaining complexity as they gain more connections which are active more of the time – especially through social technology. We know this. Most of us can feel this.

This makes me wonder at some of the optimism among social networking scientists. For example, Nicholas Christakis – who studies the power of social networking and health outcomes – says this: “I think that what the world needs now are more connections.” Really?

Most of us really don't need more connections. We need the right amount of connections, with the right people, to create networks and faithfully steward the right value. We don't tend to think that way when it comes to evangelism, but Jesus did. He didn't say everyone could be His disciple. Sure, everyone was welcome to come to Jesus, but His disciples were those who left everything and followed Him when He left for the next town.

Jesus' solution is both powerful and simple. Following The Four Rules, Jesus did the following to hack social systems to create relational Gospel networks of value.

Rule One: People above systems: creativity, fun, and access: First, Jesus uses His divine creativity to help His disciples' see how ready people actually are. Then He demonstrates how to pray earnestly to be sent into that harvest (Luke 10:2). Next, He designs their campaign to make them as humanly-relateable as possible. He does this by making them as spiritually prepared but materially unprepared as possible. This means they will have something valuable to offer, but will also be totally dependent on people's hospitality (Luke 10:4; Matthew 10:9-10). He tells them to eat whatever is set before them (fun – especially for the hosts), and to teach openly (access).

Rule Two: Respect the system, but don't get entangled. The first rule does something important with complex relational networks: it filters groups of people, including entire cities, to find the people who have the essential aspect for a movement: They must have space in their life for those who can align them and their networks to the work of God. Faithful relationships can transform networks, but they are always based on reciprocity – the sharing back and forth of holistic peace. Those that echo what the sent-ones have to offer are worthy hosts for the Gospel (Luke 10:5-12; Matthew 10:11-15). Jesus knows they can be revealed in this way because, “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Matthew 10:40 NIV). Doing this allows people to self-select by a show of openness and/or faithfulness. It also avoids entanglements in the mess of trying to convert unwilling, unready, or manipulative people.

Rule Three: Create open, versatile, sharable improvements. Where people welcome Jesus, there will be emotional and spiritual reciprocity – people will respond to investments in them with investments of their own. This represents a ready network, and we should share the Gospel here like a virus – in simple, catchable bits. Start very early teaching people in the network to love self-sacrificially, but make your aim the creation of openness to the working of God. He can always do more than we expect or imagine, and people need to learn to depend on Him more than us.

Rule Four: Keep everything as simple and decentralized as possible. Keep everything about Jesus – especially his stories. Not many people will have to become theologians before they can be Christians. Think about this: the disciples weren't even sure of Jesus' identity when they began telling others the good news. They knew what they were hoping about Jesus, and that was enough. Encourage people to be open about their quest to their social network. Let a seeker know she can tell her people about her curiosity even before she has fully decided (John 4:28-29). Keep people where they are until they decide they want to follow Jesus; inviting them to church too early will keep the virus from spreading in their network and may lead them to doubt their decision later.

The most effective evangelism strategy I have ever seen was this simple: two people would hangout in a social circle with people they liked to be around. When they got an invitation from someone to hangout outside of the social circle, they took it as a sign of openness. While hanging out in this smaller setting, the Christians would offer the peace of Jesus through some simple compassion: some encouragement, some inspiration, a prayer, some insight, etc. If the person accepted that peace, he was ready to welcome Jesus. The Christians would then just wait until the conversation turned to personal growth, a personal issue, or spiritual things and then ask the person if the Christians thought's – based on Jesus' story and teachings – would be something he would want.

3. Reorganize our shared resources to make disciples. Did you know that the church as a whole spends less than a third of its total income on making and growing disciples. Direct outreach gets a measly 3% of the typical church budget. One of the more practical reasons that Christianity isn't growing is that we are plainly not investing in it (see this infographic). That doesn't mean that we can just fire the staff, sell the building, and use the money to by truck loads of tracks. What is does mean is that we should find smarter and more efficient ways to increase our investment in evangelism.

Here's a short list of things we can do:

  • Follow implication 1 & 2 to make it more likely that everyone will do evangelism.

  • Set aside staff time to train in evangelism and go out with members to engage social circles as described in implication 2.

  • Include limits on the amount of time leaders can be “at church” so they have time in their lives for relationships with not-yet-Christians.

  • Set a five or seven year strategy to radically trim costs and invest in souls.

  • Add an announcement to your services about one new area Meetup a week that Christians can join to meet not-yet-Christians. Train people how to do the steps in implication 2 as they go.

  • Create partnerships with Christian-owned or operated enterprises to add a discipleship component to employee development and performance training for those who are willing.

  • Invest in cooperative efforts that pool the resources and gifting of the church to more effectively and efficiently reach our regions.  A good example of this is F2FMI.

  • Get your staff an evangelism coach who will train them in both evangelism and evangelism coaching. Then in six months to a year, have the staff begin coaching leadings in the church.

  • Develop entrepreneurial incubators to start more Kingdom-enterprise that can do discipleship as part of doing business.

  • Form a coaching small-group for people in your church who feel convicted by God to build relationships with their neighbors. Train on re-neighboring, how to do cook-outs, and how to do ministry without being weird.

Once you think like a hacker – like someone who believes that people (especially those who have Jesus) can change any system without waiting for permission – you'll be full of ideas. What's more, you'll regain your passion for evangelism and experience the vibrancy of faith that can only happen when we share it.

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If you'd like to discover more about how to think like a Jesus-inspired hacker in your leadership, get the free Vision Can Do Anything ebook or sign up for the free course.

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