For the first 15 years, my ministry had been built on an invitation model. In essence, I was saying, “If you come to my camp, my conference, my church, or if you will read one of my books, I can share truth and hope with you.”
But in 2003, my philosophy began to change because God began to amplify the Great Commission in my heart and He began to refine my demographic.
Up until that point, I felt like because we were doing some outside-the-box events and hosting some aggressive conferences that some other churches might not have, our outreach model was effective—but even our outreach was inward. If they wouldn’t come where we were—and many would not—we had no way to reach and influence them.
Jesus said, “Go,” and I was saying, “Come.”
It was during that time, as I wrestled with the Lord for three months, that I began to ask the question, “How do we reach those who don’t want to be reached?”
There are many great ministries out there that are reaching and providing a place for those seeking. But what about those who are not yet seeking and do not yet know which questions they should be asking?
Instead of waiting for them to realize they needed Jesus, I started praying for creative ways to suggest Him in advance. That is when I adopted a key philosophy. In one word, it’s interruption.
Showing Up Where They Don’t Expect Us
Because our culture has become more cynical and resistant to the message of the gospel, they are not knocking down our doors. But that does not mean that we cannot influence them. Scripture makes it clear that God’s Word will not return void (Is. 55:11) and that faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17). Therefore, every time we share God’s love or His principles, we win.
Whenever we can orchestrate someone having to consider that there is a God in heaven who loves them, His Holy Spirit can enter into that moment and deepen its impact.
So, let’s answer two key questions:
- Where: If they won’t come where we are, we (or at least God’s message) must show up where they don’t expect us. Wherever they are, the message of the gospel should be present. And if you allow the Holy Spirit opportunity, He will plant the creativity in your heart. You may have creative ways to utilize traditional media (I got so excited when I realized that we could share Jesus with people watching Jersey Shore), social media or service projects with a gospel push. God may inspire you to meet students where they hang out (years ago, I showed up at Smoker's Alley right outside of the school), give away authentic gifts with no strings or invade some arena of youth culture with your time (coaching, for example). But when you are spending time around students and your message is being heard by those outside the church walls, you are using interruption tactics that will impact lives.
- How: The interruption strategy only works when executed with love. Messaging that is laced with the hard-core “turn or burn” attitude will turn off more people than it will draw in. I am not suggesting that the message must become watered down, drowning in partial truth. I am, however, suggesting that you lead with God’s grace, His love and His ability/desire to rescue, heal and encourage. In today’s society, I believe it is more effective to speak to the felt need of the audience as the introduction and then segue to the conversation about Jesus instead of leading with Jesus. Because the audience is more aware of their pain, their questions, their frustrations and their failures than they are of their need for Jesus, if you acknowledge their need (pain, question, frustration, failure) in an authentic way, they will be open to your pitch about how Jesus can meet them those needs. Once you have those conversations, it is easier to speak about forgiveness from sins and their need for a Savior.
Jesus interrupted history, and He continues to interrupt lives today. I believe we should learn from his example.
Instead of reverting back to the invitation model of ministry, an interruption philosophy has great value and will prove to be effective. They can reject an invitation, but it is possible, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to invade their space and present Jesus to those who are working hard not to be found.
How can we reach those who don’t want to be reached? Interruption.
Sean Dunn is a speaker, author and the founder of Groundwire, an organization that exists to broadcast hope to anyone who may be struggling or in crisis. Operating 24 hours a day, hundreds of volunteers man Groundwire's chat platform, which is available to anyone at any time who may need help, encouragement or affirmation. Sean and his four children live outside of Denver, Colo. To learn more, visit groundwire.net.
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