Man-fishing-smallIt’s a waste of time to fish in a spot where fish aren’t biting. Wise fishermen move on. They know fish eat at different times of the day in different places. To apply this to ministry, you need to focus on the most receptive people in your area.

This is not a marketing principle. It’s a basic New Testament principle. Jesus told it in the parable of the sower. When you sow seed, some of it falls on rocky ground, some on stony ground, some on hard ground and some on good soil. Wouldn’t it be great if you knew what the good soil was and sowed all your seed there? Why waste seed, time, effort, energy and money?

It’s God’s job to prepare the soil. It’s our job to sow the seed. You don’t do the soil preparation. God uses all kinds of sovereign things, like divorce, crises, death, economic problems, government shutdowns, being out of work, a new baby and a new job, to prepare the soil. But God uses you to sow.

The fact is, receptiveness to the gospel varies widely at different times of people’s lives. Sometimes people are very open to the gospel, and sometimes they’re very closed. And receptivity doesn’t last forever.

Jesus knew this very well, and so He said, “Go to the people who will listen.” In sending the disciples out to evangelize, He said, “If a home or town refuses to welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake its dust off your feet” (Matt. 10:14, NCV).

That’s a very significant statement. Jesus was instructing the disciples to leave the unresponsive place and move on to other soil. There are far more people ready to receive Christ in the world than the number of people ready to share it. We should constantly be asking God, “God, who are You preparing right now for me to talk to?”

If the fruit is ripe, you don’t have to yank it. It comes off easily. Paul’s strategy was to go through open doors and not waste time banging on doors that are closed.

Have you ever heard this? “Pastor, I think before we go after any new people, we ought to go back and round up all the old people who’ve left the church.” This is a guaranteed strategy for church decline because those who have left have often decided to be unreceptive to the church’s mission and message. It takes 10 times more energy to reclaim somebody who’s gotten upset and cantankerous and mad than to go out and win someone who hasn’t yet trusted in Jesus. God has called you to feed sheep, not corral goats.

Growing churches focus on reaching receptive people while non-growing churches focus on re-enlisting inactive people.

Who are the most receptive people in your community? How do you know who’s ready to be reached? People who are experiencing change, for good or for bad, are generally more receptive. When people are going through changes, good or bad, it makes them more open to the gospel. People in transition and those under tension are the most receptive.

When people are going through transition, they’re more open. A new job, a new home, a new baby, a new graduation, a new marriage. And second, those under tension—physical tension, emotional tension, financial tension or relational tension—are usually searching for answers, for hope and for truth.

Now, who do you know that needs to hear the gospel? Where is God working in your community?

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America’s largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times best-seller The Purpose Driven Life. His book The Purpose Driven Church was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also the founder of, a global Internet community for pastors.

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