Walt and Cathy are longtime personal friends and encouragers for the work of Church Doctor Ministries. In my perception, they are both geniuses. They have PhDs in organizational/industrial psychology and educational psychology. I call them “pair-a-docs.”
When my latest book came out, I sent them copies and asked if we could do a Zoom meeting and record it for a podcast. It meant a lot to me that they loved the book. Yet, in typical fashion, Walt offered one critique. He said, “Loved the book. Everyone should read it. But you have the wrong title. You called it Restoring Civility: Lessons from the Master. You should have called it ‘Restoring Civilization’!” I immediately wished I had asked him about the title before it was published!
Both Walt and Cathy elaborated on their deep concern about where our nation is heading. With the persistent decline of Christians and churches, Jesus is losing a large percentage of people. It is not His fault! It’s ours.
I’ve spent all my adult life reading, studying, thinking, and praying about this reality. And, I’ve had the privilege of helping a few thousand churches through the process of diagnosis, prognosis, and prescription. I continue to study Scripture, analyze churches, and train consultants—like Tracee, my most gifted colleague—and my boss.
Lately, my studies and research for the next book are focused on how Christians can be more effective in sharing their faith. This next book has the working title God Stories: Sharing Faith Made Easy, but I think I’ll run the title by Walt and Cathy first!
The reason I’m sharing this: My work, my life, has been impacted by another “pandemic,” beyond COVID-19. And so has yours! Everyone is infected. It has influenced life on earth for every single inhabitant. It has our attention. It has killed people we know. It has changed our way of life. This pandemic is called “sin.” It is deadly, and Jesus is the cure.
Admittedly, I spend most of my waking hours thinking about Christians and churches and how we can effectively reach unbelievers. Lately, I’ve been wondering about the connection of how a pandemic works and how we effectively reach others for Jesus. I’m amazed by what I have learned. I think you will be, too.
Most active Christians are conscious of the ultimate realities of life, death, heaven, and hell. Jesus makes a difference for eternity. It’s a big deal! To some Christ-followers, it is more central than it is for others.
The pandemic, COVID-19—without question—is an “attention getter” of major proportions. In fact, until COVID-19, I never knew there was another pandemic back in 1918. The novel coronavirus, as invisible as it is, has worldwide attention. The images of funeral homes with coffins stacked on top of each other won’t be forgotten in our lifetime.
No healthy person dwells on death all the time. Yet, on the other hand, many live the lie: “I’ll live forever.” Yet, it’s hard to ignore, when you see the numbers of those who die every single day, from everywhere.
Jesus said some astonishing things like: “I am the resurrection and the life.” Honestly? It had to sound preposterous to those who first heard it. However, then He did it! Through His resurrection, He birthed hope in the darkest place of every single person’s life. Why? Everybody dies.
Crossroads of Receptivity
So, your unchurched neighbors are, for a while, more receptive than ever. Look at the directory in your phone. As you scroll through your contacts, identify those who show no evidence of a living faith in Jesus. They represent your personal mission field. They are more receptive now than ever before. The world is at a crossroads of receptivity—at the highest level in your lifetime and in mine. Are you equipped to reach them? Maybe! Yet, likely not.
Honestly, for most Christians, and perhaps you, it’s not your fault! Nor is it the fault of your pastor, church staff, or your parents. If it was that simple, the entire world would have had the opportunity to receive Christ long ago. There is a bigger issue. Understanding that issue will help. Believe it or not, the pandemic, in an unusual way, will help.
The word “pandemic” comes from Latin, and before that, Greek—the original language of the New Testament. The word pan means “all.” The “demic” comes from the word demos, meaning people.
That may feel like too much information. However, when Jesus gave the Great Commission—every Christian’s personal marching orders—the way it reads in the New Testament Greek is this: “You all go, make disciples of panta ta ethne”: “all the groups of people.”
Jesus launched a spiritual “pandemic”—which means, “prevalent over a whole area, universal.” No one is left out. It’s supposed to be contagious. The people who don’t have it are supposed to catch it from people who do. And every believer is to reach every person among their personal relationships and beyond—and introduce them to the one Person who will change their life forever: Jesus.
So, why doesn’t this work as well as a virus? Why hasn’t it worked already? Why are so many churches declining? Why does Christianity continue to decline in America and Canada? Why are so few churches growing? Why has Europe almost lost Christianity altogether? It was the birthplace of the Reformation, a great faith pandemic. What happened? Why are most churches in Europe empty museums? Why, or how, are a few hundred churches in England the polar opposite of the thousands of other churches in that same country? Why are those few hundred churches booming with on-fire believers? How is it that those few churches have so many young people excited about faith?
Why do so many churches in the United States have a median age older than 60? Why do they fail to reach out? Why are other congregations in the same communities growing, adding worship services, and even multiplying venues for worship? Why are so many churches plateaued or declining while others are experiencing growth like a pandemic?
It’s Complicated—Yet, Not Really!
There are several elements to the study of faith, churches, and outreach strategy. Ecclesiology is the technical term for learning about the church, from the New Testament perspective. It is important to study the purpose, nature, and function of the church.
Why? The church, like anything else, is subject to drift. An example: The church in the New Testament is not a destination. In fact, the “church at Rome,” “Jerusalem,” “Ephesus,” and elsewhere, was actually a group of house churches. It is wonderful that we are blessed to have nice facilities for our churches. However, church is not to be a destination. It is a launchpad. It is a training and equipping center. In the New Testament, leaders first discipled believers, and then they would send them out. (Don’t jump over that word, “send”—we’ll get to that soon.)
One of the primary approaches used by many churches is described like this: “If you know someone who needs Jesus, invite them to worship.” However, if they don’t believe in Jesus yet, why would they want to worship Him? Think of it this way: You are not a Muslim. However, what if a Muslim friend wanted you to consider Islam? So, he invites you to attend the mosque. How would that work for you?
We Christians practice the “you all come” strategy. However, Jesus said, “Go.” We try to get people to church. But Jesus’ strategy is to take church (“faith”) to people. We expect pastors, staff, or the “outreach” team to connect with our unchurched friends who are not Christians. Sending a stranger is a form of spiritual social distancing. The power you have with your unchurched friend is this: (1) the Holy Spirit, and (2) your relationship with the person.
For a spiritual pandemic, we need to turn the church inside out. If we don’t, every weekend worship service is a classic case of social distancing—stay “home,” make “church” the center of your outreach. What have we done? We have quarantined Christianity. Indeed: That approach works to mitigate both pandemics and spiritual revivals!
The study of mission is called missiology. The word “mission” is not complicated. It is how Jesus teaches you to be effective in the world. The word “mission” comes from the Latin, which is also from the Greek New Testament. The word is missio. Jesus said, “In the same way the Father sent me, I send you.” Missio means to “send” and be “sent.” Jesus wasn’t just directing the disciples. This is standard operating procedure for effective Christianity.
So, what do you know about the exciting area of missiology? Likely, not much! Honestly, I didn’t get missiology in my denomination’s college, seminary, or graduate school. Yep—I got a PhD in theology and knew almost nothing about missiology! How could that be? Why is this the same experience for almost all pastors in the United States, Canada, Australia, Europe—but not in many places in Africa, where Christianity is exploding across many nations?
My theory is this: When Christianity gets “established,” there occurs a subconscious redefinition that takes place. Our worldview becomes: “We are a ‘Christianized’ area of the world.” The “mission field” is “over there” somewhere. So, if you are going to be a pastor here, you are trained to manage Christians.
However, if while being trained to be a pastor, you say, “I think God is calling me to be a missionary,” it implies “over there” somewhere. Those pastors, after seminary, are required to go to “mission school,” where they learn missiology.
Consequently, most people in American churches do not know the wonderful dynamics of mission because their pastor can’t train them. Pastors are handcuffed because they have never been trained. The result? The nation becomes more secular because we don’t reach our own mission field. Churches ultimately decline. The nation suffers. Secularization increases. There can be no “spiritual pandemic” (revival) because most church leaders have never caught it. The infection of mission has been quarantined!
After seminary and graduate school, I was sent, by my denomination, to a church in the inner city of Detroit. The church had declined by 67% in the previous 10 years before my arrival. I tried every program and activity I could find to grow that church. Honestly? Nothing worked! And I got depressed!
One day I heard of a school where pastors in American churches could be trained in missions. I attended that school, while being a pastor, for two weeks at a time, three or four times a year, for three and a half years. Before each session, I was assigned thousands of pages to read in books about missions. As I learned missiology, I began to share the basics with those in my church who were interested. It was not a program, just a movement that became revolutionary. Our church experienced a miraculous turnaround.
You Can Do This!
Whether or not you are a pastor, missiology is not that difficult. It is clear that every Christian can learn to be a missionary to unbelievers they already know. I have made a decision: I want to spend whatever years I have left on this Earth helping Christians to become missionaries to their own communities. I believe God will bring a spiritual pandemic.
What About You?
If God has touched you with that passion, I want to direct you in a way that Jesus Christ can revolutionize your life. If you have heartburn for lost people, if you believe Jesus weeps for declining churches, if you are convicted that Christian faith is vital for our civilization, I want to hear from you now. I want to introduce you to the SEND Movement.
This movement is an exciting teaching process that will take your faith and life to a whole new level. It takes work, but it is not difficult. It is not scary. It is exciting. You will become a missionary to your own social network—those you already know who don’t know Jesus and don’t have Him in their lives—yet. God will use you, and many others, to start a spiritual pandemic: “for all (pan) the people (demos).”
Jesus and the disciples did it. It has occurred time and time again throughout history. Our world needs Jesus now. You can become a missionary without leaving home. This is not another “church program.” This is an adventure. You can learn to be a missionary to those you know who don’t know Jesus.
Are you ready for mission school at your own pace, from the comfort of your home or church?
Are you ready for your church to experience the mission epidemic?
Kent R. Hunter is the founder of Church Doctor Ministries (www.churchdoctor.org) and has spent decades helping Christians and churches get organized to make disciples for Jesus Christ. He is the author of numerous books, including his two most recent books: Restoring Civility: Lessons from the Master and Who Broke My Church? 7 Proven Strategies for Renewal and Revival, both available on www.amazon.com.