Evangelism in a Post-Everything Era
Review of ‘How to Revive Evangelism’ by Craig Springer
Forty-seven percent of Millennial Christians believe sharing their faith with others is wrong.” Not Millennials generally, but Millennial Christians specifically. And not difficult or inconvenient, but just plain wrong.
Craig Springer cites this statistic at the outset of How to Revive Evangelism to make the point that “the instinct to evangelize is eroding” among U.S. Christians. It’s easy to criticize Millennials on the basis of this one statistic — easy, but wrong. Instead, Springer believes that Millennials “actually hold the key to the future growth of the church.”
Why? Because they live in what John Mark Comer has called “the post-everything era.” They are “post-Christian,” having little to no religious affiliation. They are “post-family,” raised in non-traditional households. They are “post-technology” because smartphones and social media shape every aspect of their lives. And they are “post-super-size” because large, anonymous corporations — Big Tech, Business, Government, etc. — dominate their experience.
We can and will be effective at our call to be fishers of men and women only so far as we trust in Jesus and implement his new, old ways.” –Craig Springer
These four “post-“ realities leave Millennials unsatisfied. They yearn for “deep, meaningful dialogue about spiritual things.” They want “a place where they can belong.” In a world mediated to them by screens, they are “seeking out genuine interactions.” And in a culture characterized by bigness — even the churches are mega! — Millennials desire “intimate experiences.”
Unfortunately, the method of evangelism that predominates in U.S. Christianity isn’t responsive to those concerns. For many Millennials, “Disagreement is interpreted as judgment,” writes Springer. That being the case, the proclamation model of evangelism — whether from the pulpit or one-on-one — increases judgmentalism in Millennials’ minds because it foregrounds questions of what is true and good. Since judgmentalism is bad, it’s no wonder nearly half of Millennials believe evangelism is wrong.
How to Revive Evangelism doesn’t ditch proclamation, however. Springer writes, “proclamation is a necessary part of the strategy for spreading the gospel and it always will be.” So, what exactly does the book propose?
In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus likens the evangelist to a farmer, the gospel to a seed, and the evangelist’s hearers to soil (Mark 4:1–20). If the predominant method of evangelism in the U.S. is about sowing seed, what Springer proposes is about training farmers and preparing soil. This requires Christians to make “seven primary shifts in how we share our faith,” which Springer articulates as follows:
- We have to be hungry for more [of Jesus], not just hoping for many [converts].
- We have to engage in conversation, not just proclamation.
- We have to create spaces of belonging, not just welcoming.
- We must speak through experience, not just explanation.
- Our concern must be with the fruitful, not just the factual.
- Our efforts involve we, not just me.
- We need to build unity [among churches], not just uniformity.
Springer makes a good case that these shifts create conditions — more importantly, communities — that are responsive to Millennials’ concerns. They don’t replace the call to conversion as much as they lay the groundwork so that it can happen in an authentic, life-transforming manner. Springer writes, “Demonstration + Conversation + Proclamation … that’s a powerful gospel combination.”
How to Revive Evangelism cites reliable data for its conclusions. The data come from a Barna Group report commissioned by Alpha USA, of which Springer is executive director. These shifts are not just data-driven, however.
Springer demonstrates them from the ministry of Jesus Christ himself. Alluding to Jesus’ invitation to Peter, James, and John to follow Him (Luke 5:1–11), Springer writes: “We can and will be effective at our call to be fishers of men and women only so far as we trust in Jesus and implement his new, old ways.”
I recommend How to Revive Evangelism to pastors, church leaders, and church members alike. It combines biblical insight with good data and practical suggestions and is easy to read. Discussion questions at the end of each chapter make it useful for small group settings.
Craig Springer, How to Revive Evangelism: 7 Vital Shifts in How We Share Our Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Reflective, 2021).