Heaven’s Priority 

Heaven must be a place of continual joy and celebration. However, we know that there is one thing that causes the joy level in heaven to increase exponentially and that is when one person becomes a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus tells us that there is “more joy” in heaven over one lost sinner who repents than over ninety-nine others who are still serving God (Luke 15:7, 10). Heaven gets more excited about lost people being found than about any other thing. As Bill Hybels says, “Lost people matter to God. Therefore, they should matter to us.” Saving lost people is the only thing that brought Jesus out of heaven to earth. God's heart is for the world. He doesn't want anyone to perish, but all to come to repentance (1 Tim. 2:1-4. 2 Pet. 3:9. John 3:16). Activities such as prayer, worship, ministry and fellowship are very important. But reaching out to see people saved must become just as important. We need to make a Priority Shift, where our focus moves from inreach to outreach. (1)

In heaven, there will be no more evangelism. While we’re on earth, we should mix with the unsaved and cultivate friendships with them. Our life goal should be to go to heaven and take as many people with us as possible. God wants every Christian to be a soul winner. Jesus told the disciples, “I will make you fishers of men” (Mk. 1:17). You may be timid, like Timothy, but you can “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). God wants to give you the power and boldness to witness for Him (Acts 1:8).

It takes a lot of wisdom to witness effectively and to lead someone to a commitment to Jesus Christ as the Lord of their life (Prov.11:30. Col.4:5). We need to understand that evangelism is a process. Most people go through a long pre-conversion stage. It takes time for people to move from a position of resistance to the gospel to a place of readiness to receive (e.g. like links in a chain). We must not rush the process or force people. Ask God to help you discern where each person is on their spiritual journey and then encourage them to take the next step. Each one of us is unique and God has equipped us to reach certain types of people based on our personality, style and background. As we go about our daily interaction with people around about us, God will give us opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ. As in any harvest, one person ploughs the ground, one plants the seed, one waters it and one reaps the fruit. All rejoice together and receive reward for their work. It is God who makes things grow and gets the glory (see 1 Cor. 3:5-9).

Recent Research 

A very interesting research project was conducted recently. A team of people surveyors spent hundreds of hours interviewing and studying unchurched people in developed urban cities. During a period of two years, they entered the world of the unchurched, taking the time to listen to people of all age groups and finding out the concerns they had toward their own lives and toward their relationships with those around them. From the rich, to the middle class and the poor, from the uneducated to the professors and doctors, they spoke to people from different races and varied ethnic backgrounds. (2)

Interestingly, the research revealed that the unchurched have much in common with we who are Christians. They are not alien creatures. Many of them have some of the same moral values. They are concerned about their families. They have financial pressures. Of course, there are basic differences between churched and unchurched people. The most important distinction is that they have neither received salvation through Jesus, nor are they motivated to please God through their lifestyles.

The research team that was surveying the unchurched decided to create a "gospel receptivity scale." Named the Rainer scale (see below), after head researcher Thom Rainer, it features a scale of 5 different "faith stages" - U1 to U5, where "U" stands for the unchurched, referring to those who go to church less than five times each year. Every stage within the scale represents a group of people with similar levels of receptivity toward the gospel.

In their findings, Thom Rainer and his team found that the overwhelming majority of those surveyed were usually ‘nice people’ who were generally receptive toward the gospel. In fact, only a minimal five percent of all unchurched people were "U5" in nature, meaning only a relatively small amount of people become antagonistic when the gospel is shared with them. This means that the unchurched aren't the hostile pagans that people sometimes imagine them to be. Most of the unchurched are not anti-church or anti-Christian at all.

The National Church Life Survey (NCLS), research done right here in Australia, shows a similar reality. Yes, the levels of belief and devotional practice exceed the levels of church attendance in our nation but this does not mean that the majority of Australians are hostile towards God or the church. In fact, the NCLS conducted an Australian Community Survey (ACS) that suggests that apathy rather than hostility is the norm. Looking across the whole sample, we can suggest that 
27% of all Australians do not attend church and are negative about the churches. This group can be classed as those who are unsympathetic or antagonistic to the churches. The 36% of all Australians who do not attend frequently and are unsure about their attitude to the churches can be seen as those who are apathetic to the churches rather than antagonistic. The remainder either attend church frequently or do not attend but are positive about the churches. Those who do not attend frequently could best be described as sympathetic. (3)

Our thinking needs to change – we can reach the unchurched next door! Our actions need to change – we must make reaching people for Christ our priority! Our heart needs to change – we need God’s heart for those far from Him! God is calling us to be his witnesses, his ambassadors and his messengers. Let’s not be like Jonah who ran the other way. Let’s begin to pray and then reach out (2 Cor.4:4).

Sampler Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think of and how do you feel when you hear the word ‘evangelism’? 
  2. Have each person share briefly (3-4 minutes) their story or journey towards becoming a Christian using three sections: before Christ, conversion and after Christ. Note common factors. 
  3. Discuss the Rainer Scale (five categories of unchurched people) and share about people you currently know in each category. 

(1) I speak about this more fully in my book, Transforming Your Church (Conner Ministries Inc: Melbourne, Australia, 2005).

(2) This research is presented in the book The Unchurched Next Door by Thom S. Rainer (Zondervan Publishing: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2003).

(3) From the NCLS Publication, Build My Church (Openbook Publishers: Adelaide, Australia, 1999).
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