Why don't they believe?

(I think this may be the most important article I have ever written)

I love being a Christian, don't you?

I love spending time with God--just me and God--in the mornings. I love walking with God through the day. I love relying on God's wisdom from the Bible. I love the comfort that comes during difficult days--and there will be difficult days. I love the sense of meaning and purpose that following God gives me--the feeling that I am part of a Cause that is bigger than I am. I love being a Christian, don't you?

If we do all love being a Christian, why doesn't the message of Christ naturally and unavoidably spread? Why the coaxing of people to share their faith? Why evangelism strategies and programs? You would think that if we all love it, we would just naturally tell and they would naturally want to hear about good news.

People love to talk about things they love. They love to talk about their new PS 3 (My son camped out 2 nights at Target to get one) or their latest vacation. Why doesn't the idea of the gospel spread?

To be fair, in many places around the world it is spreading and spreading rapidly. I read a book recently that said North America is the only contenant where the gospel is not spreading. Still, it begs the question, why not?

How ideas don't spread

I have been reading in recent months about how idea spread. I didn't realize it until recently, but there have been 5000+ academic studies on the diffusion of innovation, or, on how ideas spread. I have written about this in another article. See http://www.joshhunt.com/mail177.htm

I am so intrigued by this I am re-reading Everett Rogers classic work, The Diffusion of Innovation. Actually, I read the fourth addition first and am now reading the fifth edition. This is a book with a 50-page bibliography. It is very academic, very detailed, very dense. I have often picked it up when I was having trouble sleeping. Works like a charm. Still, am deeply intrigued. I think this ought to required reading for every seminary student.

Here is a summary of Rogers findings:

Diffusion investigations show that most individuals do not evaluate an innovation on the basis of scientific studies of its consequences.
Instead, most people depend mainly upon a subjective evaluation of an innovation that is conveyed to them from other individuals like themselves.

Here is my paraphrase of the summary of Rogers findings:

What has me intrigued these days is why ideas don't spread. Christianity is not the only good idea that doesn't spread. There are well-researched reasons why good ideas often do not spread.

I have done some research of my own recently asking audiences when and how they adopted certain innovations, from email and cell phones to MP3s (what? you still don't have an MP3?) and digital photography.

I have asked groups what year they adopted certain technologies and the answers come in following the predictable S-shaped curve--flat at first, then, at around 10% - 20% adoption, the line hits the tipping point and moves sharply upward until it diffuses through the entire population.

You can actually see it as I have asked audiences at recent seminars. "What year did you start using email?"

  • 1990 - one hand
  • 1991 - one hand
  • 1992 - two hands
  • 1993 - two hands
  • 1994 - three hands
  • 1995 - four hands
  • 1996 - ten hands
  • 1997 - twenty hands
  • 1998 - thirty hands

Then, I follow up with this series of questions relating to how many people used an innovation prior to us using it. Here is how I ask the question. "Think back to when you first started using email. How many people did you know personally that used email prior to you? If you were the first person on the planet that you knew personally that used email, I want you to hold up one finger on one hand. This indicates you are person number one in your group. If you only knew two other people that used email when you started using email, I want you to hold up two fingers. If there were more than ten people that you knew that were using email prior to you adopting, you don't have to take off your shoes and hold up your toes. Just stop with ten fingers. Ten fingers indicates there were ten or more people that you knew that used email before you."

About 85% of the people in the room hold up ten fingers.

I ask about cell phones. "When did you get a cell phone? If you were the first person that you knew that had a cell phone, then hold up one finger. If there were ten or more, hold up ten fingers."

About 85% of the people in the room hold up ten fingers.

I ask about Jesus. "If you were the first person that you knew personally that was a Christian, I want you to hold up one finger. If you knew five people who were Christians before you became a Christian, hold up five fingers. If there were ten or more, hold up ten fingers."

About 85% of the people in the room hold up ten fingers.

Would you agree with this statement, "It would have been very difficult, if not impossible, for me to start using email without knowing some people who used email."?

Everyone agrees.

Would you agree with this statement, "It would have been very difficult, if not impossible for me to start using a cell phone without knowing some people who used a cell phone."?

Everyone agrees.

Would you agree with this statement, "It would have been very difficult, if not impossible for me to believe in Jesus without knowing some people who believed in Jesus."?

The lights are coming on.

Now it gets really fun. I ask for two groups of about five volunteers. One group joins me on one side of the auditorium. I explain that they represent my church group. Another group of five is on the opposite side of the room. They represent the non-Christian group. Normally, evangelism works like this: I yell across the room, "Repent! Place your faith in Christ! There is a God in heaven who loves you!" Yelling across the chasm has proven to be a rather ineffective way to communicate.

A slightly better form of evangelism works like this. I walk across the room. I shake hands with one of the guys in the non-Christian groups. I describe the fact that we become friends. We hang out. We do things together. And, over the bridge of this relationship, the gospel message is communicated.

This is better, but there is still a problem. Do you see it? Imagine a room with two groups separated on different sides. I develop a relationship with this man, but he is still part of his group. And, I am the only person he actually knows that is a Christian. It is almost impossible for him to accept any idea--email, cell phones, or Jesus against the thinking of his group.

But, let's suppose I not only walk across the room and introduce myself to him and become his friend. Suppose I do one more thing. Suppose I bring him back across the room and introduce him to the people in my group. Suppose he becomes friends with all of them, and all of them are able to communicate that they love being a Christian. Has anything changed? Everything has changed.

Whereas it was almost impossible for him to believe because his group did not believe, now,  the message is almost irresistible (Totally irresistible if you are a Calvinist!) because he is in a group that does believe.

There is more to evangelism than telling people about Jesus. If we can get them a part of our group, everything changes.

This is why giving Friday nights to Jesus (See http://www.joshhunt.com/friday.html )
is so effective. You surround you average non-christian with five God-loving, church-going, quiet-time-having, giving, serving, and loving it Christians and everything changes.

At this point in the seminar I play an incredibly moving segment of an Andy Stanley sermon where he gives a theological explanation of this same dynamic. But, if you want to see the clip, you are going to have to have me do a seminar at your church! I can't give away ALL my trade secrets!

Send me your testimonies!

This also explains why the giving Friday nights to Jesus has not spread more than it has. I have spend the last 8 years full time trying to communicate this idea. Some--innovators and early adopters--buy it. But, most don't hear from people like me. They hear from people like you. They hear from their peers.

So, if you are an early adopter who has given Friday nights to Jesus, or seen doubling groups work, I would like to ask you to send me your testimonies of two things:

  • How hospitality ("Giving Friday Nights to Jesus") has worked in your context.

  • How you have seen growing and dividing groups work