It was the Friday night before the Australia Day (which is Australia’s equivalent to the USA’s July 4th) weekend holiday. My wife, Steph, and I were inside an old-school bar where the walls, floor, and ceiling were painted black—because, quite simply, it’s easier to clean up the mess afterward if the surfaces are black. The place was packed. Standing room only. We were squeezed in shoulder to shoulder with two hundred other people.
The band on the stage was playing rock-and-roll anthems. These were the sort of anthems where the whole crowd sings along because everyone knows the words. Think of songs like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” or Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.” The only difference was that all the anthems were Aussie anthems in homage to the Australia Day weekend holiday.
The band was good. They mixed up power ballads with upbeat anthems. They worked the crowd into a happy frenzy. Everyone knew the words. Everyone was singing. Everyone was having a good time.
When it was all over, the lights went off and the band walked off the stage. The crowd was cheering. And then, in the darkness, the crowd started chanting, “One more song! One more song! One more song!”
The lights came back on. The band walked back onto the stage. The crowd roared.
Can you guess what song the band played as the final encore song for the night? Think about it. If you’re the band, this is going to be the climactic song that ushers in the Australia Day weekend holiday. In effect, you are choosing the unofficial Australian national anthem. But at the same time, it’s got to be an upbeat song that the crowd knows the words to and can sing along to.
The band struck the first chord, and the crowd recognized the song instantly. They roared with delight. And I stood back and watched as two hundred Aussies danced, throbbed, hooted, hollered, and clapped as they sang along to the words, “I’m on the hiiiiiiiiiiiiiighway to hell!”
On the one hand, this was fitting. AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” may as well be the unofficial Australian anthem. It perfectly represents the Australian larrikin spirit. It’s the underdog sticking it to the man. Australia began as a prison colony—its people were sent to Australia by the Brits to die. So this song represents gallows humor: we’re going to die, but we may as well have a laugh about it on the way.
Yet on the other hand, I saw (like Jesus did in Matthew 9:37) a field ripe for harvest. Instead of viewing this as a threat to the gospel (you can’t get more seemingly opposed to the gospel than a crowd celebrating the fact that they’re going to hell), I saw it as an opportunity for the gospel. I saw that this is the time for the Christian church to shine. It’s our time for strength and not weakness. As Mark Sayers forecasts in his excellent podcast This Cultural Moment (www.thisculturalmoment.com), the tide of secularism has gone so far out that the sheer momentum of the gospel is going to come rushing back in.
But how can we harness this momentum of the gospel? How can we turn this cultural moment into opportunities for the gospel? How can we shine our light? How on earth can we get our friends to let us tell them about Jesus if they’re in a bar singing, “I’m on the highway to hell”?
Why Would Anyone Want to Hear the Gospel?
I often get asked to speak at evangelistic events. But I notice that most Christians struggle to bring any friends along to these events. The exception is my friend Andrew. He often organizes evangelistic events like these. And I’ve noticed that, at each event, Andrew is surrounded by four or five non-Christian friends he’s brought along. They’re different non-Christian friends each time too. And I’ve noticed that these friends are happy to be there. I can tell by their body language and smiles as they listen to me talk. I can tell by the way they come up to me afterward to thank me.
So I asked Andrew’s wife what their secret was. “How come every time I speak at one of these things, you guys are surrounded by non-Christian friends who are happy to be here?”
She replied, “It’s easy. We’re always hanging out—dinners, movies, barbecues. We’re always going to their things, so they’re happy to come to one of our things.”
I thought, That’s it! That’s the secret! If we go to their things, they will come to our things.
Think about what normally happens. Your church will put on an evangelistic event, like a men’s breakfast. And then they will lay the guilt on the men in the church: “Men! Invite your friends to the evangelistic men’s breakfast this Saturday.”
So now you’re thinking, Okay. Be brave. Big breaths. I’ve got to invite one of my friends to this evangelistic men’s breakfast.
And your non-Christian friends are thinking the same thing: Oh no. Here he comes. You know what he’s going to do? He’s going to invite us to one of those church things.
Think about it. Since when do men do breakfast together anyway? And now it’s a church—evangelistic—thing! With a Bible talk? Why would your friends want to come to one of these?
But if you’re going to their things, they will come to your things. If you hang out together normally, then this is just one of many things that you would be doing together. Suddenly, it’s not as weird or awkward to invite your friends to one of your things—even if it’s a church thing.
Chan, Sam, and Ed Stetzer. 2020. How to Talk about Jesus (without Being That Guy): Personal Evangelism in a Skeptical World. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
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