Lockdown Evangelism and the Home Advantage
The hope of the gospel gives Christians an attractive and powerful message to share during a time of fear and suffering.
I believe that this is the greatest time to evangelise in our lifetime.
Certainly, that's been my experience since lockdown began. Pretty much every night I have been doing a zoom call with a church, workplaces, students, halls of residence, groups of friends…in fact, anyone who is desperate enough to invite me to speak!
The openness of people to hear about the Christian faith is simply incredible: I've done about 20 online events with different kinds of businesses, organised by Christians working in the company, where it would have been unimaginable to do something like that pre-crisis. Geographically I have covered the whole of the UK and even the Republic of Ireland. Churches have been large and small, some affiliated to FIEC and some not, along with many others.
Coronavirus and Cancer
The format I have used is simple: I talk for about 15 minutes about my experience with cancer. Five years ago I was diagnosed with incurable cancer and I have written about this in my new evangelistic book Beyond the Big C.
I tell the people listening "welcome to my world!". What I mean by this is that over that period, as I have been frequently in chemotherapy, I have felt afraid every time someone near me sneezed or coughed. Now everyone feels like that!
The format of the event is adjusted according to whatever the host wants but typically this comes in the form of an interview - a format that I believe is very accessible to the non-Christian.
I talk about this amazing person Jesus Christ, who has helped me with my fear of death. I try and answer the question "If there is a God why does he allow suffering, cancer, coronavirus, death?" I end on the resurrection and then follow up by urging viewers to have a look at the eyewitness accounts and ask a Christian friend to chat about one with them, ideally using something like The Word 121.
Then the host throws it open to Q&A via an online chat - we always get fantastic questions that you can tell are mainly from non-Christians. The whole thing lasts about 45 minutes. In every case, we have had far more people than you would ever expect to get to a guest event pre-crisis.
Why is this time so different from before the pandemic? It’s nothing to do with me and I don't want this article to be about me - I am just a totally insignificant and unworthy part of God's gigantic plan. What I do believe is that God, who doesn't do random, has deliberately allowed the coronavirus crisis to happen in order to open up closed doors to the gospel.
I would like to encourage each of us to think about how we may best use this God-given opportunity. I realise that the crisis is stressful for a lot of churches and pastors trying to care for their flock. We can't do everything. Yet perhaps the Lord has a plan to galvanize churches in the UK into reaching out through this crisis?
There are two factors to consider when we look at Gods providence in evangelism during this time.
Technology and Accessibility
It's so easy to reach non-Christians over the internet. I realise it’s not a panacea and there are people who don't use it, but for the very group where the church is sadly so weak - young adults - it is how they consume everything.
Isn't it striking that according to a recent survey one-third of young adults between 18 and 34 had watched or listened to a religious service compared with one in five over 55! Youngsters, I have found, are often more open than older people but want to access information and ideas on their terms at their convenience. Surely then we should go out and "meet" them?
We can’t expect them to come to us at the time and place of our choosing. That wasn't what Jesus did: he went out onto the dusty streets of Palestine and started talking to people. He also specialized in answering questions, and so should we.
Online evangelism isn't only about streaming services; it's about creating tailor-made online "watering holes" - the clever title of Cornerstone Church Abergavenny’s evangelistic event.
In sport, playing at home gives you a massive advantage. The Christian should feel most confident on the ground that we now occupy, maybe our ‘home ground’: fear, suffering, and death.
We have something amazing and unique when we speak to our atheistic and agnostic friends: hope.
I have found non-Christians are intrigued by my story, and now we all have the same story: "Welcome to my world". If we can't say anything, we can say this: "I couldn't get through coronavirus without Christ".
Not only is the hope that we have attractive but people currently have more time to consider these topics than they did before, and they also have the means to easily access it.
Blaise Pascal said, “Being unable to cure death, wretchedness, and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things.” But suddenly they, and we, cannot help but think about "such things". They are inescapable. All the things that distract people - work, sport, friends - are suddenly silent.
Is this not Gods doing? Is this not the gospel hour?
Read some expanded thoughts on my blog, ‘God Gold and Generals’.