I led my first person to Christ in 1956 on a street corner in Austin Texas. I was seventeen and on fire. I used the Four Spiritual Laws and asked him to let Christ into his heart and behold he was a new person. I met the person years later and he was still following Christ.

Speed forward to 2014 and the Four Spiritual Laws will get you nowhere. That approach doesn’t usually work anymore. Now it takes time to build a relationship. People are skeptical of religious people. They believe all we want from them is their money and beside that institutional religion in general is out of favor.

So what’s a person to do today if he or she wants to share the Good News about what God did in Jesus?

My answer is this. Conversations with the lost can’t begin with the Bible or with the Church. They must begin with the person and where that person is. So here is my formula:

“We must listen to their story before we can share our story on the way to THE story.”

Give that sentence time to sink in.

Evangelism today is much like the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Most people focus on the son, but I focus on the Father and especially what happened when the Prodigal decided to return home. As soon as the Father saw him coming he ran to meet him. He didn’t wait until he came completely home. Instead, he met him half way on the son’s terms, not his. He didn’t ask him to change one thing. He was so glad to have him home.

This is the kind of attitude we must have toward people who are not followers of Jesus- we must meet them where they are not where we want them to be. We must love them as they are, warts and all, because we know in time, surrounded by God’s love they will find their way home.

Too many of the churches I’ve consulted with over the decades have the attitude that their decline is the fault of the unchurched. If they would just shape up and get their life together everything would be fine. These churches need to learn from the Father in Parable and meet the lost halfway. They need to learn that they are part of the problem. There unwillingness to change methodologies is as much the problem as the attitude of the unchurched.

So, the burden in evangelism is on us not the lost. We have to learn to listen and understand what is going on in their life. Why they are skeptical of churches and religious institutions and why they don’t naturally give much respect if any to clergy. We must first understand because it’s no longer 1950. If we try to understand the world of the lost or unchurched, here’s what we will find:

  • More of them have grown up totally void of any relationship with institutional religion.
  • The number of civil marriages is now rivaling church weddings.
  • Parents are no longer bringing their infants to the church to be baptized.
  • TV evangelists have poisoned the religious waters and are believed to be frauds.
  • People are working more hours now than in the past so free time is becoming more important.
  • People now have much more appealing entertainment today than the revival days of the past.
  • This past generation of kids has basically reared themselves or were reared by their peers.
  • The average family has one evening meal together a week and this has an enormous negative impact of their upbringing.
  • Most kids, even poor ones, have smart phones, $150 tennis shoes, and an assortment of electronic gismos.

When you take the above into consideration you realize that the world most church leaders over 40 were born into has radically changed. Therefore, the burden to learn how to share the Gospel in a new world is on us, not them. We must listen to their story. And love them into the Kingdom, not judge them.