I led a couple of seminars at the Billy Graham School of Evangelism this week, but we’re the ones who received a blessing by being there. Everything about the week was encouraging to the participants, including Debbie and me.
The School of Evangelism staff was wonderful. This was Tom Bledsoe’s last SOE, and he’s been directing these schools for 39 years. Tom’s gracious hospitality and gentle spirit set the tone for the staff team. From the housekeepers to the restaurant hostesses to the program personalities, gracious hospitality was the hallmark of the event.
The Cove setting is magnificent — perched on the side of a mountain near Asheville, North Carolina — with postcard views of Blue Ridge Mountain vistas. The design of each building blends appropriately into the natural scenery. Wood, stone, glass, and ironwork give you the sense of rustic luxuriousness providing the perfect backdrop for relaxation and reflection.
The soaring chapel steeple punctures the blue Carolina sky, drawing your attention to the glory of God’s natural creation. But under all this beauty, The Cove is equipped with the latest in video, audio, and internet technology which facilitates teaching and learning.
We learned that the SOE staff and other BGEA staff members pray for each presenter and each participant by name, before and during the School. The setting, the surroundings, the facilities, and the staff all blend to produce a content-filled, encouraging and inspiring three days.
I was challenged again to give new energy to telling the Old Story. Our church has done a good job of engaging with our community in several large projects. But, we also need to bring alongside our social engagement, a renewed commitment to the good news that Jesus brings. Heaven knows our community needs some good news, and we have it. We just need to tell it in ways and on occasions so others can hear it and receive it well. I’ll be sharing more about how we’ll go about that in the next several weeks. Stay tuned.
Seth Godin has an excellent post on marketing in a recession. His point is this:
“When times are good, buying things is a sport. It’s a reward. The story we tell ourselves is that we deserve it, that we want it and why not?
When the mass psychology changes and times are seen as not so good, the story we tell ourselves changes as well. Now, we buy out of defense, to avoid trouble. Or we buy because something will never be as cheap again. Or we buy smaller items for the same sense of reward.
Of course, the two different extremes can lead you to buy the very same thing. It’s not the thing so much as it’s the story.” — Seth Godin
What does this have to do with church? We’re in the story business. We need to tell the story of God so those who hear it change the story they tell themselves about God. Dan Kimball’s book, They Like Jesus But Not The Church, has some clues for us. But here are some examples of how we can help others change the story they tell themselves:
- Their story: “The church doesn’t respect other points of view.” Change this story by actually getting to know some non-church people, not to get them to come to church, but just to be their friend. Listen to them, treat them with respect, back off on the hard-sell, and hear what they are saying. You don’t have to agree, but you do have to listen until you can understand their viewpoint.
- Their story: “The church is only interested in me for my money, time, etc.” We are guilty of this often. We see people as prospects, potential church members. What if we saw and related to them as people? Period. What if we served with no thought of anything that might benefit us or our ministry?
- Their story: “I don’t need God. I can handle life on my own.” Here I would tell my story. I’m glad they can handle life, but I find God’s direction, guidance, and purpose to be essential to living my life. No argument, no debate — just two people telling their stories to each other.
The old approach to evangelism was a sales pitch — present the gospel, ask for a commitment, overcome objections, close the deal. A better way is for the other person to change the story they tell themselves; then, they’re open to finding a new story. Maybe the one you’ve found. What do you think? Is this too indirect? Any experiences to share with helping people change the story they tell themselves?