Elsewhere I have commented on our approach to evangelism (Gospel, Social Networks, and Community).Tim Chester describes it as “Three-Strand Evangelism.” Austin City Life does not place our emphasis on doctrinal conversion, memorized gospel presentations or evidential apologetics, rather, we are cultivating communities of Spirit-led disciples who redemptively engage people. Consider Rodney Stark’s comment:
It is important to realize several important things about doctrine and conversion. After conversion has occurred is when most people get more deeply involved in the doctrines of their new group…conversion is primarily about bringing one’s religious behavior into alignment with that of one’s friends and relatives, not about encountering attractive doctrines.
How does evangelism typically play out for us? It means several things: 1) We form relationships for relationships sake; we value the friendship and perspective of those who do not believe as we do. 2) We invite people from these social networks into our community, a community centered on Jesus. We do this through BBQs, meals in the home, parties, and so on. 3) We strive to understand and apply the gospel in our lives and relationships, addressing the whole needs of our friends (celebrating a new birth, adopting foster children, counseling people through a hard time, sharing God’s forgiveness in Jesus, etc.). This approach to evangelism is the product of biblical reflection, study, practice and contextualization. This happens through our City Groups and social networks. Stark’s comments are, once again, apropos:
By now dozens of close-up studies of conversion have been conducted. All of them confirm that social networks are the basic mechanism through which conversion takes place. To convert someone, you must first become that person’s close and trusted friend.
One wonders how Stark accounts for Pentecost, a breakout awakening of people who did not even speak the same language. Well, he certainly makes room for “Damascus Road” experiences but argues that this is the exception, not the rule.