This weekend I began reading two new books which really have my world spinning this week.
The first is Sermon Maker by Calvin Miller. It is a book I read in Seminary and have brushed the dust off and re-opened it. It is a fascinating book on the dynamic nature of preaching and gives hope and encouragement for a struggling homiletician.
The second is The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries by Rodney Stark. Stark is a professor of Sociology and Comparitive Religion at the Univ of Washington who approaches the incredible explosion of Christianity upon the world scene from CE 30 – CE 350 or so from a sociological perspective. So far it has been riveting and enlightening. Because of the lack of verifiable statistics and data to study, much of his work is conjecture, but still it is compelling and enlightening.
Over the next couple weeks as I work through these books, most of my blog postings will be insights for the people of God from these readings.
Here are some observations from The Rise of Christianity.
The most fascinating part of the book so far has been Stark’s study of how and why people come to accept new faith. He has studied the Moonies and Mormons primarily, as they have been relatively new movements of large percentage growth and have verifiable statistics. He discusses at length the reasons why most people move from one religion to another or from religious apathy to religious devotion of one kind or another.
Here is one of his interesting propositions. Another will follow tomorrow:
1) When you ask people after they have converted to a religion why they have converted, inevitably their answers are about the compelling truth of doctrine or irresistability of this particular conception of God.
But, if you follow people through the process of conversion, by and large the determining factor between those that accept and those that reject a new faith is relationship.
The first Moonies in America were horribly unsuccessful in their preaching, and attempts at conversion on the street or at group rally’s. But, They were incredibly successful in developing relationships in their families and social networks and converting those closest to them.
The same is found in the Mormon faith. Missionary statistics say that cold calls on houses (door to door visitation or evangelization) result in the conversion of about 1 in 1000 people. But, When a member of a Mormon church refers a missionary to a friends house, the conversion rate is about 50%. This fervor has resulted in the explosive growth of Mormonism around the world, a rate of 40% growth per decade steadily over the past century. (Incidentially, this is the basic growth rate Stark proposes of Christianity in the 1st-3rd centuries.)
What does this tell us as Followers of Christ?
I think it shouts to us that Our relationships are dymanic and incredibly powerful. Our churches, worship, preaching, evangelism, and missional life should flow out of and revolve around relationship. Birth into life in Christ is a birth into community, not a sole pursuit.
How much time have we wasted in preaching, teaching, and evangelism by putting proof and defense of doctrine at the forefront? There certainly is an importance to knowing sound doctrine and theology, but perhaps we can shift our focus toward people and relationships.
Within us all lies this eternal craving for connection with those around us and with something beyond us. The body of believers offers satiation of these universal and eternal cravings like no other source.
We need to own this. We are called to use this power of relationship. Especially in our world today, people will often be drawn to us, as compelling witnesses of Christ, before they are attracted to Christ. The image of Christ and God is distorted for many, but through relationship with us, as followers of Christ we can point to toward a clearer reality.
How many of our relationships are drawing people closer to God? How intentional are we in our relationships?
The challenge for us, is to live in the awareness that we, in our person, in our actions, in our lives, are living mirrors that reflect Christ.