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Books give fresh encouragement for outreach

Most church leaders, at some point, have cried out in prayer for God to grow the church. We’ve plowed the field, dug the well, built the tower, worked the soil, but little has grown.
Weary and wary of books on evangelism and church growth, we often scan past the titles of those that admonish us to continue sowing the seed.
We shouldn’t. Fresh encouragement and new insights await. Two recent examples are worth a closer look.
In “The Unexpected Adventure: Taking Everyday Risks to Talk with People about Jesus,” Lee Strobel and Mark Mittelberg note that we live in a time when people are more interested than ever in talking about spiritual things. Yet, in this season of openness, churches and Christians seem to have frozen.
These seasoned evangelical authors break the ice with warm, engaging stories of their personal efforts to speak a word for Jesus to lost people. Strobel is an atheist-turned-Christian and Mittelberg an evangelist and teacher. Both have had long associations with large, evangelical community churches.
It’s all here: the mistakes, the embarrassing moments, the exhilaration and joy, success and failures. The book is a six-week challenge of daily devotionals geared to coax Christians into opening their mouths.
The authors contend that words are a necessary part of evangelism. “We must do more than silently serve people, hoping they’ll somehow notice the spiritual dimension to our lives,” they write. “For them to really understand and embrace our message … we’ll need to explain it to them verbally as well.”
Culled from real life, each story has the ring of truth, eliciting a “been there” from the reader. They make personal evangelism truly personal by showing how diverse personalities can reach others in unique ways. That is good news for those who are not bold extroverts.
The book is practical and biblical. This collection of 42 encouraging stories would make a great group study. Its daily devotional design would enable a Bible class or small group to move through the material together and then hold a weekly discussion. Such a group would soon be adding personal stories of their own.
The cumulative effect of hearing story upon story of personal outreach is motivating. By learning from the authors’ mistakes, humorously presented, we are heartened to learn such flubs are not fatal. Indeed, God works in spite of them. “Unexpected Adventure” is a powerful spark for the Christian who wants to reignite the desire to share the Gospel, or to ignite that spark in others.
At the deep end of the pool is “The Forgotten Ways Handbook: A Practical Guide for Developing Missional Churches.”
Here Alan Hirsch follows up his well- received 2005 book, “The Forgotten Ways,” with this handbook for growing missional churches in our postmodern culture. Teaming with church planter Darryn Altclass, Hirsch tries practically to apply his intriguing ideas. He breaks routine thinking by introducing new church growth vocabulary and delving deeply into the explosive growth of the early church. In 100 A.D., there were about 25,000 Christians. Two centuries later, there were 20 million. How did that happen? Can it happen today?
Hirsch and Altclass present many examples of cutting-edge churches striving to meet the challenge of communicating Christ to a postmodern world.
In the effort to ask old questions in new ways, the language at times becomes unnecessarily complicated, but the authors’ ideas are worth the effort. Their goal is to combine back-to-basics evangelism with a stirring of innovation. They put forward a fresh perspective rather than promote a particular method.
Although some of these innovations might not be easily or wisely applied in our fellowship, they do open the way to new approaches. There is great value in exploring the explosive growth of the first century church and then asking, “Why not today?” “Forgotten Ways Handbook” offers a chance to rethink and then adjust our methods in an effort to return to the simple message of the Gospel.
Both of these books remind us that there still are many workers in God’s field. These workers try and fail, succeed and miss, innovate and speculate. As we work, it’s good to hear these neighboring shouts of encouragement. God, in his own time, will make our field fruitful.
MARK FINN has served as minister for the Collingswood, N.J., Church of Christ for 23 years. He can be reached at [email protected].

Filed under: Reviews Staff Reports

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