They Don’t Know That They Don’t Go!
You’ve likely not heard of Dennis Pethers. I hadn’t until November.
Dennis is from “post-Christian” London. He grew up as an atheist. His story about how he came to faith might strengthen your faith in how the Spirit moves–even in spite of Christians sometimes!
God’s call on his life now is to help Christians and churches more clearly understand people who don’t know Jesus. And then help us more honestly and relevantly know how to talk about Jesus with them.
He offers “why didn’t I think of that before” critiques and suggestions about how we “do church” and evangelism. You can Google him or watch some of this video—especially the first part–for an idea of what he often talks about. LifeWay's even produced some materails based on what God's teaching Dennis.
Last month our church planters were invited to a conversation with Dennis. He and his ministry are committed to “relevant communication of the Gospel to people today.” Here are a few notes from that talk as well as a previous conversation at The Heights Baptist Church in November.“
We live in a time that people don’t even know that they don’t know who Jesus is.”
“We [my family] didn’t decide not to go to church. We didn’t know that we didn’t go! We just didn’t know anyone who did go.”
“Calling never-churched people ‘unchurched’ is like calling a Baptist ‘un-Bingo-ed.’ We never, never think about Bingo. We just don’t do it.”
Things that made it hard to believe in God initially: the problem of suffering, other religions (just the fact that there are so many), evolution and the church itself (what he saw on TV and the media was weird).
Things that made it hard for him NOT to believe in God later: the order he saw in creation (even evolution!). He noted a car ad that pointed out how crazy it would be to think that a car so nice would just fall together without a skilled maker.
When he was beginning to explore faith in Jesus, he thought, “I’m not going to talk to my Christian boss, because religious people are ‘out to get you’.”
He was impressed that Jesus believed in something. He decided to give believing in a God a try.
What going to church was like for him: They sing all the time. (“Why do they do this?”) They looked “bored out of their brains.” At 5 ‘til 12 they all started looking at their watches because they wanted to go home. When they prayed they began speaking in a oild odd form of English—a language no one uses or understands. They consistently prayed, “Send them back.”
Evangelism can become more of a church competition, because we need the people in order to survive.
Are we too focused on church attendance, or even church and not enough on Jesus.
Most evangelism requires that people just need to know what to do to be saved and they’ll respond. That is based on a setting from decades ago.
“We need to start where peole are—not where we want them to be.”
He encourages followers of Jesus to share what God “is doing” in their lives. “Not what He did. Not a three minute salvation testimony.” Secular people are not asking “how to be saved.” They are not even thinking about it.
Dennis’s definition of evangelism: “Leaving the person I’ve met with a better understanding of God that they would have had if they had never met me.”
The church planter’s job should be outreach activities and conversations—not necessarily gathering believers. When it is helpful to further the witness in a community, then a church is planted.
Dennis mentioned that he found it unfortunate that churches gather to worship but scatter to be witnesses. He feels our witness is strengthened as we work together–even in two and threes–to share our faith with others over meals or in conversations.
If you find yourself interested in taking part in any future conversation when Dennis is in town, please write ScottColeman@dba.net or call 214-319-1164.