What really works to bring people into authentic relationship with Jesus? And where is your church spending its effort?

Today’s churches (and individuals) take different approaches to what’s often called outreach, evangelism or being missional. Loads of time, money and attention are spent on certain techniques. Some bear fruit. Many provide paltry results.

Some common approaches:

• Academic. This approach includes the teaching ministries of sermons, Bible studies and Sunday school. The assumption is, “If they hear the information, they’ll believe.”

• Transactional. This “sales-oriented” approach may involve crusades and altar calls. The emphasis centers on “closing the sale” or creating urgency for making a decision for Christ.

• Service or event. These approaches include community service days, giveaways at public events, movie showings, comedy concerts, worship services, etc. Proponents believe a good deed leads to belief.

• Relational. This approach is commonly called friendship or personal or lifestyle evangelism. Practitioners introduce Jesus to their friends and relatives through conversation.

So, what works? Different researchers have come to similar conclusions. Here’s a typical result from Church Growth, Inc.:

1. Academic efforts: Sunday school accounts for 5%. Pastors account for 6%.

2. Transactional efforts: Evangelistic crusades account for less than 1%.

3. Service and events: Special need efforts account for 2%. Church services and programs account for 3%.

4. Relational efforts: Friends and relatives account for 78%.

All of these methods can help bring non-believers closer to a relationship with Jesus. But one of them obviously produces far greater results.

If we’re serious about spreading the Good News, it’s time to be intentional about being relational. Some practical ways to invest in what works:

• Equip members with natural and conversational skills to talk about their faith. (Check out Doug Pollock’s God Space book.)
• Provide opportunities for members to actually practice talking about God with friends. (Check out Lifetree Café.)
• Allow time in worship and program times for people to engage in one-to-one conversation about God.
• Plan special events for families and friends to gather together and engage in guided conversation about faith in Christ.

Invest in what works.