How people learn is important. How they progress toward belief and action is more important.
A white-haired man was introduced to me after preaching. He was starting a church in the next town over but his comment startled me. “Mark, I appreciated what you said about new believers knowing more lost people. In all my years of ministry, I never thought about training up a new believer to share their faith. And I wanted you to know I’ll be going out with them to share Jesus with their family and friends.” You could see the determination in his eyes. It wasn’t too late for him to learn and act.
There’s a social phenomenon that God instilled in each of us. We respond at different rates to innovations that bring change. When I was studying marketing, I was fascinated by the work of Everett M. Rogers, an Iowa farmer’s kid-turned-scholar. His father was reluctant to use a hybrid corn until a drought proved its worth.
Rogers identified segments of society that would adopt new ideas and tools: Innovators (2.5 percent), Early Adopters (13.5 percent), Early Majority (34 percent), Late Majority (34 percent) and Laggards (16 percent). If you plot this on a graph, it makes a nice bell curve. Those in authority tend to be Laggards while those with the most education and income tend to be Innovators who, though they can be fickle, will try practically anything new.
James F. Engel picked up on this while teaching at Wheaton College and proposed a numerical scale from -8 (lost) to 0 (conversion) to +3 (discipleship). The Engel Scale provides a way of tracking evangelism-discipleship spiritual progress.
Jesus was way ahead of Rogers and Engel when He taught in the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20) that people are like different soils. Each of us interacts with the seeds of the gospel in different ways. In that parable, Jesus noted the importance of being like the good soil, receiving the Word and bearing fruit for the Kingdom. The same is true with evangelistic disciple-making.
Our country is saturated in a sensual world that is 3D. It moves and engages them. It provides community experiences, even if it’s avatars interacting online. Most churches, meanwhile, provide evangelism and discipleship that rely on “sit and get” methodology of “come to the class and hear the preacher.”
Are we relegating believers to be spectators? Kyle Idleman was spot-on with his book Not a Fan. The book is a call for Christians to get out of the stands and onto the playing field.
When we share Christ and our faith with those who are lost, they may be closer to a decision than we expect. Different people take different lengths of time to believe in Christ and eventually act to make a decision. Bill Fay, who developed Share Jesus Without Fear, likes to say that it takes about seven exposures to the gospel message before a person will surrender their heart to Jesus.
Living out the faith is important for others who are watching our lives and how it benefits them. It can’t be done inside church walls and cocooning in our homes. Bringing the lost into our lives requires lifelong learning in verbalizing our faith. As we interact, we watch them grow in their faith until Jesus is Lord. And then seamlessly, we walk with them into newness of life, encouraging them to bear spiritual fruit to the glory of God.