Relationships Are Crucial

Near the end of his excellent book, Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People’s Hearts the Way Jesus Did, Randy Newman tells about a panel discussion aimed at getting a more in depth understanding of the thought processes behind the polling data regarding the beliefs, values, hopes, fears, and convictions of the Baby Buster generation.

A group of about one hundred Christians, Newman included, gathered a representative panel of four non-Christian “Baby Busters.” They promised not to try to convert them, but to listen to them to better understand them.

To prepare for the panel discussion, the Christians read through survey results and polling data regarding the viewpoints of this generation. Then they met with the panel for what was supposed to be a one-hour session.

About three quarters of an hour into the panel discussion, one of the researchers asked a question that was not part of the surveys they had read. Here is how Newman reports what took place.

Is there anything that would make you want to go to church?

Long pause.

The questioner prompted them, “Would it make a difference, for example, if the sermons were really good and relevant to your life?”

“Not really,” was the general consensus of the four. Plenty of messages on CD or the Internet helped them make their life work just fine.

“Would it make you want to go to church if the music was really hot?” Again, “not really” captured the sentiment. There were plenty of great radio stations, and their MP3 players made all kinds of music only a few mouse clicks away.

Convenience, relevance, programs, seminars, you name it—whatever enticements were offered to lure them into church were rebuffed with a shrug.

Finally, someone tried, “Would you go to church if a good friend invited you?” Unanimity! All four, without hesitation, emphatically said, “Yes.”

We got it! The crowd of Christians collectively remembered a line in the survey—“relationships” were, by far, the highest priority of this cohort. Perhaps to fill a vacuum created by broken marriages or a technological and impersonal society, people want people—not programs—to connect them to God.

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