Is changing a church’s culture possible? Karl’s story

This month, we’ve been sharing stories of lived changed by the Gospel through Christianity Explored. This week, we’re sharing a story about how Christianity Explored can change the culture of a church. Meet Karl Willock, a former member of a pioneer church for Christianity Explored in the US. We spoke with Karl about his experience with the series and how he thinks Christianity Explored can help churches in the “new normal” of 2020.

How and when were you introduced to CE?

I was introduced to Christianity Explored in 2002 while attending Village Seven Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs. Kevin Allen (now Christianity Explored USA Western Region Director) was the associate pastor at the time and he was in charge of essentially trying to open up this thing called “evangelism.” I think Village Seven was one of the first churches in the States to really try Christianity Explored. I first heard about it from Kevin who was very enthusiastic and energetic about it. He went around to community groups and Sunday school classes and said, “Hey, let’s just try this.” So my wife, my kids and I jumped on board.

What was your experience with running Christianity Explored the first time?

The attendance was mostly Christians. At times, it almost felt like we were preaching to the choir. But through Kevin’s tenacity and willingness, we continued to find people inside the church who had a vision for opening the doors a lot wider than just a small crack. So I would say Christianity Explored started to affect a number of dedicated people in the church after 3-5 years.

Why do you think it took that long to change the culture of your church?

I think it usually takes a long time to change the culture of any church. We’re inbred and we like our comfort. Christianity Explored isn’t anything like that. Christianity Explored challenges you at every turn. That’s not easy.

What is a benefit of running Christianity Explored in a church setting?

We’ve got a lot of nonbelievers sitting in our churches all the time that really don’t understand what the Gospel is. We need to run Christianity Explored as communities, Sunday Schools, in Christian schools, over and over every year. If we only ran CE in churches, the “worst” case is we teach our own community how to handle the Scriptures with integrity and to invite people into the Gospel narrative.

Is that what you saw play out at Village Seven? 

Yes, I did. People saw it too. And remember, it’s not the material that’s magic. It’s the faithfulness, the praying beforehand, all the hard work and care that goes into a homemade meal before the course. People look at that and think, “Wow, these people went to an effort to make me feel welcome.” The little things matter because we’re telling people that they matter. You matter enough for me to get up and serve. 

I think just giving your church a tool like Christianity Explored and running through the course helps a lot with people’s confidence. They know what they’re getting into and are more likely to invite others they know to join next time.

What do you see as a church’s biggest challenge in the area of evangelism?  

Fear of rejection is always going to be the first challenge. The Gospel message is a hard one to accept. We don’t give God enough space to move and work in people’s hearts over time to accept His message. So it’s not just the struggle to get over fear of rejection the first time, but to continue to evangelize when we face rejection over and over. We can do evangelism once, but the hardest part is to stick with it. 

Remember, people’s lives change over time in ways that may make them more receptive to the Gospel. We need to be there for the people in our lives that we care about. When they’re hurting, they might be more receptive to hear about Jesus or consider something they might not have otherwise. 

What do you see as the biggest benefit to running Christianity Explored in a church context? 

Well it gives you something to work from. You don’t have to start from scratch or make up some elaborate program. Christianity Explored lays it out step-by-step. The material has been thought through. The videos are helpful.You just have to execute. I’d encourage everyone to try it. 

How can churches move forward in evangelism in the “new normal” after 2020? 

I’m hoping post-COVID, churches have had a chance to look at what they’re doing since they aren’t meeting in person. I hope they ask, “Well what’s really working and what stuff do we just need to get rid of?” I’m hoping churches stick to preaching the word, administering the sacraments, and evangelism and caring for broken people.

How can Christianity Explored help with this?

What’s helpful about Christianity Explored is that there are plenty of places to morph and bend it. You can adapt it to new settings outside the church like pregnancy centers, rescue missions, and more. Picking a venue that’s outside the church will often attract people inside the church to break open their calendars and say, “Let’s go give our time away to someone else that needs it.”

Do you have anything to say to leaders specifically about using CE? 

Try it. Don’t put it on the shelf. Make a plan, pray, execute and see what happens. I’d also recommend doing this as a group in your local church smothered with a healthy dose of patience. Remember, God has been patient with you so be patient with others as they consider the Christian faith.

Remember that  we don’t need to worry about the results. We just need to worry about whether we are being faithful to the good news we’ve been given. Jesus says, “Come and join me in my work and then go talk to people about me.” God is always working while we are working.

Karl Willock lives in Colorado Springs with his wife Kit. He enjoys occasionally riding his bike in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

To learn more about building a culture of evangelism in your church, we invite you to attend our next webinar.

To learn more about Christianity Explored, please visit our website.

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