3. Church planting and conversion:

What to convert to?

As we were evangelizing in Madrid I started to think: ‘what do we do with people that actually convert to a faith in Jesus as Christ? Do we train them to follow the rules and rhythm of a church service? Or do we actually want more than that? How do we prevent people from becoming a passive Sunday christian of which there are too many? Is there a way to teach people to have a daily relationship with Christ and a deep fellowship with fellow Christians?

As I was reading about church planting I was pointed at different points of view of a conversion. This has much to do with the way we think of church. Peter Wagner describes 2 different approaches to conversion that he borrowed from a missiologist Paul Hiebert (P.Wagner, Church Growth and the Whole Gospel, p158).

He talks about Bounded Set conversion and Centered Set conversion. A Bounded set is a determined package. It has a boundary that you can describe. Let’s call it a ‘church-conversion’. A ‘church-conversion’ has a described set of rules. The rules can differ from one movement to another. Typically a church would describe a set of rules and convictions to follow. Follow them and you are ‘in’, deny and you are ‘out’. For some people a convert is someone who accepts Jesus as God and personal savior. For others a convert has followed a basic of faith course and agrees on their doctrines. Most ‘church-converts’ would be expected to appear in church every Sunday.

A centered set conversion does not have boundaries. It is described in terms of direction. One who is converted to Christ chooses to follow Christ with his whole life. The actual status can be seen as far away from Christ or closer to Him. What counts is that people direct their life toward Jesus Christ as the center of their life. Let’s call it a ‘disciple-conversion’.

The difference lies in the dynamics of it. For a ‘church-convert’ the job is done when the person is converted. It allows for Christians to continue with a minimal effort after their conversion. The type of ‘laid back Christian’. Living their own life while also scheduling some time for Jesus, are one of many balls to juggle with in their life.

As for the ‘disciple-conversion’, bringing people to move towards Christ is only the beginning. ‘Growth after conversion is an intrinsic part of what it means to be a Christian’ (Wagner,p160).

It is one thing to help a person become a disciple of Jesus, it is something else to help a person leave his worldly behavior behind and totally live his life for Jesus.

This causes two distinct fazes to be recognized. It is one thing to evangelize people and help them to convert to follow Jesus as their Lord. It is something else to help them perfecting their faith after their conversion. Audiences of the first phase are people who do not know Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Once they know Jesus as their personal Saviour the phase of perfecting that faith can begin. This is the process of sanctification that every Christian experiences.

Here in Spain many of the evangelical churches function as they do all over the world. They have buildings they call ‘church’. They have a service or two on Sundays. Do bible-studies or prayer meetings during the week. A conversion would automatically mean that someone has to join this group of evangelicals in their habitual way of worshipping the Lord. I am absolutely not saying there is anything wrong with this way of worshipping our Lord. The point is that non-believers have seen a lot of hypocritical Christians. A lot of Jesus professing people who corrupted state and church, who gained riches from normal believers, were abusive, and more. For many adults the church is something of their childhood, in a time when they were forced to come to mass or else the police would visit. For many young adults and teenagers the church and Jesus is something of their grandparents. To them the church did nothing good and possibly caused a lot of hurt. Most of them have been grown with the thought that evangelicals are a sect to stay away from. And on top of that there is a culture where absolute truth does not exists. People are very critical and do not have any problems with other people believing something else than they do. All in all a difficult combination to work with.

In the end to enter a church is quite a big step for many people. It is almost like admitting you are one of them. Why not start studying the bible in neutral places like bars, at home or in a park? Why not meet in such places as a group of disciples of Jesus? Why not start with living the faith together and help each other growing in faith? Whether or not they already accepted Jesus as their Saviour is not that important. Why not call that a ‘church’ already?

The most important thing is that they are moving towards Him. Jesus will take care of the rest. He will make sure they convert totally and change their lifestyle to a Christian one. Don’t we all need to convert and change lifestyles at a daily basis?

Torrejon de Ardoz, 16th-September-2016

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