The $1,551,466 Christian


The Christian Church spends $1,551,466 to make one convert.

That figure comes from the World Christian Encyclopedia published by Oxford University Press in 2001. Accurate or not, even if the number were a tenth that, it’s still staggering. Remember also that it’s 2012, and money doesn’t go as far today, so the figure would be even higher now.

Only Apple has the warchest to spend that kind of money to get a customer. Even then, at that rate, its half-trillion dollars wouldn’t last long enough to generate a sustainable client base.

Simply put, if the Church were a business, it would be bankrupt. Marketing and sales would get the blame.

But the Church isn’t a business; it’s a collection of people joined by Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and tasked with a mission to make disciples. Given that $1,551,466 figure, the inescapable conclusion is that someone is not doing his part of the mission. Or is at least doing a mind-bogglingly ineffective job of it.

So, what is the fix?

Banking on God: Theology, Part 3


I’d not intended on writing a third post on theology in my “Banking on God” series, but a combination of events convinced me I need to say more.

Today in church, we had a visiting evangelist from Ghana in Africa. He regularly comes to our church because we help his missions organization minister in the countries of Liberia, Ghana, and Togo. He’s a gentle, self-effacing, native-born African who always has a powerful word to speak to us Americans, especially how we must bring Jesus to Africans and also address their extreme poverty.

As I listened to him speak, he drove home a truth that can’t be ignored. And while I already knew of the situation he detailed, I never saw how critical it was until yesterday morning.

Islam continues to swallow the northern half of Africa, with more and more countries becoming majority/exclusively Muslim each year. Poverty, Christianity, and Islam in AfricaPart of the reason for Islam’s growth in Africa is that “evangelists” for Islam have learned what Christian missionaries knew for years: people are more willing to embrace your message if you help meet their physical needs.

To this end, Muslims are building schools, hospitals, wells, orphanages, electrical generators, and mosques at record pace. And they’re doing so backed by the money we pay for oil. With a barrel of oil over $100, it doesn’t take a genius to see where this is heading. The Saudis funnel massive amounts of money to Islamic “missions” programs, and the leaders of those programs go into villages loaded full of cash they lavishly spend to help poor people out of crippling poverty.

This evangelist told us that this is a very difficult issue to overcome, especially when Christians cannot muster the same outpouring of largess. Worse, he told us that many projects by a number of Christian ministries in his area have stalled due to a lack of funds.

Part of his work is to help new converts find work because so many people are stuck in grinding poverty. His organization equips people to start businesses and find careers because the need is so great and so practical. His hope is that the Christians in the countries he ministers to will leverage their new businesses to make local churches self-supporting. But they are not there yet.

Sadly, as Christian efforts break even or stall, the continued flood of cash by Muslim organizations is perpetuating Islam’s tsunami through Northern and Central Africa.

I heard this and, I’ll tell you, it just made me sick to my stomach. Truly.

I don’t want to think that the reins we keep on our wealth here in the American Church are so tight that millions will go to a Christless eternity for our stinginess. And while some may argue that money is not the reason for people going to hell, surely a lack of benevolence on our part contributes to that outcome. The starving African should not come to the Christian and be turned away for lack of funds—only to find comfort in the arms of wealthy Islam.

Are we ready for that kind of apologetic? Isn’t it sad to think that Christians, who once built the vast majority of hospitals, schools, and orphanages around the world are being rapidly outspent in those same areas by Muslims?

In an age when rational Western Christians have largely dismissed signs and wonders evangelistic techniques, we either need to re-evaluate our anti-supernatural position in light of Islam’s outpouring of cash or exceed that benevolence with our greater giving. If we can’t compete monetarily, we better have something a whole lot better to offer people, something that meets their physical need right where they are.

As the Bible notes,

But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
—Acts 3:6

That’s something Islam can’t possibly hope to match.


Banking On God: Series Compendium

The Antiwitness


Wolf in Sheep's ClothingI once heard about an outreach that a popular campus ministry used to do during Spring Break. They'd go down to beaches and evangelize the collegians reveling in that yearly bacchanal. For a week, it was God's work for those young people sharing their faith in Christ. They'd hand out tracts, pray with folks, and for those few who did make a commitment to Christ, try to point them in the right direction for the few days the ministry ran.

We've all heard of (or participated in) short-term mission trips like this, whether in-country or out. Usually, it's a spiritual high for the participants that may just last a lifetime, or result in the kind of life-altering event that leads someone to go on to long-term missions work.

But then you start hearing the horror stories and you start to wonder.

I knew someone who used to do that Spring Break ministry, but who encountered something he never thought would be the fruit of that labor.

After several years of participation, he ran across a past convert from an earlier Spring Break outreach (I'll call that convert "Stu".) My friend encountered Stu back on the beach and asked him how his walk with the Lord was going since Stu's conversion the previous spring. Stu shared the following:

    1. He was glad to be a Christian now because his guilt was gone.

    2. He'd hung out a church for a little bit, but it didn't take, so he stopped going.

    3. The drinking had stopped for a little while, but now he didn't feel so bad about getting hammered all the time because he was forgiven.

    4. Same for the promiscuity. Stopped for a while, but a party's a party, right?

    5. He still had the Bible he'd received, but he never really read it.

    6. When asked what he believed, he heartily told everyone he was a Christian and proud of it.

Whatever we think about Stu's "conversion," one truth remains: he's doing more damage now than if he'd never encountered those eager Christian collegians on the shores of Spring Break.

Stu's become something worse than unregenerate; he's now an antiwitness.

Antiwitnesses are those poor souls who taste the goodness of Christ, but are never encouraged to grow deeper in Christ. They tend to comprehend just enough of the Gospel to be able to enunciate a few Christian truths, but they've ultimately been inoculated against any deeper life. They live exactly like the world—or worse—but continue to cling to some idea that they are real Christians.

The true devastation wrought by antiwitnesses comes through their ability to witness to their supposed conversion while acting out every conceivable witness against that reality. Theirs is the unique dysfunction of being the lone "Christian" many people know, but they project a halo so tarnished that most people are forever put off Christianity after encountering them. 

Male antiwitnesses soon learn they can use their newfound spirituality as leverage to bed even more impressionable young things than before. Said young things wind up with the impression that all Christians are hyprocrites in the wake of a tryst that lasts for a week before the antiwitness moves on to another conquest. I've heard so many of these accounts over the years I've lost track.

What creates an antiwitness?

While many will say that we Christians aren't nearly as zealous for evangelism as we once were, we must look beyond the shallowness of numbers. Too many times we think about the "spiritual brownie points" we get from being "soulwinners," but we fail to take into account the consequences of our discipleship deficiencies.

At its core, Christianity is a relational, community faith. But as self-actualized Americans who have lived under the shadow of rugged individualism and bootstrapping, we tend to forget that discipleship is not handing someone a Bible and pointing them to a church with a hearty "Go get 'em, Tiger!" pat on the back. Many religions are like that, but Christ did not come to establish a loose affiliation of believing loners.

Over at Paradoxology, a blog I recommend for the tough questions Chris Monroe asks, he wonders about the validity of door-to-door evangelism. Sadly, I have to question that evangelistic method in light of our tendency toward spawning antiwitnesses. Not because it doesn't reap rewards, but because we too often forget that we have a relational responsibility to people we evangelize. Selling ourselves as friendly people who care about someone's eternal state is only effective if that's what we truly believe.

We should ever go into every evangelistic situation with the understanding that we're personally responsible to pour our own lives into the lives of whatever converts we make by the grace of God. What message are we inadvertently sending to a new convert if we bail the second they say, "I believe"? We tend to want to make converts, but the actual interpersonal discipling that happens afterward becomes some other church's, pastor's, or discipler's responsibility.

I've seen or heard of too many people left to their own devices after a supposed conversion and more often than not those abandoned folks turn into antiwitnesses. We may think they're in God's care and protection, but the truth is that we left them to be sifted by Satan. God gave them to us and we tossed them aside to get torn apart by the Enemy.

Satan loves it when we go for numbers and not for depth of discipleship. He'll gladly take those folks and syncretize whatever primitive Christian belief system they received with the best he has to offer them. Sadly, one of his protegés, like Stu, has a half-baked experience that vaccinates everyone he meets against the real Gospel. We can work for years to make five disciples, but a guy like Stu can make a thousand naysayers in his travels.

I fully realize that we can't ensure genuine discipleship in people. But our "instant discipleship" ideas heightened by the general impatience we have with true relationship and real spiritual growth only make our evangelistic efforts fruitless, no matter how many notches we may claim to have in our soulwinner belt.

Having visited a self-described "soulwinning church" that baptized enormous numbers of people it picked up off the street, I was left with a curious question. Why was it that those being baptized were primarily black and Hispanic, but the church itself was whiter than a warehouse of marshmallows? What happened to all those people the church picked up off the streets and evangelized, resulting in the stream of baptizees I witnessed? I suspect they were never heard from again. That well-known church was probably making five antiwitnesses to every one real disciple.

Honestly, I don't think any of us should be sharing the Gospel with anyone unless we're also willing to be the ones doing the follow-up. Our problem is that this asks for a great deal of time and effort. I also suspect it's the main reason that the American Church isn't growing. We do lip service to evangelism, and either avoid it altogether because we know the cost to us is great, or we do the kind of "just add water" evangelism that makes nothing but antiwitnesses.

But it's not just the underdeveloped converts that can become antiwitnesses. Sometimes, the "overdeveloped" disciples that are impressed with their own righteous, the Superspiritual as I've called them, can be antiwitnesses.

Catez Stevens of Allthings2all tells of her pre-Christian days an her encounter with this second kind of antiwitness. Her cautionary true tale of The Merciful Stripper shows that  we can be antiwitnesses when we overspiritualize things and miss the true heart of Christ's Gospel. Please read her story; I promise you that, sadly, it's not unique.

Laziness on our part only makes for an antiwitness. In the end, if we are to make real disciples, we need to love people—and not just mouth loving platitudes, either. We've got to look at every person not as a notch in our soulwinning belt but as someone for whom Christ died and whom He calls us to partner with so they grow deeply and radically in love with Him. That requires time.

More than that, it requires that we die to self so that someone else might live.