Evaluate your strategies

A while back I wrote a couple of posts on the subject, “What do you do when nobody shows up?” You can read them here: Part 1, Part 2. I had originally planned on writing a third article but forgot about it. Recent events have reminded and motivated me to complete the series.

The reason I wrote the original post was because of a special evangelistic campaign that we had realized in Parla and Colmenar Viejo. We had distributed thirty thousand invitations to a month-long sermon series geared towards the unsaved. The result was zero visitors. As you can imagine it was a discouraging time for us and the churches. This led me to ask myself the question that is the subject of this series.

So what happened recently in our ministry that motivated me to write the third and final blog post? We decided to start English classes for young people between the ages of thirteen and twenty. The goal was to distribute three thousand invitations to all the high-schoolers in Colmenar Viejo. The flyer was two-sided. On one side was an invitation to free English classes; on the other an invitation to a youth “Come and see” Bible study. The idea was to meet young people and share the gospel with them in order to start a youth ministry. As I shared in an earlier post that is an impossible dream. Thankfully, we serve the God of the impossible.

This was not something that we planned quickly or poorly. We worked the details out with Eduardo Sedoski and Flavius. In fact, everyone in the Colmenar church was involved. For instance, we decided to schedule the youth “Come and see” Bible study immediately after the English class; that way we could encourage the students to stay for an extra hour and discuss Biblical Christianity with us in a dynamic, participative environment. They would not have to make an extra trip. We also debated whether to simply invite them to the English class and then talk to them about the Bible study once they signed up or to make it very clear in the invitation that we also offer the “Come and See” class and that we would love for them to be a part of it. In the end, we opted for including the Bible study in the flyer, thus making our intentions clear from the outset. That way they wouldn’t be able to accuse us of pulling a bait-and-switch on them. Why do I include all these details? So that you understand that we thought it through diligentely.

The invitation clearly stated that the classes were free and that there were only thirty available slots. We put two dates down for the registration. On the first day of the registration we waited at the church with sign-up sheets in hand. Only one kid showed up. Three thousand invitations for free English classes and only one guy signs up.

So what do you do in these type of situations? I believe the answer is to evaluate your strategy. The wrong conclusion would be to automatically assume that free English classes don’t work in Spain. Thankfully I had prepared the Colmenar church for any outcome. I told them that this was an experiment for us. We had no clue what would happen. The only thing we knew for sure was that if we tried nothing we would get just that. We knew that young people would never get saved if we didn’t proactively go after them.

Here is an idea of how we evaluated our strategy:

– Maybe getting the invitations in the hands of the teenagers wasn’t the best approach. Most kids don’t want to take on any more classes even if they are free. Maybe it would have been better to distribute the invitations in all the mailboxes. The parents would probably be more interested in the classes and encourage their children to sign-up.

– Maybe we shouldn’t have included an invitation to the Bible study in the flyer. This was probably the number one reason we had only one sign up. Spaniards are very private about religious matters and it probably scared them off.

Instead of dismissing the idea altogether we immediately began to think of a better strategy. None of us were discouraged. We were thrilled about the kid that did sign up! Everybody worked really hard. We are attempting great things for God! This is reason to rejoice.

Things have worked out great since then. We now have eight kids signed up for the English classes, all invited by people from our church. This turns out to be a much better strategy because follow up will be easier. The one kid that did sign up was not only interested in the English class but the Bible study as well. This showed us that it was a good idea after all to be upfront about our intentions for the class.  We believe the class will grow even more through word of mouth.

I think sometimes we consider it unspiritual to evaluate our strategies. As if we are somehow questioning God’s plan. But we need to realize that God is a God of order and design. He gave us our rational faculties for a reason. It isn’t a sin to think and plan. I believe it glorifies our maker. God does the work, but He has sovereignly chosen to use us. Instead of giving up when things don’t go as planned maybe it would be better to learn from our mistakes and make the necessary changes. We can’t continue doing the same things in the same way and call it faithfulness to God. We must be willing to evaluate and change. Certainly not our doctrine or message, but our strategies.  I am certain that we will learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t as we deal with these young people. We may have to change our strategy again, but what will never change is our relentless effort to make disciples of Christ.

Acknowledge your responsibility

Last week I shared with you a recent disappointment that I experienced in the ministry which led me to ask the question, “what do you do when nobody shows up?” My purpose in writing the post wasn’t to whine or complain but to legitimately explore this question in order to encourage myself in the Lord and to help other missionaries that are in similar situations, especially those serving in Europe. I am not worried or depressed. I have seen God do amazing things. As a matter of fact, up until this last evangelistic campaign all of our outreach had yielded positive results.

My desire in all of this is to encourage fellow missionaries and leaders in Europe to resist the temptation of “spiritualizing” everything. Now please don’t misunderstand what I mean by that. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t rely on the work of the Holy Spirit in our evangelistic efforts. I don’t believe that the outcome depends on us. What I mean by “spiritualizing” is that so many times we unintentionally blame God for our lack of results. How do we do that? We don’t directly come out and say that It’s God’s fault we just say things like, “Well, I guess it wasn’t God’s will for anybody to show up” or “I guess Spaniards are just more hardened to the gospel.” I am so guilty of this. It may be true that God has a purpose in our failures. He may also be trying to build up our faith in Him and mold our character through our lack of visible results. However, we need to be very careful about “spiritualizing” everything because that mindset often hinders us from evaluating the things that we may be doing wrong. We need to take the time to acknowledge our responsibility in the matter.

What we forget is that the Bible teaches that God is Sovereign and in control but that we are responsible. Both of these doctrines are true at the same time. What we don’t see is that God has ordained the means through which we are to evangelize the world and it certainly isn’t by giving up or by “just being faithful.” We are to preach until we can’t preach anymore, evangelize until our feet are worn out and disciple and train believers until they are reproducing themselves in the lives of others. We should never settle down and say that God has given up on our particular part of the world.

I refuse to blame God for my lack of visible results. Instead I will ask myself the following questions. Have I been praying enough? Have I been learning enough? Have I been preaching enough? Have I done everything that I could do? If I ever begin to “spiritualize” everything I won’t heed any godly advice. I won’t change what I’m doing in any way. I won’t be sensitive to the Spirit’s conviction in my own life. I know that God is in control, that He wants me to be faithful and that only He can save but I refuse to blame God in any way when things don’t go the way I planned. I like what Spurgeon said about our responsibility as ministers of the gospel, “If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.” I won’t make any excuses. I will pray, evangelize and train until I can say with Paul, “I am pure from the blood of all men.” Next week I want to discuss the importance of evaluating our strategies.