One of the key reasons why evangelical churches today do not see as many "conversions" as in the past is because of how we define “conversion”. Today this concept of "conversion" is in a state of challenge and change...it is under construction!
When Lois and I first went out as primary church planters with OMF to Thailand, we did so as a team, not as solo workers. Young, eager and fearful church planters gathered in Thailand from many different nations and with a variety of philosophies on "conversion". One young British missionary stated quite boldly that all we needed to be able to say in the local dialogue was the “Four Spiritual Laws" and then we could let the Holy Spirit do His work. In the completely Buddhist society we were called of God to reach, that method simply was inadequate and confusing to say the least.
I recently read a post from Gordon T. Smith, President of reSource Leadership International, entitled: The New Conversion: Why We "Become Christians" Differently Today (posted 4/18/2012).
Smith asks the question as to whether the evangelical church of today is still embracing a revivalist view of conversion to Christ. He rightly points out that revivalism as a religious movement had its roots in 17th century Puritanism and progressed through the periods of spiritual awakenings and into 20th century evangelistic crusades and global missionary movements.
A 'revivalist' approach to evangelism is centered upon a true and powerful encounter with Christ. The prime method was to arrive at an acceptance of a set of propositional truths often reduced down to a set of principles or 'spiritual laws' as Smith points out in his article. This was accompanied by what is commonly referred to as the "sinner’s prayer" and given a date and time. It was a personal revival.
This revivalist approach, in the west, is now being replaced by a series of encounters with the truth of the person of Christ and a growing illumination of the heart and mind to accept the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life. This takes place in a community of believers with a change of mind and heart that ultimately conforms the person to the nature of Jesus. It affects every part of the person and transforms them into the nature of the Kingdom of God. The "Church" is not just what you join after you are converted, but rather an active and vital part of that transformation. It is a process of discipleship and is Missional in format.
How do you count conversions when it is a process of becoming a disciple with no pin point, date setting, and existential experience to mark a clear beginning? With no "sinner's prayer" how do we “close the deal” as it were?
While this is a beginning to a longer conversation we can all agree on one thing that has never changed. We do not save anyone. Salvation is the work of God through the Holy Spirit.
We’ll continue this discussion later.