“According to new research from the Center for the Study of Global
Christianity one out of five non-Christians in North America does not “personally know” a single follower of Christ. That’s 13,447,000 people who don’t have a Christian friend or even acquaintance. The percentages get higher for certain religious groups. For instance, 65 percent of Buddhists, 75 percent of Chinese people, 78 percent of Hindus, and 43 percent of Muslims in America do not personally know a follower of Christ.
“Worldwide, the numbers are much worse: more than 8 in 10 non-Christians do not personally know a follower of Christ.”1
Can you wrap your mind around those numbers? I live in a heavily Christian little town in Texas that is almost 50% Seventh-day Adventist. Of course, there are other varieties of Christians in the town as well, so I would have to imagine that almost everyone in my town personally knows a Christian. Unfortunately, too many of the “other 50%” in my town have known Christians who have left a bad aftertaste for Christians in their lives. They have been left with a warped picture of God that may make it more difficult for the next Christian they meet to leave them with a true picture of God.
As Christians we may not think about it very often, but when we’re just going about our everyday business, people are watching and making judgments about how Christians act as compared to non-Christians. We may not like it, but very powerful stereotypes of Christians exist and either help or hinder our mission to spread the Good News.
You may have heard the story about the woman who was driving through town when a policeman pulled her over and approached her window. She was puzzled because to her knowledge she hadn’t broken any traffic laws. The policeman asked for her license, and took it back to his patrol car to do his computer thing. Finally he walked back to her car, handed her license back, and apologized. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but when I first noticed this car, I saw the “Honk if you love Jesus” bumper sticker. Then you cut off the man in the green car causing him to have to slam on his brakes, you yelled at the person in the blue car who didn’t pull away from the stop as quickly as you thought he should have. Then I saw you make a rude hand gesture at the person who was still in the crosswalk when your light turned green. I naturally assumed that this car was stolen.
Most people, churched or unchurched, have a picture of how Christians are supposed to behave. They want Christians to live up to a higher standard. At the same time, Christians are often characterized as unreasonably stern, closed-minded, and judgmental.
The book, UnChristian by David Kinnaman mentions statistics from a Barna Research Group study in which the Barna Group looked at people born between 1965 and 2002.
Two of the questions specifically asked people who claimed no church affiliation how they viewed folks who went to church.
“Nearly nine out of ten young outsiders—87 percent—said that the term “judgmental” accurately describes present-day Christianity.
“Of the non-Christians surveyed, 84 percent said they personally know at least one committed Christian. Yet just 15 percent thought the lifestyles of those Christ-followers were significantly different from the norm.”2
You know, when God picked the Israelites to be His chosen people, He intended for them to be examples of His character to the world.
“Many nations shall come and say,
‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
He will teach us His ways,
And we shall walk in His paths.’
For out of Zion the law shall go forth,
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Micah 4:2
The Jews had a hard time with that responsibility, didn’t they? They hoarded the truth instead of sharing it. They became exclusive instead of inclusive, so that by the time Jesus came as the Messiah, many of them had forgotten that their purpose was to be God’s ambassadors, demonstrating His love, care, and saving grace to the world.
The mission of God’s people hasn’t changed at all. We still have one job – to spread the Good News to as many people as we can, in as many ways as we can.
Now for most of us, that isn’t by preaching to the multitudes, going to the mission fields, or any number of other high-profile activity. In fact, some of us may never actually say much. We will go about our everyday, humdrum activities – the grocery story, the gas station, work, home – but wherever we go and whatever we’re doing, we’re being God’s representatives to the people who are watching us.
I know a man who loves to help people. For example, if the person in front of him in the grocery line doesn’t have enough money, he picks up the balance. Helping people makes him happy, but he doesn’t want any credit, attention, or payment. So he’s starting to hand out little cards to the people he helps. The cards say, “Jesus is my best friend. Jesus wants to be your best friend do. If you want to know more about Jesus, call …” and he puts in the number of a local church. What a great demonstration of the love of our Savior!
Remember the story of the maid in 2 Kings 5? She was a captured Jewish slave, but she introduced Naaman to the Great Healer. And after he was healed of his leprosy,
“… he returned to the man of God, he and all his aides, and came and stood before him; and he said, ‘Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel; … please let your servant be given two mule-loads of earth; for your servant will no longer offer either burnt offering or sacrifice to other gods, but to the Lord.” 2Kings 5:15, 17
There are places all around the world where we can’t mention our love for Jesus, and it’s becoming unpopular here in North America, too. But no matter where we are, we can always demonstrate the love of Jesus to those around us, to those who are watching, and maybe, just maybe they’ll ask us a question that will allow us to introduce them to our best Friend, Jesus Christ.