The South Pacific region, like many of the Lausanne regions, is diverse. There are highly developed and economically rich economies, and there are remote, rural and subsistence communities. The challenges for evangelism are enormous and those of us who are highly educated have the greatest challenge in understanding the lifestyle and priorities of a “simpler” community.
Across the region, the work among students is seen as paramount. This is evidenced by the growth in the number of different agencies working among this segment of the population. In the 1960s, there was one major player; today, there are several hundred. There is both a positive and a negative in this. The positive is that there are many more people working on the ground, seeking to introduce students to Jesus and equipping and discipling those who come to faith. The downside is that there is often disunity between the groups, leading university administrations to threaten expulsion of all Christian groups from some campuses.
Throughout the various islands in the region, the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) is present, working to introduce and bring students to a mature faith in Christ. In New Zealand, the work among some 100,000 international students, the majority of whom are from Asia and China, is seeing encouraging results.
The federal government of Australia has introduced a chaplaincy scheme into the high school education system. Christian groups have been proactive in applying for funding to place a chaplain in their local schools. In Queensland, Scripture Union has coordinated this approach and now has nearly four hundred chaplains caring for young people’s spiritual and emotional needs through pastoral care, activity programs, community outreach and adventure-based learning.
New Zealand: Evangelistic Challenges and Opportunities
Jim Chew reports that New Zealand is becoming progressively secularised. In the 2006 census, 32.2% (1.3 million) of the people said they had “no religion.” The census also revealed that mainline churches, especially Anglicans and Presbyterians, had fallen in the number of adherents. If these trends continue, less than forty-nine percent of New Zealanders will profess any adherence to Christianity by the next census in 2011. Less than five percent attend church weekly. “These sad facts…drive us to our knees and to a greater urgency,” writes Hon Graeme Lee, chair of the Evangelism Network.
At the same time, percentages of people from other major religions, such as Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism, have increased markedly, partly through immigration.
In this milieu, many church leaders have sensed a spiritual vacuum and with it, a spiritual hunger for God. “Mass evangelism” is alive and well! In a recent “Harvest Mission” in the capital city of Wellington, 14,300 people came to the TSB Bank Arena over a weekend to hear evangelist and pastor Greg Laurie; 1,760 made registered decisions to follow Christ. In addition, 1,510 people watched the live webcasts.
An increasing number of churches are becoming “missional” and not just “attractional.” They are reaching out by serving their communities in their neighbourhoods and cities. Churches have also successfully used courses such as Alpha and Christianity Explored. The marketplace is a constant challenge for Christians. The media is generally critical of evangelical Christianity although “politically correct” toward other faiths. These pose challenges for the Church in New Zealand. However, many committed believers are living out their faith among the lost. They need our prayers and encouragement.
Training in Evangelism
Many organisations across Australia are constantly involved in the training and equipping of Christians to enable them to share their faith with friends and colleagues. Some training events include:
- Salt Shaker conferences. At the invitation of Bible Society NSW, Rebecca Manley Pippert recently spent three weeks in Australia, conducting Salt Shaker conferences.
- Connect 09. The Sydney Diocese of the Anglican Church is planning a major evangelistic initiative in 2009 called Connect 09. The initiative will seek to connect Christians with their community and the community with the Bible. Throughout the next eighteen months, there will be many opportunities to train people to be more effective in sharing their faith.
- Gospel Outreach Ministries conference. Gospel Outreach Ministries has prepared a four-day conference for early 2008 in which the issues of preaching, evangelism, planting churches and raising up workers will be addressed. An impressive array of speakers will help participants engage with the Australian psyche and work out how to do evangelism in their local context.
- Catholic World Youth Day. With the Catholic World Youth Day being hosted in Australia in 2008, many are working on a way of utilising the event to bring a relationship with Jesus to the fore for visitors. Some within both the Catholic Church and other denominations are working on ways to help the people come to a living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus. All about Life
Over the past few years Bible Society NSW has developed a prime time media campaign called Jesus. All about Life (JAAL). To date, it has run in three places—Adelaide, Canberra (and its regional surrounds) and the state of Tasmania. In 2008, the campaign will run in Western Australia and in 2009 the campaign will run across Sydney.
The Tasmanian campaign was the first to cover an entire state. It ran for seven weeks and involved 208 local churches. According to JAAL director Martin Johnson, eighty percent of the churches in Tasmania got behind the campaign. “The local Tasmanian committee said this was the highest number of churches ever involved in a cooperative event,” he said.
Local committee organisers believed that the sense of ecumenism present during JAAL was a very positive message for the churches. Brian McFarlane, a lay Catholic leader in Hobart, commented, “JAAL gave us the opportunity to encourage ordinary Catholic parishioners to take part in what the church has been teaching them for decades—the very essential role of bringing the gospel of Jesus to their friends, families, people they know, their circle of acquaintances.”
Andrew Hillier, chair of the Tasmanian committee, shared, “We saw a guy come into one of our churches who said, ‘I want to know more about the person of Jesus.’ One of our guys spent two to three hours with him and this man gave his life to Christ. We asked him how he found out about our church. He said, ‘I’ve been seeing the Jesus. All about Life ads and yesterday I felt the urge to go to church and I picked yours.’”
While the campaign was on air in Tasmania, Andrew Fisher, driver of a V8 Ute in the national Yokohama V8 Ute Racing Series, displayed the JAAL brand on the side of his car. With round seven of the V8 Ute series scheduled to run at Tasmania’s Symmons Plains raceway, local organisers took advantage of the event and organised a family day at the racetrack during which Fisher spoke about why he had Jesus on his Ute.
“The Jesus Ute is a great way of connecting with people who would never go inside a church,” said Fisher. “On Sunday, they’re at their place of worship—the racetrack. Now they can see and hear about Jesus at the track.” In 2008, the V8 Ute will be used at a number of major Christian gatherings and conferences to promote the campaign and demonstrate how easy it is to share the Christian faith. Fisher and the V8 Ute will also be involved in bringing the Christian message to students across the nation.
Measuring the Success of JAAL
Measuring the success of this style of media-based outreach has meant that the JAAL team at the Bible Society has had to look at some new yardsticks.
- Number of churches. The larger the number of churches, the greater the opportunity for the gospel message to be delivered to the wider community. Because JAAL is really a mobilisation campaign more than a media campaign, the most effective way for Christians to be motivated, trained and involved is through the local church. The greater the number of local churches involved, the greater the opportunity for impact.
- Evangelism. What the three JAAL campaigns have sought to do in the wider Christian community is to build a greater heart and preparedness for evangelism. The knowledge that a campaign is coming helps church leaders get prepared and church members build their skills. We have developed a DVD-based training course for churches called “Getting Ready for Mission.” Each local church that signs up for JAAL needs to decide how it will use the media coverage and how it will deliver the gospel message personally and locally. The ideal end result of this is that: (1) church members connect to family, friends and associates and (2) local churches organise events where the gospel will be shared.
- Courses. Over several weeks, courses like Alpha allow people to explore the Christian faith and build relationships within a church community. Many churches need an opportunity and an excuse to organise and run a course, perhaps for the first time. The JAAL campaign offers that opportunity and churches can decide to run Alpha or the 5-week JAAL course.
- Number of people hearing the gospel. To raise the name of Jesus across a region or city is a difficult and expensive process and is best achieved when churches and Christians work together. The JAAL model allows ninety percent of the potential audience to hear and see the name of Jesus over a four to six-week period.
Bible Society NSW and the Future
Bible Society NSW has just announced support for a Sydney Jesus. All about Life campaign for Spring (northern Autumn) 2009. “We have the strong backing of the major denominations and key church leaders and have started planning to bring JAAL to Australia’s biggest city,” said Johnson. “We need prayer across the country and the world as we develop our team and look at what needs to be done to put this in place.” Pray for:
- opportunities through radio and television to draw people to Christ
- those who will attend the various training opportunities to grow in their ability to share the faith and to work out how to do it contextually
- the 2008 and 2009 JAAL campaigns
- a continuing awareness of the opportunities to reach people for Christ across the region
- better networking and sharing of resources across the region
(This article was written with the assistance of Martin Johnson.)