Evangelizing the Apathetic
People are hyper distracted and over-stimulated by tsunamis of information and entertainment every single day. Hours upon hours are spent searching for the next piece of content, the next series to stream, or the next online deal on something to make life even more comfortable. All of this has had a devastating impact on evangelistic efforts from Christians wanting to reach the world with the hope of Jesus. And it’s unlike anything we’ve seen before.
The impact on evangelism isn’t that people are more secular, nor is that people are more combative – we’ve seen rises in these areas before (eg: the Enlightenment) and have risen to the challenge. What we’re seeing today is that people are more apathetic toward the gospel. They’re not angry at God, confused about God, or worried about God – they just don’t care about God. Now, we must rise to this challenge as well. There are a few helpful things to consider.
We’re not immune to apathy
We must never forget that we are not unaffected by the changes in culture. Most all of us have phones with several apps, multiple streaming services, and nearly countless ways to be distracted, entertained and overwhelmed – all of which can lead to burnout and ultimately, apathy. The results can be dangerous for evangelism.
One of the most dangerous consequences is that we know what we ought to be doing to love our neighbors and share Jesus with them, but we lack to motivation to do so. We’re just zapped from over consumption, which effects the energy we have for sharing the hope of the gospel. As Kyle Beshears shares in his very helpful book Apatheism:
How effective is our witness if we share the gospel as if we’re describing the IRS tax code? If we aren’t underlining the gospel with joy, aren’t we undermining it? … We often act like unconvinced and unpersuasive travel agents handing out brochures to places we’ve never visited.
Those can be tough words to read, especially if they are convicting. But it underlines the truth that we must be on guard against apathy in our own life by staying committed to putting God first, living in community with His people, and remaining connected to Him in constant prayer. By doing so, we put ourselves in the best position to have the fruit of the Spirit produced through us, which includes the joy of the gospel!
They’re not apathetic about everything
Not caring about God does not mean they don’t care about anything. Everyone has a source of fulfillment, and it is important to know what that is. When you discover what brings them the most joy in life, it will give you a starting place of where they find meaning, which will help you relate to them in conversation.
It’s important to note here that trying to convince a religiously apathetic person that they should be concerned about God will almost always be a frustrating endeavor. They’ve either heard it all before, or they simply will accept everything you say as great – for you. However, finding where they currently find contentment / meaning / joy can be a very rewarding conversation. It will allow you to explore this source with them in the next step.
Before we jump to that next step, please keep in mind that this is not meant to be a manipulative tactic or a way to trick them into talking about Jesus. If you’ve shared the gospel enough times, you should know that approach is dead on arrival, because people can smell insincerity from a mile away.
Every source of contentment outside of God will fail
This is such an amazing truth about life. Everything outside of God’s Kingdom can be taken away and will ultimately fall apart.
Regardless of where the person you’re speaking with finds fulfillment and joy, if it is outside of God, it can’t last. People will pass away. Cars lose value every second and will rust away. Property deteriorates. Relationships end. Money comes and goes. Jobs begin and end. And so on.
Everything in this world goes away. A great truth of the Christian life is that nothing can be taken away from us that we won’t eventually lose anyway.
After someone shares their source of fulfillment with you, you can ask something like, “what would you do if ___________ gets taken away / ends / etc?” This can be an uncomfortable question, but it’s an important one for those finding fulfillment outside of God. They need that great reminder that it will eventually come to an end. You can then say, “I actually have a source of joy that doesn’t end. It’s permanent and all-powerful.” This opens the door to sharing about how Jesus provides a joy that supersedes any contentment the world provides and pulls us through any discontentment or trial the world produces.
The heart of joy is found in the gospel
It’s great to talk about how you have a source of joy that lasts and endures, but the most important thing is to make sure you get to the gospel. As Beshears writes in Apatheism:
The way I frame the gospel story is in terms of joy finding us. God is a pursuer, an initiator. He comes to us even when we’re uninterested or running away from Him. We sin against Him. We rebel, but all the same, He persists.
This is so critical to help an apathetic person understand. This isn’t a joy that we’ve manufactured or derived from a series of fortunate events. This is a joy that comes from outside of us, and because it is from God it lasts for all eternity. How can this joy be found? In Christ alone. They too can have this certainty of joy that is everlasting. God is pursuing them, and if they simply turn to Jesus, they can discover the only joy that truly endures – the joy of salvation in Christ alone.
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