Our church planting team made a change to our evangelistic strategy this year that was largely influenced by the Parable of the Soils in Mark 4. Neil Cole of the Leadership Network shares some great insight on this parable in his fantastic book Organic Church, to which I’m going to have to devote at least an entire post at some point in order to do it justice. Here is Jesus’ explanation of the Parable of the Soils in Mark 4:14-20:
14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop-thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.”
The Holy Bible : New International Version. electronic ed. Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1996, c1984, S. Mk 4:14-20
Our team looked at this parable and started talking about the fact that the people we meet fall into all the different soil categories. I don’t think Jesus’ purpose in this parable was to reduce the work of evangelism to a mathematical formula, but if we go ahead and draw some rough percentages from His explanation, we can reasonably assume that as many as three quarters or more of the people with whom we develop relationships will not turn out to be good, fruit-bearing soil. That’s important to consider when you’re a team of six people with limited time in a town of 20,000 people. We need to find a way to invest as much time as possible into people who are the kind of soil that is going to bear fruit.
In past years, we tended to get ourselves very committed early on to a small number of people we were befriending and sharing the gospel with. Upon entering a new village, the first few people who were willing to talk to us became the people we spent almost all our time with, hoping to earn their trust and see a spiritual breakthrough in their lives. The problem with this is that we picked friends with very little consideration as to whether they might be good soil.
It’s interesting to note that, in the Parable of the Soils, only one of the four kinds of soil failed to produce any kind of plant. In the other three soils, a plant sprung up from the seed that was sown. In the short run, plants in any of those three soils might have looked like they would bear fruit. Only over time did troubles, persecution, worries, and the desires of the world keep these plants from fulfilling their purpose. Very generally speaking, we can assume that as many as two-thirds of the people who initially receive the Word sown inside of them ultimately won’t bear fruit. These could be people who give every appearance of being good plants – they might be baptized, they might get involved with the church, they might have a lot of the right beliefs, but in the end they won’t bear fruit.
That’s a sobering thought for a church planting team. We decided we want to invest as much of our time as possible in sowing seeds and cultivating plants in good soil. If we were to immediately hone in on the first several people we meet, our chances of doing this successfully would be pretty slim. We determined that we needed to begin this year by meeting as many new friends as possible. We will be faithful in sowing gospel seeds everywhere we go, and then see which soils begin to grow plants. As it becomes evident that certain people have not at this time received the Word we have scattered, we will stop investing much energy in those relationships. Then we will watch the people who are sprouting up young seedlings to see which of those plants survive and begin to bear fruit. Over time, through this process of starting broad and then narrowing our relational focus, we hope to see each member of our team end up with a core group of several disciples who represent mostly good soil. These are the people to whom we will give most of our time and energy.
The result so far? Well, we began employing this strategy about 5 weeks ago. In that time, I think I can safely estimate that our team has met and begun cultivating relationships with over 120 or so new people. These are neighbors, people in the park, store owners, soccer teammates, aerobics classmates, English class students, teachers, government authorities, and more. We have shared Christ in some way or had some sort of spiritual conversation with almost all these people. We have already begun to study the Bible with about five individuals or families. This represents a marked improvement over our old strategy of focusing on a couple of friends and hoping to see them become interested in spiritual matters.
Time will tell how effective this strategy truly ends up being, but the early signs are encouraging.