Best Practices of Conversion-Growth Churches | Influence Podcast


“Many churches in America are stalled in their conversion growth, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” writes Rick Richardson in his new book, You Found Me. In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to Richardson about the best practices of congregations that are “effectively reaching people and having an impact in their communities.”

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Rick Richardson is director of the Billy Graham Center Institute and its Church Evangelism Initiative. The institute is the research arm of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, where Richardson also serves in the graduate school as professor of evangelism and leadership. He is author of You Found Me: New Research on How Unchurched Nones, Millennials, and Irreligious Are Surprisingly Open to Christian Faith, published by IVP Books.

P.S. Check out my review of You Found Me here.

You Found Me | Book Review


When it comes to American churches, I have bad news, and I have good news.

Bad news first: Most churches in America are plateaued or declining, and fewer Americans self-identify as Christians. If you’re a pastor or church leader, you probably don’t need me to tell you these things, since the majority of you see it with your own eyes in your own churches and communities.

Now that you’re depressed, let me tell you the good news. The things happening inside your church and outside your church don’t have to remain that way. Plateau and decline are reversible, and people are winnable. The question pastors and other church leaders need to ask themselves is how these things can happen in their churches.

Rick Richardson’s You Found Me is a good place to start. Richardson is director of the Billy Graham Center Institute, the research arm of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College (Illinois), where he also serves as a professor of evangelism and leadership in the graduate school. His book draws on surveys of 2,000 unchurched people and 4,500 Christian congregations (including 1,500 churches with fewer than 250 in attendance) that BGCI conducted, as well as several smaller research projects.

Richardson divides You Found Me into three parts. In Part 1, “Recovering a Missional Imagination for the Unchurched in America,” he debunks common myths about unchurched America and shows “how unchurched nones, millennials, and irreligious are surprisingly open to Christian faith,” in the words of the book’s subtitle. To reach these people, a church needs to become a “conversion community,” that is, “a congregation that is seeing changed lives and growing primarily through reaching new people rather than by adding already churched people from some other congregation.”

In the BGCI surveys of American congregations, 10 percent are conversion communities. Richardson takes a close look at what sets those churches apart from others and articulates what he calls the Conversion Community Equation:

Missional Leaders + Missional Congregation = Conversion Community.

Part 2, “Developing Missional Leaders,” identifies what the pastor and other church leaders must do to help their churches become conversion communities. Essentially, it involves modeling evangelism in a way that others can imitate. This modeling is multiplicative, however. A pastor models evangelism to others, who in turn model it to still others, and so on.

Part 3, “Cultivating a Missional Congregation,” outlines a four-step process that characterizes conversion community churches. Such a church, Richardson writes, “clearly understood that it belonged to a specific community, which it blessed through service and outreach with the ultimate aim of bringing those in their community into the congregation as beloved children of God.” In other words: (1) belong, (2) bless, (3) bring, and (4) beloved. Interestingly, the “top predictive factor [research showed] was hospitality to the unchurched.” Richardson comments, “If there is a silver bullet, this is it.”

You Found Me is a hopeful, helpful book. It is hopeful because it paints a beautiful portrait of what churches in America could be. It is helpful because it shows the specific brushstrokes that make such a portrait possible. I encourage senior pastors, board members and leading volunteers to read this book. It includes questions at the end of each chapter to facilitate discussion. Additional downloadable resources are available at the publisher’s website here.

Book Reviewed
Rick Richardson, You Found Me: New Research on How Unchurched Nones, Millennials, and Irreligious Are Surprisingly Open to Christian Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com and is cross-posted here with permission.

How the Church Can Serve the City | Influence Podcast


On the Day of Pentecost, the first Christians preached the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Soon after, they also organized ministries to help the poor. This combination of evangelism and compassion is a biblical hallmark of Spirit-filled ministry. It’s also a template for action today.

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, George P. Wood, executive editor of Influencemagazine, interviews Dave Donaldson and Wendell Vinson about how the local church can serve the city through compassionate ministry.

Dave Donaldson and Wendell Vinson are editors of CityServe: Your Guide to Church-Based Compassion, just published by Salubris Resources. Donaldson is co-founder and chairman for CityServe International, whose visionis “to see the local church fulfill its calling to be a stronger catalyst for healthier communities and the restoration of broken lives.” Vinson is also co-founder of CityServe and pastor of Canyon Hills Church in Bakersfield, California.

Evangelizing the Unsaved Christian | Influence Podcast


“The Bible Belt is the most difficult place in America to pastor a local church.” That’s what Dean Inserra’s friend Matt told him as they left seminary to plant churches, Dean in Florida and Matt in California. “In California, there is rarely confusion. Either you’re a Christian or you’re not. In the Bible Belt, many people think they’re Christians but have no concept of … the overall message of the gospel.”

In Episode 174 of the Influence Podcast, Influencemagazine’s executive editor, George P. Wood, talks with Dean Inserra about eight types of cultural Christians and how to share the gospel with them. Inserra is author of The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity with the Gospel, just out from Moody Publishers. A Southern Baptist church planter, he is founding pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Florida, where he lives with his wife and his three children.

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

P.P.S. You can read my book review of The Unsaved Christian here. If you like it, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Islam and Christian Mission | Influence Podcast


What should Christians believe about Islam? And how should Christians treat their Muslim neighbors? Contemporary events both abroad and in the U.S. require thoughtful Christians to answer these questions.

In Episode 173 of the Influence Podcast, George P. Wood, Influencemagazine’s executive editor, interviews Mark Brink, Mark Hausfeld, and Mark Refroe about Islam and Christian mission. All three are veteran Assemblies of God missionaries to Muslim-majority nations.

Mark Brink is international director of Global Initiative, a ministry of Assemblies of God World Missionswhose mission statement is “To equip the global church to reach Muslims because every Muslim must know the truth about Jesus.” Mark Hausfeld is professor of Urban and Islamic Studiesat the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. And Mark Renfroe is director of Reaching Africa’s Muslims, an AGWM initiative to plant the Church among Africa’s 806 Muslim unreached people groups.

Additional Resources

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Truth + Love = Influence | Influence Podcast


Jesus Christ is the greatest news the world has ever heard, and the internet and social media give contemporary Christians effective means to share it. Unfortunately, a lot of Christians are blowing their chance, as even a quick glance at Christians online shows. How can we better use these communication tools for greater gospel influence?

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influencemagazine and your host. In Episode 172 of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to Matt Brown about the biblical formula for influence, whether you’re online or off.

Matt is an Assemblies of God minister, founder of the online evangelistic ministry Think Eternity, and author of Truth Plus Love: The Jesus Way to Influence, forthcoming from Zondervan. He lives with his wife Michelle and their two boys near Minnesota’s Twin Cities.

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

The Challenge of Sharing Faith in America Today | Influence Podcast


“Almost Half of Practicing Christian Millennials Say Evangelism Is Wrong,” reads the headline of a storyabout a new report from Barna Group. Titled Reviving Evangelism, that report details the erosion of support for evangelism among next-generation Christians. In Episode 169 of the Influence Podcast, I’ll be talking about this report with David Kinnaman.

David is president of Barna Group, a leading research and communications company that works with churches, nonprofits, and businesses ranging from film studios to financial services. He is also the author of several bestselling books, including Good Faith,You Lost Me, and unChristian. He and his wife live in California with their three children.

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted form InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Translating the Great Commission


Produced by Barna Group in partnership with Seed Company, Translating the Great Commission examines aspects of Christian missions, including knowledge of the Great Commission, the definition of missions, the relationship of evangelism and social justice, and the role and value of Bible translation. As usual with Barna reports, Translating includes a mix of quantitative and qualitative research, together with expert Q&As and infographics. It offers a valuable snapshot of current opinion about these aspects of Christian missions.

Book Reviewed
Barna Group, Translating the Great Commission: What Spreading the Gospel Means to U.S. Christians in the 21st Century (Ventura, CA: Barna Group, 2018).

Do Miracles Really Happen? | Influence Podcast


Easter is a few days away. Around the world, Christians will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This event, so pivotal to Christian faith, is a reminder that Christianity is an inherently supernatural religion. Unfortunately, in the modern era, many disbelieve in miracles, their skepticism fueled by appeals to science. So, the question naturally arises, do miracles really happen?

To answer that question, I interviewed Lee Strobel about his new book, The Case for Miracles. Strobel began his career as the award-winning legal editor for The Chicago Tribune. After his conversion from atheism to Christianity, however, he turned his attention to apologetics and evangelism and has written bestsellers like The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator, and The Case for Grace. He currently serves as professor of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University as well as teaching pastor at Woodlands Church.

If you’d like a video of Lee Strobel making the case for Jesus’ resurrection, which you can download and use in your church, go here.

P.S. This is reposted (with minor edits) from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

P.P.S. Here are my two previous podcasts with Lee: (1) “Why Evangelism Needs Apologetics” and  (2) “Raising Your Church’s Evangelistic Temperature.”

The Future of the Global Church | Book Review


Patrick Johnstone is best known as editor of the first six editions of Operation World, a prayer guide for Christians interested in fulling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16–20). Now in its seventh edition, and edited by Jason Mandryk, Operation World presents data on the geography, peoples, economy, politics, and religion of the regions and countries of the world, which is drawn from sophisticated databases maintained by WEC International, an interdenominational missions agency. This data helps readers pray intelligently about the needs of those regions and countries throughout the year.

In The Future of the Global Church, Johnstone has drawn on those databases to create succinct narratives about and visualizations of the growth of global Christianity. The book can best be described as an historical atlas of the past, present, and possible future of world Christianity. It is a helpful resource for readers who want a concise presentation of the relevant information.

Johnston divides his material into nine chapters. Chapter 1 describes nine global challenges currently experienced around the world: population growth, migration, urbanization, pandemics (such as HIV/AIDS), climate change, income inequality, sustainable energy, political and social freedom, and water resources. Throughout the book, he highlights how environmental challenges such as these affect the movements of people—physically, intellectually, and spiritually—both in the past and at present. Doing so reminds readers that the course of history is not shaped merely by human thought and action. Larger forces are at work (such as natural disasters, pandemics, and birthrates), shaping the context in which people receive and propagate religion and nonreligious ideas and practices.

Chapter 2 summarizes the global growth of Christianity from its first-century origin to the present. Each of Christian history’s twenty centuries is summarized on two pages (except the twentieth century, which receives more extended treatment). These pages present maps depicting the faith’s global growth, tables summarizing relevant demographic information, and bulleted lists summarizing major events in the world at large and the church in particular. For readers interested in a quick summary of Christian history, this chapter is invaluable.

Chapter 3 identifies six major streams of Christianity. Listed in descending order by size, they are Christian (32.5 percent of global population as of 2010), Muslim (22.6 percent), non-religious (14.8 percent), Hindu (13.7 percent), Buddhist (6.5 percent), and ethnic/other (10 percent), the last category including religions such as animism, Sikhism, and Judaism (65). Johnstone provides several pages of data and visualization for each religious stream on succeeding pages.

Chapter 4 then turns its focus to the Christian stream. Johnstone divides Christendom into six megablocs: Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Anglicans, Independents, and Marginals, by which he means “[a]ny group that claims to be Christian but displays one or more of the following characteristics,” characteristics that focus on heterodox doctrine, non-biblical sources of revelation, and extreme sectarianism (114). Johnstone predicts that in the future, Christian growth will slow “due to the slowing of population growth” generally, but also that “Christian areas [such as Europe and North America specifically] will see their majorities eroded by secularism and diluted by non-Christian immigration.” This will be offset, however by “continued growth in Africa and Asia—especially China, India and [Southeast] Asia.” And Johnnstone predicts that there “are likely to be increasing numbers of conversions to Christianity in some countries with large Muslim populations,” Islam being the chief religious competitor to Christianity globally (118).

Chapter 5 examines “renewal movements” in Christianity, which Johnstone divides into three broad categories: Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and Charismatics. Evangelicals are “characterized by a theology based on the inerrancy of the Bible, a personal experience of salvation by faith through grace and a desire or obligation to witness to that salvation” (121). Given this definition, all Pentecostals are evangelical, and most Charismatics are. Elsewhere, Johnstone defines Charismatics as “those who testify to having had a renewing experience of the Holy Spirit and who exercise the gifts of the Spirit, such as speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy and miracles” (xii). Given this definition, all Pentecostals are charismatic. What distinguishes Pentecostals and Charismatics is largely denominational affiliation. The rapid growth of these movements is noteworthy and will likely continue well into the future. “If present projections prove accurate, by 2050 charismatic Christians will comprise one-third of all Christians and one-tenth of the world’s population” (125). This is remarkable growth, given that however one dates the history of modern Pentecostalism, by 2050 it will only be approximately 150 years old.

Chapter 6 outlines the history, growth, and geographic distribution of Evangelicals Evangelicalism in its many forms (including Pentecostals and Charismatics) provides “the main thrust for world evangelization” today, Johnstone contends (139). One of the most notable trends among the world’s Evangelicals is the demographic shift from North to South. As a share of regional population, Evangelicals are declining in Europe, North America, and the Pacific, but growing exponentially in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Despite the fact that Christianity is the largest religious stream globally, and that the most evangelistic components of that stream are its fastest growing segments, major regions of the world still exist without effective evangelization efforts by Christians. The unevangelized are the focus of chapter 7. “In the 1990s,” Johnstone writes, “5% became accepted as the dividing point between ‘unevangelized’ and ‘evangelized,” by which he means 5 percent of the population that “professes Christianity” in some form. He concedes that this is an inadequate definition, but it is nevertheless illustrative of the challenge of evangelization. Using that definition, in 2008 numbers, 2.5 billion of the world’s inhabitants are unevangelized because their people group consists of 5 percent or fewer Christians. Another 2 billion inhabitants live in people groups where Christianity is a statistical minority. And approximately 2.3 billion live in people groups where Christianity is a statistical majority (172).

Chapter 8 then turns to a consideration of what kind of missionary resources are necessary for the world’s people groups to be effectively evangelized. Unfortunately, there is a mismatch between the number of missionaries serving each of the six religious streams. Most missionaries serve in countries or regions where Christians constitute the majority of the population. Thus, 43 percent of Christians serve in Christian-majority countries. In descending order, 17 percent of missionaries serve among the ethnic religions, 15 percent among Hindus, 9.7 percent among Buddhists, 8.1 percent among Muslims, and 7.2 percent among the non-religious (231). The disparity is especially noteworthy with regard to Muslim-majority countries or regions. Though Muslims constitute the second-largest bloc of religious persons worldwide (after Christians), missionaries to Muslim-majority countries constitute the second-smallest bloc of total missionary personnel. Clearly, that needs to change if effective evangelization is to take place.

Johnstone concludes The Future of the Global Church by quoting the Commitment of the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, which took place in South African in 2010:

Let us keep evangelism at the centre [sic] of the fully-integrated [sic] scope of all our mission, inasmuch as the gospel itself is the source, content and authority of all biblically-valid [sic] mission. All we do should be both an embodiment and a declaration of the love and grace of God and his saving work through Jesus Christ (239, emphasis in original).

Given the data Johnstone has presented to this point, the Lausanne exhortation provides the exact right exhortation with which to end the book.

Book Reviewed
Patrick Johnstone, The Future of the Global Church: History, Trends and Possibilities (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2011).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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