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In 1959 the Billy Graham Association conducted Australia’s most successful evangelistic mission. Large venues, huge crowds, and compelling preaching. It was extraordinary. Six decades on, however, some features of that mission look quaint, even odd. I don’t think we’d call such a thing a “crusade” anymore, out of (perfectly reasonable) sensitively to our Muslim neighbours. We’d be less likely today to ask a local dignitary (governor, archbishop, or mayor) to come and bless the proceedings. Nor would we invite a robed choir to lead the gathered crowd in singing Christian hymns to God just prior to persuading them they were not, as they might have previously assumed, actually Christians.

It was a different world. Evangelising Australia now is a different sort of challenge. Consider the 2024 Meet Jesus campaign—the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students’ (AFES) effort to invite Australians to meet Jesus in the pages of Gospels. I think the missiology is right.

 

The Basic Proposition: Meet Jesus in the Gospels

The pitch is simple: Read the Gospel of John (or Mark or Luke) with a friend who doesn’t know Jesus. That’s it. It’s not, in the first instance, bring your friend to hear a gifted speaker or direct your friend to an online resource, or even share a gospel outline. Public events and online resources are in the mix, but that is not the primary strategy. The basic proposition is: just read John with someone.
Deciding on this method is a decision to instigate a thousand low-key meetings, a ton of “no thanks!” replies, and any number of points at which the Christian will need to say: “I actually don’t know what that means either.” But the weaknesses are also the strengths. Power balance differentials are low, relationality is high, and the whole thing has a glorious analogue quality to it. I think in a world of spin, and a world so mediated by screens, the low-key, non-expert, and face-to-face nature of it all is a feature more than a bug.

 

The Language: “Campaign” and “Branding”, not “Crusade” or even “Mission”

As a friend recently pointed out to me, the language is primarily of a “campaign” and “national branding” rather than “mission” or “crusade”. I think that’s right. That’s what it is. Some excellent air cover and shared branding which makes the ground-offensive more plausible.
True, Meet Jesus is also manifesting in various public events: on university campuses and in local churches; even combined events between multiple campuses, in suburban areas and metropolitan events in city centres. The national campaign also features local and regional missions. But these mission events serve the primary strategy.

The public events can complement the Gospel reading. When we come up against something tricky, I can say to my non-Christian classmate “I don’t know either” and then invite them to an event at which more light will be shed: “You know that thing we we’re puzzling over in John Gospel? There’s a talk at the Town Hall on that very topic. Wanna come?” Conversely, the public events can serve as a catalyst for the Gospel reading. The follow-up invitation is “would you like to read one of the Bible’s biography of Jesus with me?”

 

The Two Horizons: 2024 and the Rest of Your Life

Finally, the national campaign is bi-focal. At one level, it’s focused on this year and these immediate people. But it also has an eye to the future. If thousands of Christians across Australia have had a positive and/or courage-inducing experience of publicly identifying as Christian, and reading the Gospel with their friends, that’s an experience they’ll take with them for the rest of their lives. It will, God-willing, positively position thousands of Christians for a lifetime of evangelistic initiative.

Are there other approaches with equally sound missiology for 2024? Sure! Community-generating evangelistic courses continue to bear fruit. From LIFE, to Taste and See, and the continued use of Alpha, learning the gospel over time in a community context continues to be the gold-standard for contemporary evangelism. Social media and online platforms are an as-yet under-explored avenue for evangelicals in Australia. The work Zoe Earnshaw is doing is an impressive example of what can be achieved by someone who understands the medium. And (though I seem to be in a minority here) I think the time is ripe for some public debates. So much of the various dominant secular ideologies is so weak, so underthought, and so unattractive. We should seize the moment. I’m sure that with the right people, a series of debates on contemporary issues from well-informed and persuasive Christians could be fantastic and fruitful.

But for this year, let me commend Meet Jesus. I’m full of hope for what God might do in and through it.

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