A World Waiting To Be Won Duncan Heaster email the author


Appendix 2: Winning The West

2-1 Missionary Work In The West: Trends From Canada || 2-2 The Potential Of The Unchurched In The West  || 2-3 Australian Church Surveys

Appendix 3: One To One Preaching: Sample Dialogues || 3-1 Building rapport in conversations 

Appendix 4: Why Do Some Areas Respond More Than Others?


Appendix 2: Winning The West

2-1 Missionary Work In The West: Trends From Canada

Book Review:

Where’s A Good Church?

Donald Posterski & Irwin Barker (Winfield, BC: Wood Lake Books, 1996)

This book is a commentary on data arising from an extensive survey conducted amongst Canadian Protestants in the early 1990s.

One of the main concerns of the survey was why people switch churches. 39% of church members have switched churches, many of them more than once; and 54% have gone through long periods of not attending church. These figures are rising- in other words, the church going public are less tied to their churches, and are often looking for another church. And there we are, seeking to convert them to us! It may seem to us that attempts to convert from other churches are too much hard work; but the reality is, many people in those congregations have switched churches before, and are actually on the lookout for something better! If we perceive 'Christians' to be glued to their pews and unwilling to ever join us: we're wrong. My own denomination expanded a century ago through converting members of other churches; this has tailed off, as we have become inward looking and perhaps less doctrine centred than we should be. But there is definite interest in conversion out there!  Further, there are more people than we might imagine in the general public who are lapsed church goers, and who are likely at some time to return to an interest in attending a church. The survey found that there were trigger events that motivated this- having a child, going through a divorce, getting married, loss of a family member, serious illness. As we live in a world where all these things are daily life, we need to be getting in there with an appropriate word to people as they go through these triggers. Perhaps our witness ought to be specifically aimed at the bereaved, the recently divorced, the recently handicapped?

And the survey probed why people left churches. Here I found the results quite sad. Protestant religion in North America has been commercialised into just another consumer good, where people shop round for what they want, put it down when they don’t like it and seek something better. The reasons for leaving were often centred on very selfish reasons; they were pathetic: too far to drive, hard pews, didn’t like the pastor’s wife, boring youth activities etc.. Here, we must see how membership in the Truth is different. We are in the body of Christ by baptism. Baptism isn’t into a human church, it’s into Christ. We cannot just resign from our membership of the Body because we want softer pews, as it were. All of us in some sense are converts: let’s not see the Truth as just another town along the road, something we are in as long as it benefits and suites us. And let’s not preach it like that either, as if we are a church who will meet your needs better. The Truth is something totally different, and our attitude to membership in it mustn’t be moulded by how the surrounding world views church membership. But we must remember that on a human level, converts to the true faith come out of a world that gets up and goes when something bugs them. We must increasingly in these last days seek to avoid giving such offence.

Why do North Americans join specific churches? The reasons they leave a church, according to the survey, don’t necessarily correspond to the reasons they join them. They may leave because of hard pews, but they don’t necessarily run to the church with the softest pews. There seems incentive here to carry on with a doctrine-based, up front teaching of Biblical truths. Only 17% said they joined a church because it was near to them. People are prepared to travel to get to the right church. A massive 74% said they joined a church because of the quality of the teaching. This surprised me. They leave churches for petty reasons, but what attracts them in the first place is the message. Again, there 54% said that the involvement of the new church in outreach was a factor in attracting them. People like to see a group that is reaching out into the world. Inward looking churches attract nobody. And yet one wonders what impression Joe Public would get, walking into some of our services? Only 3% said they joined a church because it was big. So, small ecclesias needn’t think they are no way attractive! 44% said that the existence of home groups within the church was an attraction factor. Which raises the question, whether we are too oriented around formal meetings in halls.

When it came to why people were converted to church going in the first place, the results are significant for us too:

Christian upbringing[%]

Personal witness [%]

Evangelical rally [%]

Church service [%]

Before the 1980s










Digresssing for one moment from this book review, it is perhaps relevant to reproduce an analysis of Billy Graham’s 1976 crusade in Seattle:

“Too much “distance” exists between the member of a local church and those who are outside the church. Little or no intentional relationship-building and follow-up work is done by most churches.

As an example, the 1976 Billy Graham Crusade in Seattle was analyzed by a number of studies on the immediate and longer-lasting effects of the crusade on the local Christian community. One year after the crusade, Arn and the Institute for American Church Growth conducted a study that focused on new members assimilated into local churches and on pastors participating in the crusade. Three and one-half years after the event, Glenn Firebaugh of Vanderbilt University conducted another study on area ministers, lay people, and crusade participants. The results of the study are instructive.

According to Arn’s figures, of the 18,136 “decisions” recorded during the crusade, 53.7 percent were rededications. These were not considered in the study among new believers to be incorporated into churches, since they were, presumed already to hold church memberships. Of the remaining 46.3 percent (8,400 individuals), only 15.3 percent or about 1,285 people were found to be incorporated into local churches one year after the crusade. Therefore 84.7 percent (about 7,100) were not so incorporated. This is certainly cause for concern. In fact 82.7 percent of those responding to the survey said that the crusade’s overall effect on the growth of their churches was little or none.

However, Arn notes a crucial point. Of those individuals who were incorporated, 82.8 percent already had friends or relatives in that particular congregation. The significance is clear: incorporation into a local church is most effective when a relationship is maintained between church members and those outside. A previous study by the Institute for American Church Growth (of 8,000 church members in 35 states and 3 countries) revealed that 75–90 percent of those responding entered their particular church as a result of a relationship link to either friends or relatives”.

[Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 142, April 1985].

People are becoming more and more open to conversion by personal witness. In a world where there are so many influences on childhood, children are less and less likely to follow the faith of their fathers. This shouldn’t be so in our community; but what it means is that no longer should we roll our eyes when we meet a Roman Catholic or born and bred Baptist, thinking ‘They’ll never change, it’s pointless’. And no longer should we rely upon adverts, fliers, pieces of paper to convert. We are the witnesses; our lifestyle and being is a placarding forth of the Lord Jesus (Gal. 3:1 Gk.). We would all prefer to stuff banknotes in a collection bag, give out bills, write to respondees to adverts, give and attend lectures and seminars…than do what we all know is the really effective way to convert: talk to people personally. According to the survey results, we can do so with the knowledge that more people than we think are potentially interested. But we need to make our message relevant, reaching out to the groups that are likely to be triggered into conversion by their realisation of humanity’s desperation, not relying on in-the-hall meetings, but reaching out to the hearts of men and women in personal eye-to-eye discussion. People are interested. The Anglican Church of Canada lost over 267,000 people between 1970 and 2000; and closed 523 churches from 1996-2000(1). People are leaving mainline churches and searching for something better. Other writers have also highlighted the crisis of the evangelical movement: “The average length of a pastoral ministry in the United States is less than three years…pastoral resignations and firings are on the increase. Nearly 7 % of Southern Baptist ministers are fired annually by their churches”(2) . There are a lot of people out there who have faith, or Christian interest of some sort, but haven’t found a church to attend which suits them. Philip Yancey claims that there are as many as three million Americans who identify themselves as evangelical Christians yet never attend church(3). “The paradox is that while the media sometimes censors religion out of the public square and while the current assumptions in the culture create difficulties for the faith, [Western people] in general are still interested in the spiritual aspects of life. Rather than denying the reality of the spiritual, they are open to God and supernatural phenomena. It’s just that very few plan on pursuing their quest for the spiritual inside churches” (p. 191). There is no reason why, given the surrounding religious landscape, the preaching of true Bible doctrine should not be marching off the map in terms of growth and success in the West, as we were a century ago. We have what so many need, in this hard land.


(1) Marney Patterson, The Decline And Fall Of The Anglican Church (Cambridge, ONT, 2000).

(2) James Means, Leadership In ChristianMinistry (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989) p. 20.

(3) Philip Yancey, Reaching For The Invisible God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) p. 15.