One man in the Midwest said he feels like a notch in a Christian's belt when a stranger tries to get personal with him and sell him on Christ. "I almost get the impression that talking about Christ is like a sales call. Some of them use the same approach they might use to sell me a phone service."
A California woman is turned off by Christians who try to project a peppy image of themselves and an unrealistic outlook on life. "I could listen to them better if they showed me just a little reality in their lives — how they've failed, what they struggle with, that sort of thing. It's like they're so intent on doing good PR for God that they can't let their own humanity show through."
Those complaints, from actual individuals, could be alleviated somewhat as Southern Baptists embrace The NET — a new evangelism strategy based on building relationships first, and sharing Christ second.
The first major personal evangelism training tool for churches introduced by the North American Mission Board since its organization in 1997, The NET helps individuals merge a gospel presentation with personal testimony, according to Ray Jones, manager of NAMB's personal evangelism unit.
It grew out of an effort to update the Continuing Witness Training (CWT) resource that was developed in the late 1970s. The agency realized, however, that a completely different approach was needed.
"A postmodern culture is very receptive to the idea of a story, and so The NET approach is for you to tell your story," said Jones. "The one thing you can get a hearing on is your personal experience."
The NET also helps Christians develop the skills to build relationships with unbelievers — a prerequisite in many cases for winning the opportunity to share one's faith, he said.
And as more Christians share their faith using the breakthrough strategy, unbelievers like James and Pearson might just stop and listen and receive Christ as Savior.
Billy Moss, minister of college, singles, and evangelism at Burnt Hickory Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., says one of The Net's greatest strengths is the brevity of the training sessions — only eight weeks.
Moss, who helped pilot the strategy at his church earlier this year, also appreciates the appeal to the postmodern mindset inherent in The NET.
"In other strategies, you would begin by asking someone if he or she believed in God, referring to the God of the Bible," he said. "But in today's world, nearly anyone could answer that positively, because God is defined in a much more generic manner than ten years ago.
"The leading questions in The Net is similar to 'Do you consider yourself to be a spiritual person,' or 'Do you think about spiritual matters?'
"That approach opens up the potential for dialogue. In a two-way conversation, the person you're witnessing to has the chance to express personal values and have personal feelings. He or she isn't captive to your presentation, but is a part of it. And the genius of the presentation is that it's based largely on your own testimony, which no one can refute."
Moss also likes the way the concept is built on mentors and apprentices. Mentors are trained first, then they recruit others — frequently through the Sunday School — who they can disciple in the strategy. It's all built on relationships.
From a layperson's perspective, Jerry Reardon couldn't be happier. Reardon, a member of South Main Street Baptist Church in Greenwood, S.C., likes the way the plan portrays all Christians linked together in a human net(work) as they influence the lives of non-believers.
"The NET has given our church a new feeling of excitement that we didn't have before. I have people who walk up to me and tell me about friends at work or in their neighborhood with whom they have a burden to talk to about Christ. They see themselves as a link in that net, some sowers, others reapers, but all spreading the gospel where the Holy Spirit leads. There is no telling how many people are involved in bringing one person to Christ.
"In a world of too many programs selling this or that, this breaks away from the pack. That's because it's not a program; it's a lifestyle change. It's not just a workshop that ends in eight weeks. It's an ongoing lifestyle change based on accountability and a new sensitivity to share Christ.
"Once you have the joy of sharing your faith, you can't go back to the way you used to live."