We recently caught up with Francis Chan to ask him about his current focus on evangelism and what he’s doing to spread the Gospel in his community.
You’ve been working in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco—going door-to-door in a low-income area. At this point, are you connected with a “home” church?
There is a church associated with the rescue mission. It’s a small church. I’m currently a part of this gathering. We get together Sunday afternoons, and I consider it a church.
We worship, for a few minutes, I teach, very briefly, but then we go out and scatter and minister to people for a couple of hours, then we come back and share stories and worship again and call it a day. So that really is my church body there, and we’re trying to plant a bunch of churches like that—keeping it very missional from the start.
You mentioned it’s kind of a church but not completely. Do you think there’s a point where you want to make this gathering an official church?
Right now, we have people from different churches visiting. We’re trying to figure out how to make this work. We want people to be able to stay at their local churches, and if you want to do ministry with us, join us on a Sunday afternoon and minister alongside of us. So it’s a little confusing to me, honestly.
On Sunday mornings, we do have a gathering here; we do have a church. I’m not real regular there because I’m speaking in different places. I guess I would call it my home church, but I’m not really there, and yet Sunday afternoons, I can be consistent. And because I teach that same group of people every week, it sure feels like my church, even though some of them come from other places.
So I don’t even know what the next transition is. I know we want to plant other churches. We want the people [who] are getting saved to be plugged in and part of a functioning body, but we want it to look like the Sunday afternoon body where we minister, but we also worship and teach.
It sounds like you’re embracing less structure and keeping it more fluid—would that be accurate to say?
Yeah, this is the closest I’ve felt to a group of people. We’re family. I’d give them the shirt off my back. I care about them like my own children, and we care about each.
And we’re also very missional. That’s why I love them. It’s a partnership. We’re going out, getting the Word out, getting the Gospel out, showing grace and love and the Gospel to a community.
That’s what I want to be priority, so whether or not we stay in the room for an hour and a half, and have a 40-minute sermon and 30 minutes of singing—to me, I don’t see that as priority in Scripture. I don’t see it as wrong, but the priority seems to be the mission and people going out and making disciples and loving one another like a body should and really caring for each other in that way.
So those are the things I do see happening. We don’t have a set building or offering or some of those other things, but to me, I’m trying to start with what I see as priority in Scripture.
You’re going door-to-door in your ministry context. Many would call this “old-school evangelism.” What was your thinking in moving in this direction for outreach in your community?
Everything’s about context. Wherever you are, you need to figure out how to get into the lives of the unbelievers.
Here, it’s a little easier because they have needs, and they welcome those who want to help them. There’s an immediate in.
That doesn’t mean every person at every door we knock on wants to talk about Christ. That’s maybe one in 10, but others, we’ve been able to build relationships.
To me, the biggest problem with evangelism, the way we see it in the States, is that it’s gotten too impersonal.
People in the church don’t know how to look an unbeliever in the eye and actually love him or her and carry on a conversation with them. Churches are filled with some of the most socially awkward people on the planet, and they go there because people have to be their friend. Otherwise, it’s a sin.
So they’re coming with some social issues as it is, and now you’re telling those people to go out into the world and be fishers of men. But all their friends are Christians; all their friends are people from the church. It’s a lot harder to go out, be in the world and build relationships with people who don’t believe like you and think like you. Most people don’t make the effort to do that.
I also think with Christian schools and homeschooling, we are keeping the younger generation away from unbelievers, having to interact with unbelievers. I think overall, the church is going to get weaker and weaker in this area, and it’s not because they don’t love Jesus. It’s not because they don’t have a heart for the Lord. They just don’t know how to engage with people who don’t believe like they do.
What would you say is one of the biggest myths about evangelism in the church today?
There are a couple of things. I don’t know what the biggest one is. I think one of the biggest problems is that no one feels like it’s their job.
I hear pastors say: “Well, it’s not really my job to go out and share my faith with people. I’m really supposed to equip the people to do that …”
And the people say: “Well, I’m not a preacher, so I don’t like to preach to anyone. I just try to show them by having a nice life …”
Bottom line: No one is really getting the Gospel out. The truth is it’s everyone’s job.
If pastors were out sharing their faith, then they could say: “Follow me; I’ll make you a fisher of men. Watch how I do it.” There would be a sense of discipleship where people can come along.
Instead, we give sermons about fishing and PowerPoints about fishing and books about fishing, but who’s actually out there fishing and taking someone along with them? That’s the problem. Pastors aren’t doing it, so then the sheep don’t have that type of example.
The truth is the believers should be doing it themselves and showing other believers—“This is what I do in my workplace, look at how I share with them, notice how I got into this guy’s life and how we go golfing together, and after a while, he got to see my life, and I got to lay out the Gospel.” We’re not discipling people in that.
What we do is a big church program, send out fliers, and if you have enough courage, maybe tell your friend to come to “Jesus on Ice” or whatever program we’ve got going on, but we’re still not fluent in Scripture. It’s so weird to people that Jesus is the most important thing to us yet we’re so awkward in talking about it.
We love our kids. We’ll talk about our kids all day. We love our wives. We’ll talk about our wives. We love a sport. We’ll talk about that sport. But when we talk about Jesus, it doesn’t just flow out of this natural, this is who I am. I’m crazy about God and what He did for me. It’s supernatural how He answers my prayers, and I just love Him.
That type of conversation, I understand, is politically incorrect to talk that way, but nonetheless, I think the biggest problem in the church is this awkwardness. We just don’t know how to converse with people. We’re scared to do it, so we don’t do it.
You received some criticism for moving on from the church in Simi Valley to do what you’re doing now. Some people were wondering if this was going to be a trend where pastors see what Francis does, and they want to do the same. Do you feel your example might be a dangerous one to follow?
It is a danger because it isn’t what everyone’s called to. I was in a small town of about 100,000 people with a lot of churches.
Most of the town had already heard my messages or knew of the church. I had a great staff where I felt if I left, the church would be fine or, worst-case scenario, there would be transfer growth to other churches. But the level of Christianity was only going to be so high.
There was also a situation where there was an overdependence for some people. They didn’t believe the power of the Spirit in them because there was such a dependence on me. So I would say if you’re in a city, and you feel like you’ve done everything you could do, and you even thought you might be detrimental to the church, and you think the church would run just as well if not better without you, I would say, “Yeah, get out of there …” because there are a lot of people to be reached.
When people are just transferring back and forth between a couple of large churches in a small town, there’s just a silliness to it.
I do think there’s a danger of people leaving for the wrong reason, or if the church desperately needs them and it really is going to affect the Kingdom in a negative way for them to leave, we always have to be thinking: “What’s most effective for the Kingdom? What’s best for the Kingdom?” I think people should, if anything, have been frustrated I stayed so long. You have to understand, I was there for 16 years—16 years in one city, it’s not like I wasn’t getting my voice out there. To me, that’s a long time.
Francis Chan is an author and church leader, formerly the pastor of Cornerstorne Church in Simi Valley, California. Chan has authored two books, Crazy Love & Forgotten God. He is also the founder of Eternity Bible College and sits on the board of directors of Children’s Hunger Fund and World Impact. Francis lives in California with his wife, Lisa, and their four children.