It’s just hard to deny. We like the big stuff! The grandiose Olympic opening ceremony; the glamorous, opulent wedding of our favorite royal or celebrity; the nail-biting, Game 7, Cubs-clinching 2016 MLB World Series. (Okay. Let’s face it. That was fantastic!)
We eat it up.
And, we carry this perspective into our thoughts about evangelism.
We like the big outreach event, the dramatic conversion, the closing deal with the all-important sinner’s prayer.
The little stuff? It just doesn’t seem to matter as much to us.
However, in order to share the good news about Jesus intentionally today, we need to start with a new perspective.
Little things matter
Consider this principle from the book The Tipping Point (© 2000) in which journalist Malcom Gladwell discusses why crime in New York City declined in the 1990s. Gladwell explains the Broken Window theory of criminology—that if a window is broken and left unrepaired in a neighborhood, people will slowly conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge, and more serious crimes will increase. To reverse the crime trend of the 1980s, NYPD focused on the little things—graffiti, panhandling, subway turnstile jumping—and it reduced overall crime quantity and severity. Many NYC cops couldn’t understand why they were fixing windows when they had more serious crimes to address.
But it was the little stuff that really mattered and eventually added up to more.
Cold cups of water
Interestingly, little things seemed to matter to Jesus, too:
“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42, NIV)
Water held great significance in the arid land of Israel in the first century. It was scarce. Water meant life, cleansing, refreshment.
In today’s evangelistic economy, little things don’t seem to count for much. But small, simple, modern-day “cups of cold water”—paying attention to someone, listening to them, praying for them—should count as evangelism.
Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens, and Dwight J. Friesen put it this way in their book The New Parish (InterVarsity Press, ©2014). This great read explores new ways that believers can follow Jesus, providing practical ideas of how the proverbial rubber can meet the road when it comes to the little things. The entire third section functions as a field guide, full of stories to fuel the imagination about what life on God’s mission can look like right where all of us live, work, and play:
The only way to get started is to begin by adapting some of your everyday practices with a posture of prayerful possibility.
Personal practices are simply the routines, patterns and everyday habits you carry out in the neighborhood that give you the opportunity to engage with what’s happening…. Most of your presence in the neighborhood is incredibly ordinary, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be intentional. For example, you decide to drink coffee at the local café instead of driving miles away. You play pickup basketball with neighbors at the park around the corner instead of playing in a church league. You and a few neighbors decide to share a meal every Wednesday, or you pick a time to meet each week at the playground where the kids can play together.
You might be thinking to yourself, Is this your brilliant idea for joining God in the renewal of all things? To drink coffee at the local café? Of course none of these practices appears to be earth shaking, but they will always be the starting place for weaving together a fabric of care and for illuminating what’s possible. And sometimes really big changes occur as a result of very ordinary practices.
If evangelism is going to become a normal part of our lives, it must be something we enjoy doing and can truly envision doing tomorrow, next month, and five years from now.
Remember this new perspective
Ordinary us and our ordinary routines–which are most often the sum total of many simple, little things—can provide a pathway to spiritual conversations.