Evangelism in a Post-Christian World with Shaila Visser

Modern Church Leader feat. Shaila Visser
Evangelism in a Post-Christian World on Modern Church Leader feat. Shaila Visser

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Evangelism in a Post-Christian World

The rise of secularism has created a unique challenge for Christians.

How do we share the gospel in a way that is both authentic and understandable in a post-Christian world?

Evangelism in a post-Christian world requires a different approach, one that takes into account the changing spiritual landscape. 

The gospel is the same, but our approach needs to be flexible and relevant enough to be useful in various contexts. This means that we need to understand the context of our audience without losing sight of the gospel's purpose.

We can't rely on outdated methods and expect people to be interested in what we have to say. Instead, we need to find new and innovative ways to share the gospel so that it speaks to people where they are at.

It doesn't mean compromising or watering down the gospel. Instead, it means that we need to find creative ways to communicate its timeless truths so that people can understand and accept the gospel more fully. 

In the book of Acts, we find the apostle Paul sharing his message in many different contexts. This is the same in our day. We need to reflect the gospel in our everyday lives and our communities to speak the gospel in a way that makes sense for everyone.

In this episode, we're thrilled to be joined by the National Director of Alpha Canada, Shaila Visser. Shaila has been instrumental in helping churches see the need to take a fresh approach to evangelism and has also helped churches understand their community better.

“Post-Christian culture needs to have an encounter with God. It's not just us doing the speaking, listening, the film series, teaching. It is about leaving room for encounter because that's how the vast majority of people come to faith.”
-Shaila Visser

Shaila Visser is the National Director of Alpha Canada and the Global Senior Vice-President for Alpha International. She is the Executive Producer of both The Alpha Youth Film Series (2013) and The Alpha Film Series (2016), and currently holds positions on the Board of the Damascus Road Foundation and on the Board of Regent College-an International Graduate School in Vancouver.

We hope that this episode has given you some ideas on how you can share the gospel in a way that is relevant to your community today and ignite a desire in others to know Jesus as their Savior.

By the end of this episode, you will learn:

  • How evangelism has changed in Canada
  • How to share our faith in today's culture
  • The role of the Holy Spirit in evangelism
  • How to raise young leaders
  • Innovative ideas for sharing the gospel
  • Alpha courses and resources
  • And so much more…

Here’s a glance at this episode…

[5:36] Everybody should have the opportunity to, in a very safe, welcoming, loving environment, be able to explore the claims of Christ. 

[13:02] A person comes to know Jesus because you were working alongside the work of the Holy Spirit in their life.

[19:48] I'd say people need to love. They need to listen, and they need to lean in. And so by loving, that means when you're approaching someone, and you're building a relationship with them. 

[21:24] Every young person wants someone to believe in them. Whenever I see a church thriving, whether it's my church or another church, the seniors always care for the young people, even if they're not related. 

[28:05] We're trying to help teenagers understand that we work a ton with youth pastors and youth groups across the country. We train them. We encourage them. We envision them to what it means to do that. So youth Alpha has been a big thing for us.

podcast transcript

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Shaila Visser (00:00):

I'm so captivated by Jesus that I just want everybody to know. And so even though I work for Alpha, I think it's a great way of doing evangelism. I just want people to be activated in it. And I want Christians to realize they can participate because the king of the universe is inviting them to join the spirit that is already doing this work.

Narrator (00:25):

Welcome to the Modern Church Leader, where you'll hear executive pastors share practical tactics and strategies that churches are using right now to thrive in our digital world and advance the kingdom of God. Here's your host, Frank Barry.

Frank Barry (00:39):

Hey guys, Frank here with another episode of Modern Church Leader. Great to be here today. As always, very excited about this interview, excited about the topic. We're going to talk a ton about evangelism and I'm joined by a new friend, Shaila Visser from Alpha. Shaila, it's great to have you.

Shaila Visser (00:56):

Hey, Frank. It's great to be here on this podcast with you.

Frank Barry (00:59):

Yeah. So fun coming to us all the way from Canada.

Shaila Visser (01:04):

Vancouver, the West Coast. The best coast.

Frank Barry (01:06):

Man, Vancouver, I've been there a few times, is just stunning. It's absolutely beautiful.

Shaila Visser (01:13):

It's incredible. If you have to be in a city for the pandemic, this is it.

Frank Barry (01:16):

This is the place... I live in San Diego, so I'll debate you a little bit, but agreed. They're both great places to be.

Shaila Visser (01:23):

Yeah. Well, we have mountains. We have ocean. We have Whistler. So there's a lot of outdoor activities to do here.

Frank Barry (01:29):

We're we're going to get into the real topic, but for my 40th birthday, we did a trip to Whistler and did downhill mountain biking.

Shaila Visser (01:37):

Oh, amazing.

Frank Barry (01:38):

It was epic. It was beautiful. It rained a little like a light rain. It was just epic, like beautiful up there.

Shaila Visser (01:46):

Oh, I'm so glad you've been here. And for the people who love outdoor activities, it is the place to come.

Frank Barry (01:52):

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Are you born and raised?

Shaila Visser (01:54):

No. I was born and raised near Toronto in Ontario. So more central Canada. And my parents had immigrated from India. So I'm an immigrant kid and got raised in a rural community, raised in a very small church packed when there's 80 people. So I had a not typical immigrant experience because they usually moved to the big cities. My parents moved to the rural area.

Frank Barry (02:17):

Okay. Nice. Hey, you got to live in the country too, it's good times out there.

Shaila Visser (02:22):

Yeah. And now I love the big city.

Frank Barry (02:24):

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You moved. We're going to talk a ton about evangelism, but you're the National Director for Alpha Canada. Tell us a little bit about your story and how you got to Alpha and your passion around what you guys do there.

Shaila Visser (02:42):

I grew up in a beautiful Anglican church, Episcopalian church. My mom took us church every Sunday. We loved it. And when I went off to university, I was like, who's going to follow Jesus at university. I didn't know anyone my age that was a Christian. I just had a very limited Christian experience, but I knew Jesus was real, but I thought back burner for sure at university. And then in my last semester of my last year of university, I just met the most fabulous friend who did what I would expect Christians to do, loved me well, challenged me on some of my thinking and invited me to consider the claims of Christ which I did.

Shaila Visser (03:19):

I came to faith in my last semester and I would say that I took off. That's the only description I could say because I had been raised with a lot of biblical knowledge, but it was in my head. It dropped to my heart. And my first thoughts when I gave my life to Jesus were, I've just wasted my university career helping people party, going to parties, doing that sort of thing because I ran Frosh Week for my university and I could have been helping them meet Jesus. And I had a lot of regrets. And so I just said to the Lord, hey, I'm going to commit the rest of my life to helping people meet you and I'll do that in any way I can. So that's a little bit about my background.

Frank Barry (03:58):

Wow. And is that what led you to Alpha?

Shaila Visser (04:01):

Yeah. Well, I was working for what is known as Cru in the US. And I was working with their LeaderImpact Group which is their ministry to business people. And I heard about Alpha because they'd had a model where it sort of you bring in a guest speaker, someone who's famous or well known or successful, you do tables, et cetera, et cetera. And that's the evangelism model. And I realized in Vancouver it was not working. We are a post-Christian city, less than 3% of our population goes to church on any given Sunday. There's more people skiing, golfing, playing yoga than there are people who are going to church.

Frank Barry (04:40):

Right.

Shaila Visser (04:41):

So I wanted something that was going to be effective. And I heard about Alpha in about 1999 and we started running it in the business community and it was amazing because Alpha is an opportunity for people to explore the Christian faith, but it's not a one off, it's a journey over 10 weeks with an Alpha weekend in the middle of it which allows to have an experience of God with their group. So I just tried it, it worked and I was like, this is going to work for my friends. It's going to work for business people that I know. And it did. So that was 1999 and it just went on from there.

Frank Barry (05:17):

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I love it. I was familiar with Alpha, but not super familiar. So I would love for you just to tell us all like what's Alpha and what's your guys' mission and how do you guys do that in the world?

Shaila Visser (05:31):

Yeah. Well, we really think that everybody should have the opportunity to, in a very safe, welcoming, loving environment, be able to explore the claims of Christ. And so Alpha was started in a church in central London called Holy Trinity Brompton lovingly known as HTB and the pioneer behind it, Reverend Nicky Gumbel, he really took it in 1991 and shifted it around. And if you know central London, you know they're young, they're transient, they're global and they have lots of questions. And so they created Alpha in a way that really helped young people explore faith. And it went in 1993 from one church running it, to literally hundreds of thousands of churches have tried it over the last 30 years. And what we found is that the method that was used was so good for a post-Christian context.

Shaila Visser (06:27):

And that was that there was always a connection point. Pre-pandemic, it was a connection over food, a meal together. Then we have content. So we have a film series designed to help people go on a journey of Christian ideas about prayer and Jesus and why did he die and the Bible and who is the holy spirit and what about the church? And then the third part is conversation. So it's connection, content conversation, and the conversation is very different from lots of other things that are out there. We believe that we should facilitate conversation and not give answers. And so people could say absolutely things that we would categorically disagree with, but we're okay with it. We want to welcome them into a conversation. And I think it works in a post-Christian society. It's working Europe, it's working in Asia. So we're just so excited about how God's using it at this time.

Frank Barry (07:21):

Yeah. Do you guys partner with local churches to do the work? What's the model there just in terms of working with Alpha or using Alpha's curriculum or however it goes down.

Shaila Visser (07:36):

So some people might call us a parachurch organization, but I don't like that terminology because I think we're a service ministry to the local church. So all of our resources are created for free and do all of our training, our product, et cetera, we just give to the church and we help them use it. So churches that are interested in reaching their community, we'll help them in every way we can. So our service model is church, let us serve you if you want to use an effective method for reaching more people in your community.

Frank Barry (08:07):

Right. Right. And you guys help train them or use the content somehow and it's interesting. How do-

Shaila Visser (08:14):

The main thing we have to train churches on is when people who won't believe the same thing you do, they may come from a different faith when they're in your space, can you sit with the tension of allowing them to not believe and not have to give them the right answer or your right answer, but actually allowing them to explore and have a facilitated discussion. So that's the part that we really have to underline in our training.

Frank Barry (08:38):

How do churches find you guys? What's the common way that someone comes your way and goes, "Hey, I really need this stuff."

Shaila Visser (08:47):

It's usually a pastor tells a pastor truthfully, right? Like good gossip, this works, have you heard of it? This is working for us. So pastors tell pastors and then they end up coming onto one of our websites, Alpha USA or Alpha Canada or Alpha UK and they say, we want to learn how to do this and then we take it from there.

Frank Barry (09:05):

Right. Right. And then do you guys partner up with the church like is there a human connection like a person on the team there that-

Shaila Visser (09:12):

Absolutely. Absolutely. We have a whole staff team that helps to love and serve the church. We pray with the church. We train them. It's very much in person when we can. Obviously COVID has put a wrench in that.

Frank Barry (09:26):

Yeah. It's more [crosstalk 00:09:27].

Shaila Visser (09:27):

Yeah. We do lots of webinars. I think in 2020, between March 2020 and the end of the year, I think we had over 5,500 people on our webinars. So it was pretty big in Canada. That's big for us. We're small country.

Frank Barry (09:41):

But beautiful like Vancouver.

Shaila Visser (09:45):

Yeah.

Frank Barry (09:45):

Okay. Alpha's main goal is equipping churches and helping them with evangelism. So you guys must know or pay attention to what's working or how things are going in the world of evangelism. I don't know. I'd love your take. I feel like evangelism, it's still helping people know Jesus and at the core it's the same, but it almost how you connect with people and how you get people open to that conversation and those things seem to evolve over the years or maybe over the generations. So I don't know. What are you guys learning? What are you seeing out there with respect to that.

Shaila Visser (10:26):

Well, I can talk about Canada in particular. I know a little bit about the US market, but I'll tell you about Canada where we are so post-Christian in the vast majority of our country. And I would say that when you use the word evangelism with most Christians today that are under the age of 50, there's an allergic reaction to the-

Frank Barry (10:44):

Yeah. I understand. I get it. I would think that might be true in the US too. I don't really know, but I feel that vibe.

Shaila Visser (10:53):

And typically, it's because they're having a reaction to the method. Not necessarily the desire for their friends to come to know Jesus, but it's like as soon as you say evangelism, you think a particular way of doing it from-

Frank Barry (11:06):

What do they think like-

Shaila Visser (11:08):

Well, you could think campus crusades model, the Cru Model of Four Spiritual Laws, you could think Billy Graham or one of the big preachers on a stage in a stadium they think, oh, I've got to go door to door. I've got to drop a track somewhere. There's sort of these old thinking of that's the best way. Now it's moved a lot, but I think that's the emotional response to evangelism. And then there's also, I think a theological misunderstanding of what we're trying to do and what is our responsibility in evangelism. I don't know how old you are, Frank, but I come from the generation that evangelism was a guilt trip. It was like you should be doing that. You better be doing that and it's on you. Your friend will only come to know Jesus if you do X, Y and Z.

Frank Barry (11:55):

Right. Yeah.

Shaila Visser (11:56):

And it became this huge guilt trip. And so even though I was involved in organizations that I'm very proud that I was involved with that were so committed to evangelism, I can look back and say, oh, my goodness I felt that burden that if I don't do this, someone won't come to know Jesus. And so I've really wanted to see the whole language around evangelism and definition around evangelism change for people to remember what Jesus said in the book of John, what we see through Acts and the First Century Church is that evangelism is actually joining a conversation the holly spirit is already having with another person.

Shaila Visser (12:37):

And when we start to remember a biblical understanding of what it means to herald the good news, proclaim the good news, we realize there's not only a re-understanding that the holy spirit beat you into the conversation, the holy spirit's in the conversation with you and the holy spirit will be there when you leave. Like you are not the end result person of, this person comes to know Jesus because of you. No, this person comes to know Jesus because you were working alongside the work of the holy spirit in their life.

Frank Barry (13:07):

Yeah. I love that.

Shaila Visser (13:08):

And I think as we start to redefine that and help churches understand, whenever I speak at a church or I speak at a conference about this, I inevitably have people come up to me and say, I have never heard that. And I feel like now I could do it. Now I could do it. And so we really encourage people pray every day, holy spirit, I'm available to you, use me in any way you want. And then it's amazing to see how that unfolds, but it's been a challenge for me like it is for so many, right? That gosh, evangelism, even I can feel guilty. And this is my whole work life.

Frank Barry (13:43):

Yeah. You're like, this is literally what I do.

Shaila Visser (13:49):

It's literally what I do. It's what I think about, pray about, dream about, wonder about, how can we serve the church? How can more people meet Jesus, but at the end of the day, I'm so captivated by Jesus that I just want everybody to know. And so even though I work for Alpha, I think it's a great way of doing evangelism. I just want people to be activated in it. And I want Christians to realize they can participate because the king of the universe is inviting them to join the spirit that is already doing this work.

Frank Barry (14:20):

Right. Yeah. No, I love that. It oozes out of you. So as we get to know each other, I love hearing your passion for evangelism.

Shaila Visser (14:28):

Well, we see it all the time. I've had fits and starts with evangelism. So I'll have a confession first, five years ago and leading Alpha Canada at the time. And I was like, okay, you know what? The harvest is plentiful, but it's overseas because it's not in Vancouver. It's not with my friends. I just don't see it.

Frank Barry (14:45):

It's growing elsewhere. Yeah.

Shaila Visser (14:47):

Yeah. And I think we as Christians easily get ourselves off the hot seat by saying, well, of course it's not happening here. We're like, we're so secular. It's happening over in Africa. It's happening in Asia. It's happening in different countries. It's not happening here. And I felt so convicted by the holy spirit to say, really, you think that the Lord said the harvest is plentiful the workers are few and Vancouver's different or Canada's different? And so in that, I just started to say to the Lord, if you will show me the harvest, I'll pray for the workers. And do you know, ever since that, ever since I said I'll join the holy spirit, I'll pray for the workers, please show me the harvest, I can't tell you how much I see it now. It's like how does everybody miss this? It's every everywhere. And I just have story after story of people that are open to a spiritual conversation.

Frank Barry (15:37):

Yeah. I love that. Well, let's jump back as it relates to this, but how are you seeing the evangelism side of things morph? You mentioned post-Christian and obviously your experience is much more in Canada than the entire world, but are you seeing how Alpha is helping churches, training churches, talking to pastors like how you open people up to those conversations? Give me some of the new stuff that's going down that could seem to work well?

Shaila Visser (16:15):

Well, we've done some research with Barna and on Gen Z, right?

Frank Barry (16:19):

Okay.

Shaila Visser (16:19):

So teenagers early 20's and what we have learned from that is this next generation and even millennials would say this too, they care more about, is Jesus good than they care about is Jesus true. Now for anyone that's older than that Gen X and above, that goes against our training, right? We apologetics, have a defense for what you believe and all of that is good. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, but we've positioned-

Frank Barry (16:44):

It may not be the starting point.

Shaila Visser (16:48):

It's definitely not the starting point. The younger the person is in front of you, the more it has to be is Jesus good? Does Jesus care about me, my life issues, what's going on with me? Is he good? And does he care about the environment? Does he care about how we treat people? Does he care about diversity? All the hot topics for younger people, they want to know what does Jesus have to say about that? And so if we come in with the Bible says, you're going to lose that whole next generation. They want to experience Jesus as good.

Shaila Visser (17:16):

So for us at Alpha, being on a journey with a group of people where you're loved and you're connected and you're in community, and then you get this alpha weekend where you get to encounter God on a retreat weekend, people will say, go in as an atheist and come out saying, I can't believe Jesus is real and why? It's been because he showed himself to them as being good. They'd already been on a journey, but then they're like, oh, my goodness, Jesus is good and he's for me. And they experience his love. And so the vast majority of people that come on Alpha experience two things, one, that the community of God loves them. And then they experience oh, and that's Jesus who loves me. And so I think Jesus is good, is really important. The second thing is, try not to think about method, try to think about people, right?

Frank Barry (18:04):

Right. Yeah.

Shaila Visser (18:04):

And what does it mean to lead with love and listening? There was a book written a number of years ago and I'm forgetting the title, but in it, the author went through and said, how many questions did Jesus ask? And I think it's like over 300 questions he asked about-

Frank Barry (18:17):

Yeah. A lot.

Shaila Visser (18:18):

How many did he answer? Eight.

Frank Barry (18:20):

Yeah. Totally.

Shaila Visser (18:21):

So think about the church, which order do we usually put that in? Do we ask more questions or do we give more answers and I tell you the last 50 years, we've given a lot of answers, but we've not done a lot of listening so that we can engage with people in a different way. And I think that's what the next generation wants. That's what the research is proving out. That's what our experience is proving out that people want to be loved and listened to before they're willing to listen to us.

Frank Barry (18:44):

Yeah. How do you teach, I don't want it to be offensive, but the old folks, how do you help the older generations who have been around, experienced a lot like been massive in terms of the church growing and continuing and all that. But now there's these younger generations and it's like different, they're different and connecting with them sometimes can be hard. How do you help church leaders at maybe even churches that are older just in general like their membership is a little bit older, but they want to go younger, stay relevant, keep reaching their community. I don't know. How do you help them with reaching the younger generation? How do you have those conversations with them?

Shaila Visser (19:34):

I'll give you three ways to describe how I would work with my generation or anybody older because I, in fact, have sometimes stepped over my own self and I'm like, oh, my goodness, what am I doing? This is wrong. But I'd say people need to love, they need to listen, and they need to lean in. And so by loving, that means when you're approaching someone and you're building a relationship with them and you're loving them, you're not trying to say this in your life is wrong, that in your life... You're like genuinely caring about them. You're calling out the great things you see in them.

Shaila Visser (20:03):

So I say to any congregation that's over whatever age, that are like we're not reaching young people, but we're not actually reaching anyone outside of our four walls. I'm like, how well are you loving your community? And how is that showing up? And then how well are you listening to them? I say to grandmas all over the country, grandmas and grandpas, when they're worried about their Gen Z grandchildren, I'm like they love you, love them well. Listen to them. If you ask questions, if you're interested in them. Grandparents have the best ability to make a difference in a kid's life.

Frank Barry (20:38):

I have one of my... I don't know what 10 year olds are, but he walked into my office right now to join this podcast. I can't get him on camera though, but what are 10 year olds, gen... I don't even know.

Shaila Visser (20:50):

10 year olds are in between Gen Z and Gen Alpha, right?

Frank Barry (20:54):

Yeah.

Shaila Visser (20:55):

They're just in that perfect sweet spot of, are they Gen Z are they Gen Alpha? Depends on their city. Depends on their friendship circle. Depends on their influences to which the generation they fall in.

Frank Barry (21:05):

Totally. Yeah. Sorry for the interruption, but yeah, you can take-

Shaila Visser (21:08):

No, it's fine.

Frank Barry (21:10):

No. Go on. So you're talking about... You're talking to the grandparents and how they talk to their grandkids and-

Shaila Visser (21:17):

I think older people don't understand the benefit they are into their churches and their communities when they love people, every young person wants someone to believe in them. So what does it mean to believe in someone? And you can say there's 20 things I don't agree with, their lifestyle choices, their language, whatever, find the things that you love about them and point it out and encourage them. Every person needs encouragement and someone who believes in them. I did, I'm sure you did Frank, but the more we can get seniors in our churches to spot the amazing things in each young person, the more those young people are going to build a relationship. So love them, listen to them, and then lean into them and lean in being, enter their world, ask them what on earth is this metaverse? Will you show me what this metaverse is, I have no clue.

Frank Barry (22:07):

Tell me about the [crosstalk 00:22:08].

Shaila Visser (22:08):

Yeah. Exactly. Like really be curious, be curious. I don't go to hip and cool churches. That's just never been my background. I go to very normal churches. And whenever I see a church thriving, whether it's my church or another church, always the seniors are taking care of the young people even if they're not related. They love. They care. They pray. I had, sadly she died a few years ago, a wonderful friend in my church, 96 years old and she's texting and caring for teenagers and young adults in our church. She'll text them, I'm praying for you. Can you imagine? They feel so loved by her. So I think it's love, listen, and lean in. And if you do those three things, not only for your demographic of young people in your church, but people outside your neighbors, it'll change the world.

Frank Barry (23:03):

Yeah. It's the great commandment, right? Loving God and loving your neighbor. It's not-

Shaila Visser (23:11):

Yeah, people often complicate it, right?

Frank Barry (23:13):

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

Shaila Visser (23:15):

You don't need to complicate it.

Frank Barry (23:15):

Or get all mixed up with like, I need to convert people and that thinking messes up loving people because you're, I don't know, you're somehow getting them the wrong way versus just loving them first.

Shaila Visser (23:29):

Exactly.

Frank Barry (23:30):

Maybe let's spend a few minutes on just technology. How are you seeing technology play a role in evangelism these days?

Shaila Visser (23:39):

Well, I'll say that Alpha did not run online pre-pandemic.

Frank Barry (23:42):

Really? At all?

Shaila Visser (23:43):

So March... No. No, not at all. We were so backwards with it. We were like, no, we believe in the incarnation be together in a room over a meal. March 2020 hit we're like, we can't do that anymore. And so we went online and I'll say, it was such a good learning for us. And all of our resources are online, how we serve the church is online, but if you think about actually reaching people and running Alpha for non-Christians or exploring people, you're going to end up in a very different situation pre-pandemic and post pandemic. I think the biggest surprise to us is the holy spirit knows how to use Zoom. We just thought not possible. And yet we would run Alpha, we'd do Prem-ministry which we do on the topic of healing and we do on the Alpha weekend and we would pray, Come, Holy Spirit.

Shaila Visser (24:35):

And in the Zoom windows, of all the faces, we would just watch the holy spirit move. It was incredibly encouraging to us and we just realized we'd missed a trick. And God was doing it. So I'm very well aware of lots of organizations that have done online evangelism very successfully, but for us, we needed a pandemic to teach us how to use it really well. So it's been probably, I don't know, in some countries up to 80% of the work in any given year since the pandemic hit because most of it had to be online. Depends on the country and the region of the world.

Frank Barry (25:09):

Right. And does Alpha operate in the whole world? Like every country? Do you guys have like a presence.

Shaila Visser (25:20):

We are in over a 100 countries.

Frank Barry (25:22):

Okay.

Shaila Visser (25:23):

And we have about 100 different languages that our resources are translated in which works well all in North America with all the newcomers to our countries. So we've got it in Arabic and Spanish and all sorts of... French, Punjabi, Hindi, we've just got all the languages. So it allows churches that are particularly in cities that have a lot of newcomers to be able to reach them with the gospel.

Frank Barry (25:46):

Yeah. Absolutely. Have you noticed any trends or you talked about Alpha using tech. Do you guys help churches at all with using tech for evangelism? There's lots of tech that churches can use for all kinds of things, but specifically as it relates to online evangelism or anything like that, do you guys find yourself helping churches with that?

Shaila Visser (26:08):

Early in the pandemic we had to do a lot of helping with it because so many churches, as you know, didn't have the capabilities, they didn't even have online church let alone an online presence. So in Canada, there's about 27,000 churches and only 12,000 of them have a budget of a $100,000 or more. So the vast majority are smaller, right?

Frank Barry (26:28):

Yeah.

Shaila Visser (26:29):

So if you think about those churches who are like, I don't even know how to get my service online, let alone run Alpha online. So we did a lot of help early on. And did lots of coaching and then every church took off in its own way.

Frank Barry (26:41):

Yeah. Like learned a ton over the last two years, I guess, or almost two years.

Shaila Visser (26:46):

Yeah.

Frank Barry (26:46):

Yeah. It's very interesting. Wow. This is awesome. What else should we know about Alpha that I haven't asked across this conversation-

Shaila Visser (26:54):

I'd say, Frank, probably one thing that your listeners may not know is how committed we are to youth. We have a youth Alpha, it's in 44 different languages around the world. It's probably been our biggest growth driver over the last decade. Is that we're so committed to young people like Alpha was designed with a 27 year old in mind. And every time we refresh the product, it's designed with a 27 year old male in mind because we're thinking about who's the hardest person to reach, but with Youth Alpha-

Frank Barry (27:24):

[crosstalk 00:27:24] the guys are so far.

Shaila Visser (27:27):

Yes. So that's why we've really tried to tailor our thinking and our product and our strategy to helping them. And then we launched in 2013 out of Canada and then it went global, the Alpha Youth Series, then we did it again in 2017 and we are really committed to equipping students to reach their friends. So yeah, we'll work with youth pastors, but at the end of the day, we want to give a vision to people in high school to say, you can actually be a missionary in your school. And I love the word that Catholics use for people that are engaged in evangelism they say, "You're a missionary disciple." And I love that language and so we're trying to really help teenagers understand that we work a ton with youth pastors, youth groups across the country, but it's really with the desire to say, teenagers you can actually be activated in this. And so we train them, we encourage them. We envision them to what it means to do that. So Youth Alpha has been a big thing for us.

Frank Barry (28:24):

Yeah. I love that. Having churches focus on the youth and some do and some do it really well and all that kind of stuff, but it's been a big part of church growth over the years is really taking care of the next generation and reaching the next generation. So equipping churches in that way, I'm sure is a huge help for a lot, right? A lot of churches are trying to figure it out. Work... Oh, go ahead. Go ahead.

Shaila Visser (28:46):

And I was just going to say the other thing that I wanted to underline is we really believe that post Christian culture really needs to have an encounter with God. And so when Alpha, whether it's Alpha for Youth or Alpha for Adults has been built, it's built with this desire to leave space for the holy spirit to speak to someone. So it's not just us doing the speaking, the listening, the film series, doing the teaching. It really is about leaving room for encounter because that's how the vast majority of people come to faith.

Shaila Visser (29:15):

And so for those that are interested, we think about proclamation. The gospel is shared in the Alpha Film Series or the Alpha Youth Series, the demonstration of love and service and helping others is there. And then we leave room for the acts of the holy spirit. So those can show up in all sorts of different ways, but we know it's about encounter. And we feel like it's a biblical model that we've just taken right off the pages of scripture that allow the holy spirit to... We give room for the holy spirit to work and we see wonderful things happen.

Frank Barry (29:47):

Yeah. That's amazing. Where should folks go to check out all the work you guys are doing and learn about Alpha and whether it's Alpha Canada or any other country or the 100 countries you guys-

Shaila Visser (29:57):

Yeah. You just put Alpha and the country. So Alpha USA, Alpha Canada, Alpha UK.org and you'll find us.

Frank Barry (30:04):

Yeah. That's amazing. People should check it out. I think every church should go see what you guys are up to and it just sounds like you're a great resource to helping churches with evangelism and you have a bunch of stuff they can use to go through the program.

Shaila Visser (30:19):

Well, we're here to serve the church and we give away all of our resources for free because we know the vast majority of churches are small and need help and we want to help them.

Frank Barry (30:28):

Yeah. Absolutely. Okay. I've got a couple questions to end the interview here.

Shaila Visser (30:31):

Okay.

Frank Barry (30:31):

Easy ones.

Shaila Visser (30:33):

Okay.

Frank Barry (30:33):

What's a book that has... Any book, could be old, new, something you read recently or long ago, but one book that has inspired you the most.

Shaila Visser (30:44):

I think Darrell Johnson. I don't know if you've ever heard of him, pastor and theologian. He's written so many books and probably his best book that I've read, it's short, it's easy. It's called Experiencing the Trinity. You could read it in a night. It'll blow your mind.

Frank Barry (30:58):

Amazing. Darrell Johnson, Experiencing the Trinity.

Shaila Visser (31:02):

Yeah. And if you ever want a book on the Book of Revelations, get his book on that. I can't tell you how many pastors I know that are passing around his books like candy. He is remarkable and he's not super well known in lots of circles, but Darrell Johnson is the real deal. Worth finding him.

Frank Barry (31:19):

Okay. I'm sure people will look him up. Find his stuff on Amazon. Okay. Next one. What's a podcast you're listening to right now.

Shaila Visser (31:26):

I love Mark Sayers' Rebuilders Podcast. I won't miss one episode. He is one of the leading thinkers who's a church leader out of Melbourne. He leads Red Church. One of the biggest brains of anyone I've ever heard. So if you don't know Mark Sayers, Rebuilders podcast worth a listen.

Frank Barry (31:43):

Love it. Those are fantastic. And you had good answers right away. You just knew them. So I love that. I love that.

Shaila Visser (31:49):

I'm a learner. I'm a lifelong learner. So I go to lots of experts.

Frank Barry (31:53):

That's amazing. Well, Shaila, this has been great. Thanks for coming on the show.

Shaila Visser (31:57):

Thanks for having me Frank, looking forward to connecting again.

Frank Barry (31:59):

Yeah. Yeah. Well, we'll be in touch soon. Thanks everybody for watching. We'll be back next week with another episode of Modern Church Leader. Bye-bye.

Narrator (32:05):

If you enjoyed this episode of the Modern Church Leader, consider sharing it with the pastor or minister you think would benefit the most from listening to this conversation. You can send them to modernchurchleader.com or share this episode directly from your Podcast App. Be sure to subscribe for free on YouTube, Apple Podcast, or Spotify so you never miss an episode and we'll see you again next week with another conversation here on the Modern Church Leader.

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Evangelism in a Post-Christian World with Shaila Visser

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Evangelism in a Post-Christian World with Shaila Visser

We hope that this episode has given you some ideas on how you can share the gospel in a way that is relevant to your community today and ignite a desire in others to know Jesus as their Savior.

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Evangelism in a Post-Christian World

The rise of secularism has created a unique challenge for Christians.

How do we share the gospel in a way that is both authentic and understandable in a post-Christian world?

Evangelism in a post-Christian world requires a different approach, one that takes into account the changing spiritual landscape. 

The gospel is the same, but our approach needs to be flexible and relevant enough to be useful in various contexts. This means that we need to understand the context of our audience without losing sight of the gospel's purpose.

We can't rely on outdated methods and expect people to be interested in what we have to say. Instead, we need to find new and innovative ways to share the gospel so that it speaks to people where they are at.

It doesn't mean compromising or watering down the gospel. Instead, it means that we need to find creative ways to communicate its timeless truths so that people can understand and accept the gospel more fully. 

In the book of Acts, we find the apostle Paul sharing his message in many different contexts. This is the same in our day. We need to reflect the gospel in our everyday lives and our communities to speak the gospel in a way that makes sense for everyone.

In this episode, we're thrilled to be joined by the National Director of Alpha Canada, Shaila Visser. Shaila has been instrumental in helping churches see the need to take a fresh approach to evangelism and has also helped churches understand their community better.

“Post-Christian culture needs to have an encounter with God. It's not just us doing the speaking, listening, the film series, teaching. It is about leaving room for encounter because that's how the vast majority of people come to faith.”
-Shaila Visser

Shaila Visser is the National Director of Alpha Canada and the Global Senior Vice-President for Alpha International. She is the Executive Producer of both The Alpha Youth Film Series (2013) and The Alpha Film Series (2016), and currently holds positions on the Board of the Damascus Road Foundation and on the Board of Regent College-an International Graduate School in Vancouver.

We hope that this episode has given you some ideas on how you can share the gospel in a way that is relevant to your community today and ignite a desire in others to know Jesus as their Savior.

By the end of this episode, you will learn:

  • How evangelism has changed in Canada
  • How to share our faith in today's culture
  • The role of the Holy Spirit in evangelism
  • How to raise young leaders
  • Innovative ideas for sharing the gospel
  • Alpha courses and resources
  • And so much more…

Here’s a glance at this episode…

[5:36] Everybody should have the opportunity to, in a very safe, welcoming, loving environment, be able to explore the claims of Christ. 

[13:02] A person comes to know Jesus because you were working alongside the work of the Holy Spirit in their life.

[19:48] I'd say people need to love. They need to listen, and they need to lean in. And so by loving, that means when you're approaching someone, and you're building a relationship with them. 

[21:24] Every young person wants someone to believe in them. Whenever I see a church thriving, whether it's my church or another church, the seniors always care for the young people, even if they're not related. 

[28:05] We're trying to help teenagers understand that we work a ton with youth pastors and youth groups across the country. We train them. We encourage them. We envision them to what it means to do that. So youth Alpha has been a big thing for us.

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