By Dave Ferguson, Jon Ferguson, and Eric Bramlett
If you’ve been calling yourself a Christian, you should stop.
If you have ever encouraged someone to become a Christian, you should never do that again.
Seriously, I hope you will never again ask a friend, family member, coworker, or neighbor to become a Christian.
Why? Because the last thing the mission of Jesus Christ needs is more Christians.
Here is the brutal fact: 85 percent of the people in the United States call themselves Christians. Now, let’s pause long enough to realize that’s a whole lot of people—247 million people, to be exact.
But how are those 85 percent doing when it comes to accomplishing Jesus’ mission? Here is what research tells us about people in North America who call themselves Christians:
• Those who call themselves Christians are no more likely to give assistance to a homeless person on the street than non-Christians.
• Those who call themselves Christians are no more likely than non-Christians to correct the mistake when a cashier gives them too much change.
• A Christian is just as likely to have an elective abortion as a non-Christian.
• Christians divorce at the same rate as those who consider themselves non-Christians.
• Even though there are more big churches than ever before filled with people who proudly wear the title Christian, 50 percent of Christian churches didn’t help one single person find salvation.
In fact, when the Barna Research Group did a survey involving 152 separate items comparing the general population with those who called themselves Christians, they found virtually no difference between the two groups. They found no difference in the attitudes of Christians and non-Christians, and they found no difference in the actions of Christians and non-Christians. If the contemporary concept of a Christian is of someone who is no different than the rest of the world, is Christian really the word you want to use to describe your willingness to sacrifice everything you have to see God’s dream fulfilled? No way.
This absence of distinction between Christians and non-Christians is a huge problem. But it is not a difficult problem. This is a problem for which the solutions are simple, though not easy. So my book is all about one of those simple but not easy solutions for accomplishing the mission that Jesus gave to his church.
TOO MANY IDEAS
Let’s start with a typical Sunday as a family returns home from church. The question posed to the children is the same every week: “So what did you learn today?” And the response is too often the same: (Silence.) “Ummm . . .” (More silence.) “Ummm . . .” (Still more silence.) “Ummm . . .”
Parents have tried to think of different ways to word the question for their kids, but it always comes out the same. “So what did you learn today?” It’s not the most enticing question, but it’s the question that gets asked millions of times every week during the car ride home from church.
And the truth is, if our kids asked us, we might give them the same response: (Silence.) “Ummm . . .” (More silence.) “Ummm . . .” (Still more silence.) “Ummm . . .”
How is it possible that so many people, young and old, can respond with nothing but silence to such a simple question after spending an entire Sunday morning in church? Is it too little teaching? Is it too little Scripture? Is it too little application of Scripture in the teaching? What’s the problem?
Well, let’s review a typical experience at church. Is it too little or maybe too much? The average churchgoer is overloaded every week with scores of competing little ideas during just one trip to church. Let’s try to keep track.
1. Little idea from the clever message on the church sign as you pull into the church parking lot
2. Little idea from all the announcements in the church bulletin you are handed at the door
3. Little idea from the prelude music that is playing in the background as you take your seat
4. Little idea from the welcome by the worship leader
5. Little idea from the opening prayer
6. Little idea from song 1 in the worship service
7. Little idea from the Scripture reading by the worship leader
8. Little idea from song 2 in the worship service
9. Little idea from the special music
10. Little idea from the offering meditation
11. Little idea from the announcements
12. Little idea from the first point of the sermon
13. Little idea from the second point of the sermon
14. Little idea from the third point of the sermon
15. Little idea from song 3 in the worship service
16. Little idea from the closing prayer
17. Little idea from the Sunday school lesson
18. Little idea from (at least one) tangent off of the Sunday school lesson
19. Little idea from the prayer requests taken during Sunday school
20. Little idea from the newsletter handed out during Sunday school
Twenty and counting. Twenty different competing little ideas in just one trip to church. Easily! If a family has a couple of children in junior church and everyone attends his or her own Sunday school class, we could quadruple the number of little ideas. So this one family could leave with more than 80 competing little ideas from one morning at church! And if we begin to add in youth group, small group, and a midweek service, the number easily doubles again. If family members read the Bible and have quiet times with any regularity, it might double yet again. And if they listen to Christian radio in the car or watch Christian television at home, the number might double once more.
It’s possible this one family is bombarded with more than 1,000 little ideas every week explaining what it means to be a Christian.
We have bombarded our people with too many competing little ideas, and the result is a church with more information and less clarity than perhaps ever before. But people in the pew want clarity, direction, and guidance in how to live out the mission of Jesus Christ. We can no longer afford to waste another Sunday allowing people to leave confused about what to do next.
So let the change begin! But this change can’t be relegated only to the preaching. It also must happen in the teaching of children, students, adults, and families and in the overall experience of church life. How? The Big Idea. And it is one Big Idea at a time that brings clarity to the confusion that comes from too many little ideas.
ONE BIG IDEA = MORE CLARITY AND ACTION
I was in a graduate class when I heard the Big Idea explained for the first time. The professor, Jim Pluddeman, challenged my classmates and me by saying that the Bible was written to be understood and applied. He said, “The effective teacher is like a person who takes a strong rope, ties one end around the big ideas of Scripture, ties the other end around the major themes of life, and then through the power of the Spirit struggles to pull the two together.” I was just beginning to understand that accomplishing the mission of Jesus would mean focusing on one Big Idea, not trying to juggle competing little ideas.
Jesus did not confuse people with a lot of little ideas. Instead, he presented one Big Idea with a clear call to action: “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him” (Matthew 4:18-20).
When Jesus met someone for the first time, he challenged them with one Big Idea: “Follow me.” The simplicity and clarity of that Big Idea, “Follow me,” was what catalyzed a movement of Christ followers into action. And these Christ followers knew what was expected of them and would do anything and everything, including trade their very lives, to accomplish the mission of Jesus.
What about “deeper teaching”? That is what the rich young ruler wanted. He came to Jesus and began to explain that he already knew the commandments—“Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother” (Mark 10:19)—and that he had obeyed these commands since he was a boy. He wanted more. He wanted a midweek service. He wanted graduate-level teaching.
With clarity and simplicity, Jesus challenged him with one Big Idea when he said, “One thing you lack. . . . Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). The message was clear. It was a call to action. It was a Big Idea that was simple but not easy.
What would happen if we challenged people in the same way? What if we gave people one clear and simple Big Idea and asked them to put it into action? That is exactly what we have been attempting to do at Community Christian Church and the NewThing Network for the last several years. Every week, we give all of our people of every age and at every location one Big Idea and ask them to put it into action. The challenge is simple and clear—but never easy.
That’s the Big Idea.
Dave Ferguson, Jon Ferguson, and Eric Bramlett serve in ministry with Community Christian Church, which started in Naperville, Illinois, and now has multiple sites in the Greater Chicago area.
This article is adapted with permission from Chapter 1 of The Big Idea, © 2007 by Dave Ferguson, a new book available from Zondervan Publishers at $16.99. Used by permission of Zondervan (www.zondervan.com).