Threshold Evangelism

Threshold Evangelism February 11, 2013

Below is the outline I used, or most of the outline, in my opening session at the Mars Hill Youth Workers Collaborative, hosted at Mars Hill in Grand Rapids and facilitated professionally by Steve Argue. This session develops ideas into a new area that are found in my King Jesus Gospel.

Where are you seeing “threshold” evangelism? How do you think about it? Many today think “threshold” evangelism, whether they call it that or not, is problematic, and wonder how we can move forward, be more biblical, and yet not abandon the very important need for personal response (repentance, faith, baptism, etc). How do you think we can move forward?

Threshold evangelism vs. Centered gospeling

1.0          Threshold evangelism

1.1          Aim is to get people near the threshold to cross the threshold: Identify the “target” and create liminality and strive for decisions.

1.2          Behaviors are shaped to make that happen: greeters, sales-like friendliness, pleasantness, handsomeness, mercy ministries, sunny dispositions, pleasant music, evocative music.

1.3          The gospel message, or evangelistic attempts, are shaped to encourage crossing the threshold:

salvation is examined so most ideas are sound, biblical, true
themes are isolated,
themes are packaged into bite-sized units,
themes are put into words that are “relevant” or “catchy,”
themes are ordered to provoke or precipitate decisions.

Celebrities, heroes, stories make it desirable

1.4          Messages Illustrated:

Requirements: Simple, 5 minutes or less, transportable and transferrable

4SL: God loves and has a wonderful plan for your life, You have sinned, Jesus died for you, Respond to God’s offer in Jesus and you will find eternal life.

Bridge Illustration: God, Humans, Gap, Wrath/separation, cross, Jesus, walk across

1.5          Threshold evangelism is effective in acquiring decisions.

90% of children in evangelical homes

Some 70% of American teenagers

1.6          Threshold evangelism is problematic for full conversions.

  1. Message says nothing about what happens beyond threshold.
  2. Emphasis is “decision” (accepting, believing) not the fullness of the NT: repentance, belief, baptism, confession.
  3. Gravity is on “in vs. out” and threshold is “in” line.
  4. Theology is almost exclusively salvation, with little theology, Christology, Story, Bible, church.
  5. Process has been Two-Stages: decision then discipleship.
  6. Core is information (self and salvation) and affirmation.
  7. Church has become a “salvation” culture instead of a “gospel” or “kingdom” or “Jesus” culture.
  8. Effect is low: 20-25% of those who “respond” become serious followers of Jesus. Which both cheapens the message about Jesus and waters down the commitment level of Christians in the church.


This is often called “bounded set” and I want to contend (later today) that Jesus’ evangelism and the apostles’ evangelism were not bounded set but centered set.

Bounded sets are about essential, or minimal, characteristics that create a boundary between one set vs. another set. “Computers” vs. “Cars”

Centered sets are about defining a center but not the boundary; those who are moving toward the center are “in” and those who are moving away are “out”. So there is an “in vs. out” but the focus is on the center and not the boundary; the boundary is ill-defined so there is more diversity.

Bounded set evangelism asks: Have you accepted Jesus into your heart, been baptized?

Centered set gospeling asks: Who do you think Jesus is?

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