Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Milgram, evangelism and the six degrees of separation: why mathematics renders door to door evangelism unnecessary

There is something seriously wrong with going up to a stranger's door on a Saturday afternoon, awaking them out of their nap, and asking them, "Have you been washed in the blood of the Lamb?", while shoving a bunch of end times literature in their face.

Here in rural Ohio...that would be a good way to get yourself shot.

And truth be told, while there may be a few stories floating around that someone was actually saved that way, a mathematician named Stanley Milgram may have shown why this is completely unnecessary.

Milgram conducted a series of experiments that are referred to as the "small world" experiments. His conjecture was that all people in the United States are connected in a social network to each other by surprisingly short connection lengths. Though some of his experimental methods are disputed, his research yielded that time and time again, the average two random Americans are connected by 5.5 relationships. In other words, one person knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, who knows any single random person in the US.

Though Stanley Milgram and his collegues (who include famous mathematicians such as Benoit Mandelbrot), never used the term "six degrees of separation", this concept is exactly what Milgram's work supported.

So how does this concept of "six degrees of separation" affect our evangelization as Christians?

One of the reasons I hear Christians giving over and over again as to why they don't share Jesus with people is, "I don't have the confidence to go up to some random person and share Christ with them." Milgram's work in social networking shows us that WE DON'T HAVE TO GO UP TO RANDOM PEOPLE to fulfill Jesus's command in Acts 1:8 of spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth. If we just focus on sharing Jesus with people we already know and help them to know Christ in a way that encourages them to share Jesus with others, in a short amount of time, everyone on earth will have heard the gospel!

So I'm going to challenge my readers to look around in their life and make a list of the people who they know on a first name basis who don't know Jesus and begin to share the gospel with them one by one. Don't just share Jesus with them by your actions, actually sit down with them and let them know how Jesus can transform their lives.

Which leads me to one last thing that needs to be addressed before you go out and make disciples. The second excuse I hear most about why people don't want to evangelize others is, "Well, I can't share Jesus with people I already know. It'll just complicate the relationship and make them uncomfortable". Here are a few points on that to carry with you when that fear arises:

1). If you really care about the person, you are going to tell them about Jesus, whether it makes them uncomfortable or not. If you knew, right now, that the Walmart down the road had an unlimited supply of free ipads they were giving away to anyone who just walked up and asked for one, would you not be calling everyone you knew on the phone, telling them, "hey, go to Walmart and get an ipad"? Why would you not feel the same urgency to tell someone about the free gift of salvation and how to get eternal life?

2). Of course it's going to make them uncomfortable. If you are presenting Jesus to them in a way that is NOT uncomfortable, you're not giving the true gospel. No one likes to be told they are on the wrong path. But if you were on the wrong path and were headed straight to catastrophe, would you not want someone to risk making you uncomfortable to tell you? Their discomfort is not with you, it is with the fact that their life is not matching up with what you are telling them.

3). If you are afraid to tell someone about Jesus for fear that the relationship will be strained, then you are putting the relationship with them before your relationship with Christ. That is then an idol in your life. In 1 John 2:6, scripture says, "Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did." Jesus did not fear people while He taught and shared the Good News. He spoke the truth boldly and trusted God in all situations, even up to His crucifixion. If we are really Christians, if we are really in Christ, while we may feel that fear, we will not let it keep us from sharing about Jesus.

So if you don't want to resort to having to go door to door and handing out literature, share the Gospel boldly with those you already know. And when it gets lodged in their heart, encourage them to tell others. We are only six degrees of separation away from the whole world finding Life in Jesus Christ.

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