SPAC Nation Church in South London has seen thousands of young people flock to the church, many of whom used to be involved in gang violence. Funmi Olutoye shares some of their experiences
We have a saying at SPAC Nation: “Saving souls is serious business.” It is the number one priority for our church after the receiving of our own salvation. We recognise the mandate Jesus gave us to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. We also know the implications if we don’t.
The issue the Church has today is that soul-winning has dropped down its list of priorities and, forgive the pun, preaching to the choir has gone up. The Church needs to cease being inward-looking and instead look out. Jesus sat among tax collectors and prostitutes. In his day, this is who he came for: the dejected and rejected of society. We need to do the same.
The last Church Statistics report from Faith Survey said that UK Church membership had declined from 10.6 million in 1930 to 5.5 million in 2010. By 2013, this had declined further to 5.4 million (10.3 per cent). They predict that if current trends continue, membership will fall to 8.4 per cent of the population by 2025. With figures like this, it feels as though Christianity is heading toward nonentity.
There is a reason why some church numbers are dwindling while other churches, like SPAC Nation, are bursting at the seams. Church is no longer relevant to many, and especially to young people. The Church is no longer feeding the needs of the day. When Jesus was on earth, the Bible talks a lot about how he healed many people. This is because he knew that health was one of the biggest issues in those times.
What are the biggest issues of our day? Money, or the lack of it? The economy? The emptiness of hedonism and vanity? The crisis of identity? For too long the Church has lost its focus on the real issues affecting ordinary people and has lost itself in the unfruitful routine of religion.
Evangelism in today’s Church is often soaked in apathy and fear. We’ve been too shy to share the joy of our salvation for fear of being mocked because of our beliefs by certain opposing social groups or individuals. The disconnect between the Church and the world has meant evangelism has taken a back seat when really this is the time it should be in fifth gear.
We didn’t Bible bash, ring a tambourine in his ear or hand him a leaflet. We showed this young man love in action
SPAC Nation believes in lifestyle evangelism. This is the style that has been the most effective for us. People have seen how our lives have changed beyond measure. We’re a congregation made up of ex-gang leaders, ex-prostitutes and ex-addicts who were once shackled by the guilt of our past but have become completely free because of our faith in God and his provision of salvation.
We are honest about our personal stories – no matter how dirty or shocking – and it’s our transformation and the lives we lead now that help people relate to us and come to Christ, or at least know more about who he is and how he turned our lives around.
There are countless examples in the Bible of those who sincerely walk with God, enjoying the fruit of that intimacy. We have a firm relationship with the Holy Spirit, who guides us day by day. We submit our will to him, and as he helps us we can also help others. SPAC Nation has raised more than £1 million as a church this year, with most of it going to orphans and widows in developing countries, as well as to people who need help here in the UK. We pay for young people’s school fees, and help those who are struggling with rent or are in debt.
In our church we have a group called the Hope Dealers. They are rappers specialising in Gospel Drill. This often violent and negative music genre has been completely turned on its head to spread the good news. This is actually one of our biggest tools for evangelism. These young rappers are people who used to deal drugs instead of hope, and what they used to talk about in their music was a reflection of the lifestyle they were leading at the time. Now they reflect a lifestyle that Jesus has transformed for them.
Apart from the music videos, fashion (the notorious balaclava), big cars and the music itself, the very notion of Gospel Drill is a big audience pull for them. It’s innovative, creative, unusual and mysterious, but most of all it is sincere. That is what makes evangelism so easy for them, especially on social media. It doesn’t make Christianity a far-removed ideology. By relating to young people in a genre of music they currently listen to, it reminds them: “I’m like you, but I can show you a better life.” The Hope Dealers have lost count of the number of young people they have been able to bring to church and speak to on the street or at their shows.
We’ve heard criticism about the Hope Dealers representing flashy, materialistic, noisy Christianity. But the truth is, this is simply a tool to attract and bring people in. One of the problems the Church has today is that people are too concerned with the way things look rather than the way things are. The Hope Dealers represent what evangelism among young people should be like: creative, attractive, willing to give all to win a soul, and most of all effective.
Evangelism is good for the Church
Soul-winning is not only something that is close to God’s heart, it is also a benefit for the Church as a whole. SPAC Nation stands for Salvation Proclaimers Anointed Church. We proclaim the salvation we have, and we see ourselves as an anointed nation: a body of different people united by a common goal.
Every person we evangelise to who believes our testimony joins this nation with all their talent, which will ultimately help to advance the Church as it continues with its objective to proclaim the good news.
We know we’re unorthodox. We take pride in it, in fact, because this is what attracts the multitudes. We are far from an ordinary church. We’re energetic, free, loud and creative. We’re all over social media, we’re relentless in getting people to church and, most of all, we are ourselves. Our senior pastor, Tobi Adegboyega, jokingly describes us as a “nation of misfits”. We somehow all have a story of not fitting anywhere else, but we fit with each other. Every Sunday, 1,000 young people gather. Some people have to sit on the floor because we run out of seats. The Christian faith is certainly not dead.
Church is no longer relevant to young people. It is no longer feeding their needs
Evangelism is good for the individual
Winning souls for God also changes the lives of the individual in question and those surrounding them. A young man named Kevin came to SPAC Nation some time ago. He was the son of a pastor and one of the most prolific gang leaders in East London, involved with guns, knives, violence and Class-A drugs. You name it, he had done it.
Kevin heard the gospel. Love was poured into his life by way of mentorship, welcome into a new community and showing him a new way to live by making ‘clean’ money. We didn’t Bible bash, ring a tambourine in his ear or hand him a leaflet. We showed him love in action.
Kevin has grown so much that he is now a pastor. Before he shepherded people into a life of crime. Now he brings those same people to Christ and shepherds new young people who come to the church every day.
An apathetic view toward evangelism doesn’t just affect the individual who is potentially at the receiving end, but all those connected to them. We have no idea how every evangelistic conversation we have can transform an entire community. We saw this with the woman at the well (John 4), who went to tell everyone in Samaria about her encounter with Jesus.
Evangelism is the Church’s secret weapon, but for too long the Church has neglected this key part of its arsenal.
Where is soul-winning in your church’s list of priorities? It needs to be the number-one priority, because ultimately that was Jesus’ approach. The Gospels make it clear that he could talk to anybody, anywhere at any time. He was never out of touch. In fact, the Pharisees came into close contact with Jesus and soon realised how out of touch they were.
The Church should wake up to the fact that we are God’s soldiers here on earth, on the front line of a spiritual battle for souls. We need to be ready for combat through our love for God, which is demonstrated through our obedience to the Holy Spirit, our praise, worship, giving, praying and daily consumption of the Word. Proverbs 11:30 says: “…he that winneth souls is wise.” I can never get enough wisdom.
Top ten tips for evangelism with young people
01 Be sincere. You have to genuinely care about the young person you’re evangelising to. Be empathetic. They’ll see right through you if you’re fake.
02 Understand that God is in the business of saving souls, and that as this is his number-one priority therefore it should also be ours.
03 Find out what young people are looking for and help them find a solution.
04 Give them the opportunity to ask as many questions as they need to so everyone knows where they stand and there is nothing that is off limits.
05 Be honest about your journey as a believer. Tell your story.
06 Be creative. Gone are the days when people can just shout in the street and hand out leaflets. Think about reaching young people on social media. Hold events and use video. A Hope Dealer wore a balaclava one day and hundreds of souls have been saved since!
07 Recognise your evangelism style and run with it. Your passion alone will be infectious.
08 Forget what evangelism is ‘supposed’ to look and sound like and focus on connecting to the heart of a young person through conversation.
09 Give. Sometimes evangelism is more than just talking at someone. Sometimes it might mean showing love by helping a young person financially or providing other practical help.
10 Be bold! Philip went to Samaria alone. You don’t have to go on your own, but have the same boldness so that even if some young people aren’t receptive you will still carry out God’s work.
Funmi Olutoye is a leader at SPAC Nation Church in South London.