Discussing challenges for the 21st century church is an exercise in choosing among a myriad of options. This month I have chosen to focus on evangelism.

Having written much in this column on the great commission, I would remind us that the most succinct summary of that final instruction from Jesus is to “make disciples.”

Within my brief lifetime our culture has dramatically shifted from one in which biblical values were simply and rightly assumed to one in which Christian mores are regularly assaulted. In the towns of my childhood it was not if you went to church, but where. Nowadays not only does the if question result in a no answer surprisingly often, the response could be downright rude or even dangerous. Today the hedonistic values of the Roman world of the New Testament are clearly on the ascendancy. While Christians are not yet being thrown to the lions in the West the levels of respect for people—even faith leaders—continue to erode dramatically.

So how does one evangelize a world that no longer speaks the language of faith? How does one use the Bible, its teachings, its prophecies, its history, its expressions of worship to gain the attention of a society that doesn’t appear slightly interested? Perhaps these thoughts are bigger than one article can address, yet they are certainly worth considering.

First, it takes more than one method. A study I read some years ago indicated that a prophecy-based evangelistic event appeals to about six percent of the population. Now granted, six percent of 300 million people is a big number and we must not stop trying to reach them with the approach that works best for them. But what about the other 94 percent?

There are some promising new methods. The major health event* that took place last year in the San Francisco/Oakland area is an example of how to enter a community of people we would not ever connect with through our traditional approach. Yes, it is only a first step, but repeated engagement yields results. CREATION Health is an outreach method gaining ascendancy in several of our communities. Developed by Florida Hospital and Adventist Health System, it seeks to gain a hearing in secular culture by appealing to a return to an Edenic lifestyle that results in greater wholeness for the adherent.

Second, it takes a team. Whatever evangelism method is employed in the 21st century will require a full effort by many people in many local churches. And that may require us to look more carefully at the steps involved in evangelism. For an indigenous American (one who was born here) of any race or ethnic background, coming to faith will almost certainly be a stepwise process that takes time. We must declare a level of success in evangelism if at the end of one part of the journey the would-be disciple is one step closer to full faith.

Third, successful evangelism in the 21st century requires involvement with our communities in concerns that matter to them. Our forebears were passionately supportive of anti-slavery movements of the 1840s-1860s. Joseph Bates was run out of town at least once for his abolitionist views. Ellen White was an activist with regard to the temperance issues of her time. We must be involved in the issues that matter to our neighbors if we expect them to pay attention to the issues that matter to us—but always with a view of discipleship in mind. Always finding ways to nudge our fellow travelers one stop closer to Jesus. And always ready to give account for the faith that is driving it all.

Fourth, we must keep sharing the truth as it is in Jesus Christ. That is still the bottom line.

Fifth, we must be patient. It takes time and engagement to make disciples. After all, Jesus Himself had to leave heaven in order to seek and save that which was lost. And I am so thankful He did.

This editorial is also being published in the May 2015 print edition of OUTLOOK. It’s part of a three-part series.

*Free healthcare services were provided to residents of these cites from April 8-10, 2014. Since this editorial was written, another event took place in San Antonio, Texas from April 8-10, 2015. The events were coordinated by Your Best Pathway to Health, a supportive ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.