Many church leaders wonder how they could be more effective as witnesses and in making disciples. Consider these five issues for using an oral approach to evangelism and discipleship.
- Reading Ability: At least 50% of the adults in the U.S. must be considered oral learners because they have no literacy or limited literacy skills. If you lined up 10 Americans picked at random, less than two of them would be as proficient as our church leaders. We’re the literate elite (13%). Do we really expect everyone else to read every day, read for entertainment, and get spiritual meaning from a print worldview? Is your church oriented to the literate elite or those who learn orally?
- Preference: An oral learning preference outnumbers our nation’s literate learning preference population. And the word “preference” is the key because while there are people who can’t read, there are also those who won’t or don’t read. It is easy to point to literacy statistics as the only indicator for the need to take an oral approach to evangelism and discipleship, but God wired each of us for stories. When my wife and I taught a Bible study for college age young adults for three years, we soon learned that although they were highly literate, they were often burned out on reading and ached for Bible study that fostered interactivity like Bible Storying sessions. But college students may not be as literate as they seem according to the U.S. Dept. of Education which reported in 2003 that only one out of three college graduates are proficient readers of continuous paragraphs.
- Educational Attainment: Many of the world’s educational systems rely upon rote memorization in classrooms where only the teacher has books and students rarely take books home. Educational attainment of at least eight years is required to be considered a functional literate. Then those who read must do so daily or they will regress.
- Bible Availability: Oral approaches are needed among some people so that they can hear God’s Word in their own heart language. Wycliffe Bible Translators reported in 2014 that there were only 513 translations of the Bible, so those speaking the remaining 6,380+ languages (not including dialects) were using trade language Scriptures and not their heart language. Verbatim audio scriptures are being recorded each year. They stand as a plumb line for accuracy by those engaging people groups with Bible Storying methods.
- Jesus’ Example: Jesus typically used a parable when speaking with the crowds. “He would speak the word to them with many parables like these, as they were able to understand. And He did not speak to them without a parable. Privately, however, He would explain everything to His own disciples. (Mark 4:33-34 HCSB). In the time of Jesus, only the scribes – about 10% of the Jews — were literate. Jesus used stories in a number of ways from which we can learn today.
Some 75% of the Bible is in narrative. Much of the doctrine in the epistles is captured in Bible stories. And oral learners are used to memorizing passages. So, consider an oral approach to conversational evangelism and relational discipleship to increase effectiveness.
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