The Christian bucket list

  • Stephen Liggins
  • 27 October 2015

I’ve just ticked something off on my hypothetical bucket list! A bucket list, for those who don’t know, is an inventory of things that someone decides that they want to do before they die (i.e. “kick the bucket”). The items on this list can be many and variedfrom the fairly general (“I’d like to drive a racing car”) to the reasonably specific (“I’d like to dance in the summer rain to Belinda Carlisle music on the beach of a Greek island with [insert name of the love of your life].”). The lists obviously vary from person to person.

While I’ve never bothered to commit such a list to paper, there are a number of Christian activities that I’ve always wanted to attempt. And in regards to one of them… I’ve finally done it! The opportunity presented itself and I took it. Just the other day, in fact!

In my last piece I wrote that the simple fact that a Christian has heard the gospel numerous times does not mean that they can reproduce it. Recognition does not equal reproduction. I suggested a good exercise might be to give a group of believers a piece of paper and two minutes to anonymously write out a brief outline of the gospel.

I’ve wanted to do this with a reasonably large group of Christians—now I have! At some seminars I recently gave at my church on the topic of evangelism, I invited participants to give it a go. They kindly agreed, and I received responses from 110 people.

The offerings were many and varied. I decided to analyse them using a gospel outline I learned from John Chapman’s book Know and Tell the Gospel back in the 1980s: “God... Person... God... What if you do... What if you don’t…”. Based on this, I decided to see if the responses mentioned the following concepts: God, sin, death/judgement, Jesus, death on the cross for sins, repentance, belief, forgiveness, and eternal life. I wasn’t looking for the exact words, just the concepts. I also decided to assess whether I thought the person had a reasonable grasp of the gospel. (I know, I know, it’s possible to find flaws in my methodology, however, the results were pretty interesting, so stick with me.)

How do you think everyone went? Remember, these are people who were motivated enough to attend seminars on evangelism. What percentage do you think had a reasonable grasp of the gospel? What trends would you expect to emerge? Well, having crunched the numbers, here are the results:

Total Responses 110
Mentioned ‘God’ 88
Mentioned ‘sin’ 96
Mentioned ‘death/judgement’ 38
Mentioned ‘Jesus’ 102
Mentioned ‘death on cross for sins’ 72
Mentioned ‘repentance’ 20
Mentioned ‘belief’  18
Mentioned ‘forgiveness’ 35
Mentioned ‘eternal life’  31
Possessed a general grasp of gospel 56

What do you make of that?

Well, here are a few of my thoughts. Of the 110 people, 56 (about 51%) seemed to have a good grasp of the gospel. I was happily surprised that the percentage was so high. Still, the obvious point is that, even amongst this motivated group of people, half needed to learn a gospel outline.

It was also clear and encouraging that the respondents were good on ‘God’, ‘sin’, ‘death’, ‘Jesus’ and ‘death on cross for sins’. But only 38 mentioned the consequences of sin—that is, ‘death/judgement’. I am sure that vast majority of respondents believe in this truth ... but most did not mention it. In fact, I do not recall anyone using the word ‘hell’. This suggests there may have been an unconscious desire to shy away from this culturally unpalatable truth.

The group was also fairly weak on the required response to the gospel—‘repentance’ (20) and ‘belief’ (18)—and the consequences of that response: for example, ‘forgiveness’ (35) and ‘eternal life’ (31). This low level of response could have been because people ran out of time, however, it also suggests a lack of clarity in this area. 

So that’s one item off my bucket list... but what’s next for me? For a start, I need to think about how I can help the people at my church better articulate and share the message of Jesus. And what about you? How would you go on the two-minute test? How would your church go? Maybe there are a few things that you... I... we… need to add to our hypothetical Christian bucket lists.