By Tamice Hasty, Black Campus Ministries staff at Emory University
The five thresholds of postmodern conversion are concepts developed by Don Everts and Doug Schaupp in their book, I Once Was Lost. The thresholds were derived from the stories of postmodern skeptics who shared their stories of coming to faith. All of them seemed to pass through the same five distinct stages: from distrust to trust, from complacent to curious, from being closed to change in their lives to being open, from meandering to seeking, and entering into the Kingdom.
Understanding this process will help you learn how to encourage your friends along their journeys, even though not all of them will become Christians. Let's examine the characteristics of each threshold and how you can recognize, celebrate, and move your friends forward.
If you're interested in training your small group in evangelism based on the 5 Thresholds, access the 5 Thresholds Training Toolkit here (accessible only to logged-in InterVarsity staff).
THRESHOLD 1: Trusting a Christian
The postmodern journey of conversion usually takes place when a skeptic begins to significantly trust a Christian. Today, Christianity and religion are suspect and distrust has become the norm. This hurts and is unpleasant for believers and can result in any number of the following five knee-jerk reactions.
Five Knee-Jerk Reactions from Christians:
We begin to close our hearts to non-Christians and treat them with contempt. We begin to point fingers and judge.
A better response is to pray. As we pray for the person, God will give us his heart for them. We can also intercede on this person’s behalf. Read "11 Prayers for Your Friends to Know Christ."
We become personally offended and feel a sense of shame and despair. Often, we retreat and decide never to try taking a risk again.
A better reaction is to learn. Try and understand where the person is coming from. Ask questions about why they feel distrust. Read "Answering the Question Behind the Question."
We distance ourselves from people and decide not to go near their circles. This results in an “us and them” mentality, and keeps Christians huddled together in a "Christian bubble."
A better reaction is to bond. This is an opportunity to find common ground and meet them on their own turf. Sometimes a shared experience can break down walls of distrust.
We can often feel the temptation to write off non-Christians because they are not following Christ and use their shortcomings as a reason to treat them rudely.
A better reaction is to affirm. Seek to find good and truth in whatever is upsetting them, and affirm those things.
We engage in unhelpful and fruitless debates where the goal is to win an argument rather than win the person. Apologetics are not often helpful at this stage.
A better reaction is to welcome. Inviting someone into your space to see you walk out your faith in community is very disarming.
Three Common Pitfalls to Avoid:
1. Avoid Relativism: Be honest about the uniqueness of Christ.
2. Be with Them, but Don’t Sin: It's okay to be on their turf as long as you don’t partake in things that compromise your character and integrity.
3. Don’t Walk Unwisely into Temptation: Know your weaknesses and don’t put yourself in situations that may cause you to compromise.
THRESHOLD 2: Becoming Curious
The stage of curiosity tends to blossom over time and usually has three levels of intensity. It's a subtle shift from being passive to being provoked to think differently.
Levels of Curiosity:
This is when the person becomes aware of options they never considered, and they become open to other possibilities than their own reality.
This is when the person actually begins to seek answers and affirmations to their currently reality, i.e., researching religion and so on.
This is a more vocal stage when the person begins to invite others into their curiosity and reasoning.
How to Provoke Curiosity:
1. Ask Questions
Jesus was asked 107 questions in the gospels and he only answered three of them! Yet, he asked 307 questions back to the people who questioned him.
Questions have a way of getting to the heart of the matter and that is one of the main places a decision to follow Christ takes place. Read "Why You Should Ask More Questions in Spiritual Conversations."
2. Use Parables
Pay attention to the world around you and use everyday reality and circumstances to communicate deeper truths. Jesus used this method to draw out hunger in listeners.
3. Live Curiously
Live a life that causes people around you to ask questions. This cannot be faked. The way that we live in secret will affect the way we are perceived in public.
Christian community is essential at this stage since it gives the person a picture of what it looks like to live and relate as Christ followers.
THRESHOLD 3: Opening to Change
This is the hardest threshold to cross and where a lot of people turn back or stay where they are without moving forward. However, this is the stage where the Holy Spirit is especially at work, and when a person can finally become willing to make changes in their lifestyle.
How to Encourage Openness:
1. Be Patient
Choosing to make Christ the Lord of your life is a really big decision and the person is more than likely considering the cost.
This is a very vulnerable and scary place to be; it involves dying to oneself. The secret prayers of friends like you matter immensely at this threshold.
3. Challenge Like Jesus Did
Affirm with Gentle Honesty: "You are right in saying...you have had five husbands." (John 4:18)
Give an Empowering Nudge: "Take up your mat and walk." (John 5:8)
Be a Mirror for Their Logic: "You are a teacher of Israel, yet you do not understand." (John 3:10)
Connect the Dots: "Truly, truly I say to you..." (John 12:24)
THRESHOLD 4: Seeking After God
This threshold is about coming to a conclusion. There may not be a lot of behavioral change here because they are just about to make a decision about Jesus. There is urgency and purpose to their seeking, and they have decided it's time to make up their minds.
Characteristics of Seekers:
1. Seeking Jesus Specifically
They seek Jesus not just “God,” and thus have a clear object of intrigue.
2. Counting the Cost
They have been around enough to know the implications of becoming a believer.
3. Spending Time in Community
They spend time with Christians and at Christian events and services. Even if they are not fully aware of what is going on, they still feel it is worth going.
During this time, we can live out the Kingdom before their eyes by showing them how to build our lives around Jesus' words, opening up our prayer life to them, providing answers to questions (using personal apologetics as opposed to philosophical apologetics), and modeling a life of seeking.
THRESHOLD 5: Entering the Kingdom
This is the point when the person decides to repent and follow Jesus! They have decided they want to cross a real and eternally significant line. They go from flirting to commitment. They look Jesus in the face and say “I do.”
During this phase, we want to be appropriately urgent; no one stays in seeking mode forever. We want to walk closely with them into this phase and thereafter.
We can find creative ways to communicate the gospel clearly, being careful to not oversimplify. However, we can invite them in ways they can understand:
- The Big Story
- The Wedding Vows
- The Sport Team
- The Revolution
We must also make sure to celebrate this step the right way! God is throwing a big ol' party in heaven, so throw one on earth too!
After we lead someone to Christ, our work is not done. We have to commit to help them begin well. This is usually a 6-8 week process where we want to establish key spiritual disciplines in their lives like prayer, Bible study, community, evangelism, and service. We should seek to do these things with them.
One option is to use Launch to help new Christians learn how to follow Jesus. It is a website with 10 sessions focused on the top 10 questions new Christians in university settings have about growing their relationship with Jesus. Each session also includes supplemental exercises and resources for new Christians to check out on their own time and at their own pace. Plus, new Christians will find more advice and stories from mature Christians on the Launch blog.
>> Access the 5 Thresholds Training Toolkit here (only accessible to logged-in InterVarsity staff)