“I often wish that there were a God.”
I tried not to let my jaw drop noticeably as my coworker Nora (not her real name) spoke those words. Moments earlier, Nora had told me she was an atheist! She had grown up in China, where religion wasn’t part of most people’s lives. She had then earned a Ph.D. in astrophysics from an Ivy League school. As she put it, “I’m a scientist. We don’t believe in mythology.”
“Why do you wish there were a God?” I asked matter-of-factly, intentionally trying to downplay the depth of the conversational ground we were covering.
“I’m a physicist,” she explained. “I see how finely calibrated the universe is, and it is extremely difficult to explain that without some higher power.”
I could hardly believe that an atheist scientist was telling me that the universe would be easier to explain if God existed!
But her second reason was even more startling: “If there were a God, I wouldn’t feel so lonely.”
You might be surprised to discover that an Ivy-League-trained physicist and self-professed atheist possesses such deep spiritual longings. But I have found that Nora is by no means unusual among the successful, highly educated people I encounter in my work.
Nora is part of a largely unreached people group that I call the wealthy, worldly, and well-educated (W3s). Once I became heart-converted at the age of 36, I developed a missionary zeal for people like her. In this article I will share the method that I have discovered is most effective for developing the spiritual interest of W3s and leading them to Christ and His truth.
Who Are W3s?
W3s are people who fit one or more of the following descriptions:
- Wealthy: I define them as the top 20 percent of income earners in the United States—about 60 million people with a six-figure or higher annual household income. Only 7 percent of Seventh-day Adventists fall into this category—and Adventists become even rarer as you go higher in the income brackets. (In the global scheme of things, however, just about anyone in the Western world qualifies as wealthy.)
- Worldly: This is more of a mindset than a demographic. It denotes people whose lives are focused on materialism, pleasure, sophistication, and intellectualism. Our entire modern culture aspires after these things, and it is plainly on display through the media.
- Well-educated: About 42 percent of people in the U.S. hold a bachelor’s degree or greater. This number for Seventh-day Adventists is 55 percent, which should give us some ability to reach this group.
As a mission field, the W3 segment in the U.S. alone equals the population of a medium-sized country such as the UK, Italy, or France! Unfortunately, this people group is very difficult to reach, and as a result we have often neglected the upper classes in our evangelistic efforts.
Why Aren’t We Reaching W3s?
Why is it such a challenge to bring wealthy, worldly, well-educated people to a place where they will commit their lives fully to Christ? There are several reasons:
- W3s often don’t feel a need for God. Proverbs 27:7 says, “A satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb” (NKJV). For people who are satisfied with their lives, the “honeycomb” of God’s Word (Ps. 19:7-10) is actually distasteful.
- Like the rich young ruler, W3s have a lot to lose by becoming disciples of Christ. Their prestige, their possessions, and the influence of their mostly godless peers keep them tied to their current way of life. As Ellen White observes, it takes “moral courage” for a W3 to take a stand for Christ (The Ministry of Healing, p. 209).
- W3s operate in a different culture from the rest of society. They mostly associate with other W3s. They have their own language, activities, and values. By this same token, we Adventists also have our own language, activities, and values (haystacks, anyone?). Thus many Adventists have little contact with W3s and little influence on them.
Why We Need to Reach W3s
W3s have always been part of God’s people. In the New Testament, influential, affluent people like Nicodemus, Cornelius, and Lydia accepted the gospel message. We also read of W3s like Abraham and Daniel who remained faithful to God while holding positions of wealth and status.
Though W3s may be difficult to evangelize, we must reach out to them for two reasons:
- They need Christ and the hope He offers just like everyone else. Ellen White writes that many wealthy and powerful individuals, despite their appearance of leading a carefree life, are actually “soul-burdened” and longing for peace (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 78). We must not neglect to offer salvation to anyone just because we think they may say no.
- As influencers in society, W3s will be powerful assets for the kingdom. Ellen White states that upper-class individuals should be the first to hear the call (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 230) because their money, influence, and talents will go far to reach others.
The Adventist Church, as God’s remnant people, must put in the extra effort to overcome the barriers and find effective ways to share Christ’s call with W3s. Unfortunately, our traditional methods of evangelism rarely appeal to these people. As Ellen White pointedly observes: “The hook is not baited to catch this class” (Evangelism, p. 556).
There are several reasons why W3s rarely respond to typical Adventist evangelistic approaches:
- W3s are often skeptical and suspicious of outsiders. To gain access to W3s, they must trust and respect you on their own terms. This requires personal relationships built on credibility and excellence.
- W3s may consider themselves too busy to be bothered with religion or too intelligent to believe its claims. They will usually ignore itinerant literature evangelists and mass-mailed seminar invitations featuring sensationalized prophetic beasts.
- W3s are used to the finest in art and entertainment. Poor-quality presentations, unattractive literature, tacky media effects, and out-of-date websites turn them off.
Our traditional outreach efforts have their place, but if we want to reach W3s who are seeking for light and truth, we must have a different strategy.
How to Reach W3s
If mass media programs, door-to-door literature distribution, and prophecy seminars rarely succeed in reaching W3s, what method will work?
It’s quite simple: personal effort by people who have a connection with them. It’s absolutely crucial that those of us who rub shoulders with W3s through our work and other activities start seeing ourselves as missionaries. We are the ones who can bring the message to them.
Perhaps you know people who fit the W3 category: coworkers, neighbors, classmates. How can you go about reaching them? Here are three steps:
- Experience heart conversion. Unless you have a genuine “born again” experience with Christ, you will have nothing to share and no desire to share.
- Live a Christlike life. “Witness” is something you are, not something you do. To gain credibility with W3s, you must demonstrate excellence and integrity in all areas of life. You also need to have your own spiritual experiences, such as involvement in ministry and service, because these become the fodder for step 3.
- Develop the art of having spiritual conversations. Witnessing to W3s is not about handing out tracts or preaching sermons. (In fact, I’ve found that giving literature to W3s often squelches their spiritual interest.) It’s about being able to talk about faith as easily and naturally as you talk about the weather. As you mention your faith and religious activities in casual conversations, you open up opportunities to discuss spiritual topics.
Here’s an example of what I mean by “spiritual conversations.” Let’s say you go to work on a Monday and a colleague asks, “What did you do this weekend?” You might say something like: “Oh, I did a lot of yard work yesterday, and on Saturday I took a bike ride with my kids.”
What if instead you said something like this? “Well, on Saturday I went to church. We had a presentation by a missionary in Iraq that was really interesting. Then in the afternoon I took a bike ride with my kids.”
Now, your colleague may respond, “Really? Where did you go biking?” Or he might say, “They actually allow missionaries in Iraq? Isn’t it too dangerous?” And the conversation continues for a while on a spiritual theme.
By regularly “throwing out the bait,” you will discover the “hungry fish” who are interested in spiritual topics. Rather than giving them all the answers, I often ask questions to keep the discussion going. It is surprising the spiritual truths that my colleagues express without me telling them anything!
For example, I was having dinner with an Ivy League- and conservatory-trained violinist friend of mine. It was our first time catching up in more than ten years. Using this method of spiritual conversations, our discussion turned toward her own longing for spiritual certainty about God and the universe.
I asked her why she had this longing, and she shared with me her experience of growing up in a secular home and the beauty she sees in faith from afar.
Her voice grew more excited as she said to me, “For example, David, do you know how the Jews observe a day of rest, unplugged from the hustle and bustle of their daily life every week? I think that is such a beautiful practice!” Of course, I couldn’t wait to tell her that there are some Christians who also observe this God-given blessing!
As our dinner drew to a close, I ended, as I often do, by saying, “If you’d ever like to talk more about this, let me know. It’s one of my favorite subjects.” In this case, we did not live in the same city, limiting our opportunities for further discussions, but in similar conversations, I have had many people ask me for Bible studies instead of me having to ask them!
Mission Training to Reach W3s
I believe it takes more spiritual focus and fortitude to be a missionary in your everyday business than to be a church worker who gets paid to talk about God. That’s why I cofounded a ministry, the Nicodemus Society, to train Adventists to evangelize W3s. Through this ministry, I have traveled all over the country to do weekend seminars, which we call “Activation Programs,” to teach Adventists how to reach W3s in their sphere of influence.
To find out how you can participate in or host an Activation Program, visit the website. You also can hear one of my recent seminars about witnessing to W3s on AudioVerse.
W3s are a challenging mission field. As you witness to those within your circle of influence, you will have many spiritual conversations, a few Bible studies, and even fewer baptisms. But with patience and the Holy Spirit’s help, you will see people won to Christ.