We Had Conversations with 2,500+ in America's Least Religious City. Here's What We Learned.


We do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.
— 2 Corinthians 4:2

When we packed up our Uhaul in October of 2015, Andrea and I knew we were moving to Portland with a lot of faith and not much else.  We had reached a point in our lives when we could no longer deny that God was calling us to this city.  We just didn't know what He wanted us to do when we got here. In so many ways, this has been the summer of our lives.

God sent us some incredible people to work with us this July from all over the United States.  These teams served alongside of us to have 2,586 spiritual conversations.  We learned some amazing things.

 

DON'T BUY THE HYPE. PEOPLE ARE STILL THIRSTY FOR GOD.

We initiated each conversation with a spiritual survey conducted on our mobile phones.  Not only did we have some incredible 1-on-1 connections, we were able to gather some of the most significant missiological data ever captured in Downtown Portland. The final question of the survey asks, "If you could know God personally, would you want to." I've asked people to guess at what percentage of people would say, "yes." Many are shocked to hear that 84% of Portlanders expressed a personal desire to know God.

 

WHEN PEOPLE HAVEN'T MET THE TRUE GOD, THEY USUALLY INVENT THEIR OWN.

We asked a general question about people's spiritual beliefs and their passions in life. We did this to get a true understanding of the spiritual climate of our city. We also wanted people to pause for a moment to consider what they actually believe. We heard all kinds of answers. Some people feel like they actually hear from some kind of higher power or spiritual being. We found that about 5% of people believed that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. A majority of people believe in reincarnation, revealing a massive influence of Eastern thought.

 

JESUS IS THE BEST THING WE'VE GOT GOING FOR US (NO SURPRISE).

We asked, "In your personal opinion, who is Jesus Christ?" I anticipated we would meet a lot of hostility with this question. We gave people four options to choose from, and they could select as many as they wanted.  Only 4% of people flat out rejected Jesus.  That means that 96% of people had some kind of openness to the idea of Christ, and 50% actually said He was the Son of God.

 

SHARING JESUS DOESN'T HAVE TO BE SCARY.

Jesus calls every believer to go and make disciples. Why have we believed the lie that sharing our faith is only for some people? Why have we allowed the enemy to convince us that sharing the Gospel is scarier than it really is? I remember one team member in particular. At the beginning of the week she told me, "Aaron - I'm gonna do my best, but don't count on much from me. I'm gonna pray for everyone else, but I'm terrified of speaking to people." By the end of the week, she had spoken to almost 60 individuals about Jesus. EVERYONE on our teams acknowledged that the hardest part of this process was bearing the spiritual and emotional weight of hearing so much heartbreak from those who truly began to open up. But EVERYONE acknowledged that engaging people with the Gospel was easier than they thought. Thanks Holy Spirit.

 

GOD IS STILL MOVING MOUNTAINS.

I am still wrapping my mind around what happened this summer.  I am thinking about the people we met going about their everyday lives who were moved to talk about Jesus with a stranger.  123 of these attended one of our services, and many people made multiple visits.   22 people signed up for more information about our discipleship groups. 10 asked for a meeting to discuss baptism. 15+ indicated that they wanted to follow Jesus. 

There are lots more mountains that need to be moved in order for us to become a healthy, life-sustaining church body. But we're on our way, and we couldn't do it without you. Thanks for all of your love, your kindness, and your prayers. We need you more than ever - the best is yet to come.

 

 

REAL STORIES


I’m gay and so I usually hate conversations about spiritual things because they make me so uncomfortable, but I just wanted to tell you guys that I wasn’t put off at all by our conversation. I love the way that you guys are going about doing this and showing genuine concern and interest in the people of Portland. So thank you for stopping to talk with me, I really appreciate it.
— KYLE, to team member Marybeth

My mom used to tell us that God is love. Thank you for reminding me of her.
— to team member Katie

I’ve never met a Christian who really cares before.
— BRYCE, to team member Linda

I need to know what you all are doing because that lady over there just broke down crying with two other people wearing the same shirts you are.
— STREET VIOLIN PLAYER, to team member Leslie

I can’t stop thinking about what we talked about yesterday.......YES. I want to follow Jesus.
— CODY, to team member Rick

 
Aaron is the pastor of Spring of Life, a new church in Portland, Oregon. He's the owner of Amplify Creative.