Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Conversion: A rare and wonderful experience

Do you remember your conversion? What emotions did you feel? What did/does it mean to you? You might remember all the details vividly or, like me, you remember the emotional content of your conversion experience. Wherever you fall, your conversion was a rare and, I hope, wonderful experience for you.

Until recently I did not give much thought to how rare an experience conversion is a person’s life. For most people conversion is a once in a lifetime experience. In America (which had the highest rate of conversions in a 40 nation study*) only 14% of people had a conversion experience, a change from non-religious to religious or a major religious shift.

Conversion is a life quest 
The conversion process typically begins with some kind of crisis. The crisis may be an event, unexpectedly tragic or maybe just the straw that broke the camel’s back. It may be a new idea that blows their world apart. Or, it may be a question that sticks in the mind, demanding an answer to make sense of life. Whatever it is that starts the quest, the quest leads the person to a new state of life. The quest is an exploration of life.

Another insight about conversion is that conversion tends to come in the young adult stage of life. Most people will have had their conversion experience before they reach thirty years of age. By that time they will have reached adulthood, married and established their own life. In fact, marriage is the most often mentioned reason people give as the impetus for their conversion.

Reasons for religious change:
            #1, marriage or family
            #2, friends or change of location
            #3, issues of theology

Guide People Through Conversion
Think about what all this means. A person hits a crisis point. They get knocked off their feet. They’re off balance. They don’t know what is happening to them. They’ve never experienced this before. They find the conversion process awkward or even frightening.

Treat a person going through conversion gently, tenderly. Be a compassionate guide to them. Provide encouragement. Offer direction when they’re asking. Give them confidence that what they may be feeling is normal.

Conversion is a rare and wonderful life event. It is, in every respect, the birth of a new life. As we confess Jesus into the lives of others, let’s encourage each other to treat their conversion quest with all the wonder and joy of new birth.

How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again? . . .Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life” (John 4:4-6).

*"Religious Conversion in 40 Countries" by Robert J. Barro, Jason Hwang, and Rachel M. McCleary
Harvard University, Cornerstone Research, Harvard University.

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