…is there are few Christians to have relationships with.
Rodney Stark has illustrated how relationships are a huge driver in the conversion process. Most people who become a Christian, first are friends with, or know, or respect, a Christian. They “practice” being a Christian before they take the leap. They might get together with Christian friends, or they might even come to church with a friend, or they might go to a church event (like an Easter event, or a BBQ, or what-have-you). As they do, they “inculturate” what it means to be a Christian, and they come to see themselves as possibly believing this, and finally come to a point in faith where they commit.
In some cases (especially in the West) this can be a very long, drawn out process. Part of the problem in the West is that many non-Christians do not have Christian friends (because many Christians have saturated their “15 intimate friends” with Christians and rarely hang out with non-Christians).
In situations where there are no Christians, it’s more of a challenge, because the person contemplating being a Christian must not only consider something brand new, but they must also consider something different from what all their friends find to be acceptable.
In a heavily Christian setting, the key is when you have enough relationships to find it socially acceptable to be a Christian, and usually that number is saturated early on. (In fact, I suspect that part of the problem of people going away to college is suddenly these relationships are “ripped away” and their new friends–who seem to be “cooler”–are more likely experimenting with non-Christianity. But, when a person gets older, and marries, they will begin building Christian friendships–easy to do in our country, with so many Christians around–and they will also hearken back to their childhood. But all of that’s for another post.)
In a heavily non-Christian setting, the “conversion tipping point” is reached when the strength of God’s draw (and my desire to respond to it) is greater than the strength of the draw of my friends and my desire to respond to them.
In some cultures, where the penalties are significant for responding to God’s drawing, the strength of God’s draw must be very strong and compelling indeed–or as Stark points out, I have to be in a position where I can “experiment” with new cultures with relative immunity. This means someone who has either (a) a very strong position in a community or oikos (well off merchant or businessperson, or an imam, or a political leader, or what have you), or (b) a very weak position in the community (no one cares about this person, because they’re crazy anyway). The very weak person of course has very few ties and so the Gospel can’t easily pass from him to the community, and so while it’s important for them to draw near to Christ, it’s unlikely that we’ll see a CPM start from them. (Not impossible. I have many anecdotal stories of just this happening. Just that it’s less likely, perhaps.) The very strong person is also the person that we are least likely, personally, to expect to convert. (Stories of imams converting to Jesus, for example, always amaze us–because it just seems to us that they are the least likely person.)
Since we never know who the person that is being drawn is, it means that we have to “sow abundantly” and “be spiritually obvious” as a magnet for these people. It also means that, since these folks are few and far between (God is drawing everyone but not everyone is responding–we are looking for the seekers, and they are often less obvious because of caution), we can’t prejudge any soil. (The sower sowed the soil indiscriminately). We also have to be fairly bold because we don’t know who will respond to us.
No one said this was easy.