For a while now, there’s been in the back of my mind a feeling that I’d overlooked something really important in this series. Finally, it occurred to me that I’d not directly addressed evangelism. And there’s a reason.
I’m not much of an evangelist. I have some gifts that are useful in church work, but evangelism is very difficult for me.
First, I’m an introvert. INTJ according to Briggs-Myers.
Second, I’m a third-generation Church of Christ member. I live and work in the middle of the Bible Belt. I went to a Christian college. My friends are all Christians.
And I’ve got several more very persuasive excuses. My situation is also pretty typical of church elders. For a man to have the exposure and experience in church leadership to be an elder, he likely is deeply embedded in church life — and so he likely has few friends who aren’t Christians. In fact, most of his friends will be members of his congregation.
Now, this is not wrong — but it’s a problem. It’s especially a problem when an elder advocates for greater emphasis on evangelism. Someone (typically a minister) will say, “I don’t think we can be an evangelistic church unless the elders lead by example.” At that point, the elders change the subject.
Well, that’s a problem. And I don’t have any great, brilliant answers, but I do have a few thoughts to consider —
- Several books have been written denying that there is a “gift of evangelism.” The author obviously wishes to take a lack of giftedness away as an excuse. But good intentions don’t justify bad theology. Yes, some people really do have gifts that make them better evangelists than the rest of us. I’ve seen it. They should be identified, equipped, and encouraged to use those gifts to build the Kingdom.
- Whether you intend to or not, how you organize your ministries either encourages or discourages evangelism. If you tell your small groups to take turns cutting the grass, you are plainly saying that evangelism is neither required nor expected. If evangelism is never preached from the pulpit, people will figure out that the preacher has no heart for evangelism. If the elders plan the worship to please the members, especially the older members, with no concern for guests, they’ve obviously given up on evangelism. And the church will follow their unspoken priorities.
These realizations lead to certain conclusions:
- You can encourage evangelism by how you manage your ministries. If you’re evangelistically sensitive in what you do — and if you explain this as you go — the church will catch your vision.
- That is, if you ask small groups to make a point of inviting friends and church visitors to their meetings, you’ve make evangelism a part of small groups without having to do anything terribly elaborate.
- If you plan worship with visitors in mind, and tell members when you are planning a special service and encourage them to invite friends and family, they’ll be glad to do so — and they’ll see that their leaders have a heart for evangelism.
- You should invest time in training all members in the very basics of the basics. That is, remind them to give up their seat for a visitor. To look for visitors to speak to during the “meet and greet” and before and after services. (My congregation is very good at this.) To invite visitors to lunch. (Most will say no, but all will be impressed.) To invite visitors to your Bible class and small group — and to escort them to the classroom. To help the visitors get their kids to the children’s wing. To greet visitors — even though you’re not part of the greeter team. (Not one sermon every five years. This should be covered over and over.)
- It’s fashionable to be opposed to being an “attractional church” — if you’re a young minister. They need to get over it. I’m all for getting out into the community to serve, but you’ll never be too wise and holy to be friendly to a visitor.
- The preacher should personally call all visitors immediately after church (not family from out of town who aren’t moving to town — actual membership prospects). Sunday afternoon is a great time. This is not written in the Bible, but the churches where the minister cares enough to call grow.
- I know of a church that makes a point to train its members how to act like Christians in order to invite others to Jesus. The pastor (it’s a Baptist Church) encourages his members to tip 20% every time they eat out. He wants every restaurant in town to know that members of XYZ Church care about waiters and waitresses. He coaches the members to initiate spiritual conversations: “Is there something going on in your life that I could pray for?” Somehow he got the idea that people should be glad to see a member of XYZ Church coming because they are never rude, always thoughtful, and always striking up pleasant, friendly conversations with perfect strangers.
- Patrick Mead tells a convicting story of a mission trip to Scotland. One of his missionary companions was upset with a local merchant and hatefully chewed out the cashier over a $5 error. Patrick confronted the man saying, “You just sold her soul to the devil for $5!” The following Sunday, they ran into her visiting at the congregation they’d flown across the Atlantic to help. They’d paid $5,000 to do mission work, and then threw it all away for $5! (I may have some of the details wrong. Patrick’s sermon was a very long time ago.)
- Please ask your members to stop posting hateful political material on Facebook — regardless of party. After all, NO ONE has ever been persuaded by Facebook, and it makes Christians look petty and uninformed and mean-spirited. If you need an outlet for your anger (and, trust me, I sympathize), join the Republican or Democratic Party in your town and get involved in politics. Or set up a weekly breakfast meeting with friends to talk politics. But please, please, please, stop reposting (and retweeting) political materials. It reflects badly on Jesus — and will hurt your ability to evangelize. (This would be a great sermon topic: how social media will use you for Satan unless you use it for Jesus.)
A few more ideas to kick around.
- Matt Dabbs has posted an excellent series on how a church can become evangelistic.
- Benchmark. Find a Church of Christ that has been effective at evangelism — rather than transfer growth — as much like you as possible. Then interview the elders or preacher and ask how they do it. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Learn from others.
- Testimonies. Have the member who is rarely gifted in evangelism speak on how she does it. Have a member who felt incapable of evangelism share how he brought a friend to Jesus despite his fears. Have a new convert tell his story of finding Jesus — and how your congregation helped him do that. Share your stories.
- The idea of reaching out into the community to seek and save the lost is not wrong. It just shouldn’t be considered opposed to inviting people to church. Do both.
- When you do good works in the community, give God the glory. Don’t blend in. Let it be known that you’re there for the sake of Jesus. (Read The Church of Irresistible Influence.)
In conclusion —
A while ago, I wrote a brief series on Direct Hit. Read the series, or better yet, buy and read the book. It’s a good one.