You’re a church leader and have a heart for the lost in your community, but your church members don’t seem to share your passion. You desperately want your congregation to become more focused on reaching the lost, but you’re not sure where to start. How do you help a church that’s traditionally been inwardly focused change? How do you help the church members you’re serving develop a passion for reaching the lost?
For the last couple of years I’ve received a steady stream of questions in the form of phone calls and emails from people around the country about this issue (and let me tell you – we’re ALL in trouble when people start coming to me for answers!).
My dad and I were talking about this on the way to the deer woods the other day, and I jotted down some thoughts on a legal pad while I was sitting on my stand. He requested a copy of them, and I just finished typing them up.
Since this is a hot topic, I thought I’d share the notes here.
Here you go (note: these are rough, but they’re just notes!):
Helping the Local Church Become Evangelistic
- Begins with Leadership
Leadership and teaching determines direction. Church leadership must determine that evangelism is going to be a priority, and the vision for and high priority of reaching the lost for Christ must be clearly articulated. Evangelism should be brought up regularly in teaching. The goal is to get church members to internalize the message “my mission as a follower of Christ is to bring Jesus to a lost world!” Once a congregation internalizes that message, they’ll make it part of their everyday thinking and conversation – it becomes contagious!
- Leaders must model evangelistic priority
In addition to talking about evangelism, leaders must model what it means to be evangelistic. Church members should see leaders sharing Jesus with others themselves – this is the only way to give your call to be evangelistic credibility. All talk + no action = zero credibility and zero change in your congregation.
- Evangelists and new converts should be recognized and encouraged
Time should be set aside during corporate assemblies (like Sunday morning) for the people who studied with a new convert to introduce them to the rest of the church. Baptisms should never simply be a bullet point in the bulletin – or, even worse – not recognized at all! Special attention and an extra helping of encouragement should be given to new Christians, and evangelists should be given plenty of pats on the back too.
- o NOTE: Evangelists should be warned about impure motivations. It’s ok to feel good after being recognized for bringing someone to the Lord, but those pats on the back should neverbecome the primary motivator for being evangelistic! Serving God should, seeing someone’s life change for the better should, and carrying out Jesus’ command to reach a lost world in His name should. All glory goes to God, and evangelists must check their motives. Satan will do whatever he can to puff someone up – evangelists must remain humble.
- Individual members should be equipped to perform personal Bible studies
If you want your church to truly be evangelistic at its core, intentional steps should be taken to equip members to perform personal, evangelistic Bible studies. The #1 reason most people say they don’t share their faith is because they’re afraid to, and the #1 reason they’re afraid to is because they don’t know where to start. Evangelistic Bible studies give a novice evangelist a starting point. Over time and with additional study, most who regularly practice sharing their faith will come to a point where it’s very comfortable for them, but they’ll never get there without starting somewhere. Ideally, we should all know Scripture well enough to study with someone without a study guide, but most people aren’t there. Thus, church members should be equipped with an effective evangelistic study to serve as a starting point for further skill development.
- o NOTE: In the past, churches making the transition from being inwardly focused to being outwardly focused have set aside class time on Sunday mornings to take the entire congregation through equipping sessions by training them in evangelistic study. Churches I’m familiar with that have done this have had great success.
- Identify your church’s evangelists, and get them to train other members
Get your evangelists to reproduce themselves by bringing other church members along when they’re studying with someone. This is the best way to help evangelists-in-training overcome the jitters. When going through a study, the person being trained should be required to take notes over it to hand to the person being studied with at the end. In addition to being useful to the person being studied with, this practice will help the trainee internalize the message of the evangelistic study. The note taker should write legibly, and the person being studied with should be instructed to go home, look over the notes, and write down any questions they might have to be dealt with next time.
- In addition to Bible studies, each member should learn to use their own story to share Jesus with others
Everyone has a story, and stories are meant to be shared. No two stories are alike – all are unique. Some people’s conversion stories are very dramatic (like Paul’s story leading up to seeing Jesus on the Damascus Road) – others are less dramatic, but still very powerful (like the disciples who recognized Jesus on the Emmaus Road). Time should regularly be set aside (once a month or every six weeks) for testimonies to be shared in the assembly – especially those of new convert’s. Unless someone is an experienced public speaker, it would probably be a good idea for those sharing to meet with a leader ahead of time to structure their testimony in the form of an outline (or to simply write the whole thing down to read it), and it would also be a good idea to encourage them to go over it a couple of times in advance. Those too shy to share in a large assembly could do it on video (editing video is very easy with Windows Movie Maker – a free program that comes with XP and Vista), and if that’s still too much they could do it in a small group. Testimonies should be shared with as many people as possible (like on Sunday mornings). This serves three main purposes: 1) It keeps the congregation focused on its evangelistic mission because they’re constantly hearing about lives being transformed around them. 2) Its good practice for believers in articulating how Jesus saved them. Their story will be a very powerful tool in their own personal evangelism. 3) People sharing their faith in Jesus publicly are making a profound declaration in front of a lot of people – they’re saying that they’re living their lives according to God’s will, and God will bless that confession and encourage others through it. In addition to that, they’ll be expected to walk what they talk giving them needed accountability. Because of this, it’s a good idea for new converts should share their testimony in front of as many people as possible as soon as possible.
- Outwardly focused small groups should be part of your evangelistic strategy
Often, small groups will be your initial contact point with outsiders, but only if church members involved are actively befriending outsiders and regularly inviting new people. When a relationship exists, outsiders will often be more likely to attend an informal Bible study in someone’s home before they’ll attend a Sunday service or before they’ll agree to a personal study.
- Effective evangelism involves more than simply passion – it involves skill
In his book The Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren points out the fact that effective ministry takes more than passion or want to – it takes skill. The same is true of effective personal evangelism. Yes, some of your church members have a gift for evangelism and will be very comfortable exercising it freely, but all of your church members should be evangelistic regardless of their giftedness. That being said, effective evangelism takes a certain amount of skill, and skill must be developed. Skill development takes dedication, time, and, most of all, practice! Most of your church members will be incredibly uncomfortable when initially engaging in personal evangelism, but the more they do it the easier it will become. Familiarity brings comfort, and when you consider the fact that Jesus Christ is the only avenue for a lost world to come into contact with the Living God thereby being saved, we as God’s people should be very familiar and comfortable with sharing the Good News with others, and if we’re not we have a responsibility to remedy that! The more experience in personal evangelism a person has the more skill they will develop, and experience only comes with practice. Fear is overcome by allowing the message of Jesus to overflow – share it!