7 Fuels for Evangelism in the Established Church
There is no shortage of voices bemoaning the state of the established church in America. A common theme among these books, blogs, sermons, and podcasts is the claim that the established church is failing miserably when it comes to evangelistic urgency and effectiveness. This reality demands a solution. It’s not helpful to simply point out that something is broken if we can’t propose viable answers to address the issue. If my wife tells me that she hears a dripping sound coming from our kitchen, she is looking for more than a mere acknowledgement like, “Yep, the sinks leaking.” She wants me to do something or, in my case, call someone who can. Established church leaders can, and must, find ways to fuel the fires of evangelism in the churches they lead. [quote]Established church leaders can, and must, find ways to fuel the fires of evangelism in the churches they lead.[/quote]
We are prone to assume that the way to address this issue, and all others, is through preaching and teaching. If our churches aren’t giving, well surely the answer is a clever preaching series on generosity, right? Yet, a lack of information is rarely the problem when it comes to evangelism. You are not likely to meet many Christians who do not know they should evangelize. But, when they start to take steps towards actually talking about Jesus it feels like they are back at a middle school dance—they get queasy, feel awkward, and hang out on the sidelines rather than risk embarrassing themselves. Telling them that they should be on the dance floor simply won’t do the trick. Effective leaders know this and they add these seven fuels to the churches they lead.
Model Evangelistic Passion
First, pastors and leaders begin by modeling a passion for personal evangelism. If you are in a position of influence in the established church and want to bring change, the place to start is to ensure that you are actually sharing the gospel. Sadly, it’s far too common for the pastor or leader to be just as apathetic or negligent as the people in the church. If this is the case, the church hears sermons on evangelism that ring hollow because they know the leader isn’t modeling what he’s teaching. This fuel requires that leaders create margin in their schedules and get out of the church building in order to actually build relationships with people who are far from God. [quote]This fuel requires that leaders create margin in their schedules and get out of the church building in order to actually build relationships with people who are far from God.[/quote]
We create a culture by celebrating wins. In order to create an evangelistic culture, leaders must find ways to share stories of those who are trusting God and seeing fruit as they talk to others about Jesus. This can be a delicate challenge. If you are not careful it can appear like you, or those you celebrate, are merely flaunting their godliness for the approval of others. To combat this temptation, it’s wise to share stories of both success and failure, diversify those who are sharing, and work to ensure that the credit is given to God. One effective way to do this might be to allow someone who has shared the gospel and witnessed a person trust in Christ be the one who baptizes that person. This allows the church to visibly see life transformation as a fruit of evangelistic intentionality.
Know Your Community
God has strategically located church buildings throughout North America in communities in need of the gospel. Over time, however, many of these communities have changed drastically and churches have failed to develop intentional strategies to contextualize the gospel to those who live within walking distance of the church. Not only does this practice squander a valuable opportunity for the gospel, it also teaches people to neglect their space as well. A God who is intentional to place church buildings in communities, is also placing Christians in businesses, schools, gyms, and neighborhoods so that they can take responsibility for sharing the gospel in those spaces. Churches who are led to take ownership for their immediate community are likely to train people to do the same in their lives. [quote]Churches who are led to take ownership for their immediate community are likely to train people to do the same in their lives.[/quote]
A major impediment to evangelism in the established church is the expectations leaders place on their members. Many of these churches are built around a buffet of programs designed to foster the spiritual lives of its members. These programs, while often well-meaning, tend to pluck people out of their communities, eat up hours upon hours of discretionary time, and leave the church’s members with little margin to grill out with their neighbors or go to a ballgame with a co-worker. Leaders in the established church must be willing to make difficult decisions to streamline programs in order to give their people the space they need to do evangelism well.
Utilize Evangelistic Gifts
Many established churches are led by those with high preaching, leading, or shepherding gifts. Yet, God has promised to give his church the gifts necessary to equip the church for the ministries to which it has been called (Eph 4:12). This means that God has embedded those with gifts in evangelism in the church in order to foster the growth of all of God’s people in this area. These men and women should be elevated to positions where they can train and model evangelism for the broader church and foster the growth of those with gifts in this area as well.
Use Simple Tools
Leaders should also work to provide members of the church with simple tools to build their confidence in sharing the gospel. Too often, it seems, people are overwhelmed with the scope of the message of Jesus. There’s just so much to tell. How do you know what to share? How should you present the truth of the gospel? In a reaction against stale tracts or canned presentations, many have abandoned tools altogether, assuming that if people are truly followers of Jesus then they will naturally know how to share the gospel. The reality is that most do not, or if they do, they don’t know how to present the message in a clear way in the natural flow of a conversation. A simple tool can empower church members to speak, and speak clearly when they do.
Don’t Believe the Hype
We live in an overstated age. Blogs, books, and tweets get attention when they are bold and brash, not nuanced and thoughtful. Claims regarding evangelism are no exception. Is it true that the established church often struggles with evangelistic fervor? Certainly. Do we need to take steps to mobilize all of God’s people to share the good news? Yes. Is it true that it is impossible for established churches to create an evangelistic culture? NO. Is the established church a relic of a bygone era that we should discard for a more effective evangelistic vehicle? NO. Empowered by God’s Spirit and equipped by God-appointed leaders, the established church can regain its evangelistic passion and play a critical role in seeing to it that all people have an opportunity to hear and respond to the good news of Jesus.