Cultivating Sustainable Growth in Our Personal Evangelism

by Rick Richardson and Kerilee Van Schooten

Around this time of year, we often have a list of several New Year’s resolutions. We commit to breaking old habits and making new ones, but often the changes don’t last long. We have the best of intentions in January and stay disciplined for a couple weeks, but we’re lucky if we’re still committed to our goals by the time March rolls around.

When making New Year’s resolutions, we have a genuine desire to see change in our lives in areas that we truly care about, but it seems inevitable that we eventually get distracted, discouraged, and defeated along the way.

Oftentimes, the same thing happens with our desire to grow in evangelism. We set out to share the gospel and manage to stay committed for several weeks, but then it slowly drops off our radar as the rest of life takes over again.

How do we break the cycle of good intentions and learn to share God’s love and truth in an ongoing way?

When it comes to growing in evangelism, we can learn a lot from leaders in secular spheres who teach on personal leadership and development. As I highlight a few of these leadership principles and connect them to our personal evangelism, I want to encourage you to take the time to apply them to your own life. As we intentionally put these principles into practice, I believe we will begin to see evangelistic growth that will last.

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey explains that an important leadership principle is to “Begin with the end in mind.” We often envision where we want to be in our career, our family life, or our finances in the next 5 to 10 years.

Having the big picture perspective provides clarity for the next steps we need to take and helps us have the perseverance we need in order to not get discouraged by setbacks. In order to see sustainable growth in our personal evangelism, we need to treat evangelism the same way.

Application for Evangelism: Take 10-15 minutes and envision what you would like evangelism to look like in your life in the next 5-10 years. Invite God into the process as you dream about your future. 

In The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, John Maxwell discusses several principles that are critical if we want to break out of old ruts and experience the change we long to see.

In the Law of Trade-Offs, Maxwell explains that in order to say “Yes” to something, there are always several other things we will need to say “No” to. Oftentimes, we experience setbacks from reaching our goals because we are not aware of or prepared to make the sacrifices required along the way. Being aware of what we will need to sacrifice will empower us to stay faithful to our commitments.

Application for Evangelism: Grab a pen and a piece of paper, and jot down 2-3 things that you will need to sacrifice in order to grow in evangelism.

The Law of Reflection teaches us that “learning to pause allows growth to catch up with you.” Moments of stillness are hard to come by in our busy lives, but it is critical to carve out time to reflect on our experiences, because that is when we can grow in self-awareness and integrate the lessons more intentionally into the rest of our lives.

Application for Evangelism: After having a spiritual conversation with someone, take 10 minutes to reflect on what you learned about evangelism and how that will shape your next conversation.

Through the Law of Pain, Maxwell demonstrates how “good management of bad experiences leads to great growth. No one enjoys failure and many people shy away from evangelism out of a sense of inadequacy or even a fear of failure. If we shift our definition of success from achieving a goal to achieving growth, we can begin to embrace apparent failures as stepping stones along the way.

Application for Evangelism: Acknowledge and embrace the fact that you won’t share the gospel perfectly the first time around, or even the 100th time. Commit to learn and grow through your mistakes.

In the Law of the Mirror, Maxwell invites us to take a closer look at our own self-perceptions. If we expect ourselves to fail before we’ve even attempted anything, the outcome will never be good enough. On the flip side, if we are confident that we have what it takes to succeed, then even the small victories become reasons to celebrate.

Application for Evangelism: Acknowledge that God will equip us to do His will (Heb. 13:21) and intentionally celebrate small victories as you grow in evangelism.

The bottom line of the Law of Modeling is that “it’s hard to improve when you have no one but yourself to follow. We see this law at work in many different spheres of our lives: we get physical trainers help us reach our fitness goals; therapists and counselors help us reach goals in our emotional health; and investment bankers help us reach our financial goals.

If we want our growth to be sustainable, we cannot afford to go it alone. We need mentors and coaches along the way, and the same is true for evangelism.

Application for Evangelism: Think of someone you know who has experience in outreach and evangelism. Meet with him or her for coffee or tea, and see what you can learn from his or her experiences.

Here is a final law, maybe the most important, that we have discovered from our work with churches and pastors all over the country. You might call it the law of inspection. Scripture would probably call it the law of accountability. You will fulfill what you expect when you inspect.

What we have found is that everyone who loves Jesus and wants to be His witness needs an infusion of encouragement, problem solving, recalibrating, and accountability every 30 days in order to stay on track and avoid letting mission drift set in.

Application for evangelism: Find a friend or two to meet with monthly to check in on your evangelism temperature, share stories, and problem solve with each other. We have found no other discipline is more transforming!

As we take steps to apply these principles to our evangelism, may we be encouraged and empowered by the reminder that all things are possible with God, even keeping New Year’s resolutions the whole year through!


Rick Richardson (@reimaginer) is evangelism fellow at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, professor of intercultural studies at Wheaton College, and director of the MA in Evangelism and Leadership and the MA in Missional Church Movements degrees. Rick consults widely with churches on evangelism and healing and reconciliation for the emerging generation and on contemporary missional churches and missional movements.

Kerilee Van Schooten is research coordinator at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.