by Rick Richardson
Pastors today are facing several challenges that make it tough to lead their churches into evangelism. With a trend towards tolerance, evangelism and ‘trying to convert’ others are often a major turn off in broader American and Western culture. Within the Church, compassion and justice ministries have become more affirmed and applauded, and so it’s often easier to focus our outreach efforts in those areas.
Additionally, many younger Evangelicals don’t even necessarily want to identify as Evangelical and would rather focus on the inclusion of others than on the message that rejecting Jesus leads to exclusion from the presence of God.
With these cultural odds stacked against us, how do we keep ourselves from becoming defeated in sharing our faith? More than that, how do we become effective in leading others in the area of evangelism? Here are five simple steps that will help us lead our churches into fulfilling the call to make disciples.
Commit to being a witness, even if you’re not an evangelist. The truth is that not everyone is an evangelist. In fact, many pastors are not gifted in evangelism, but that doesn’t mean we don’t tell others about what God has done for us through Jesus. Although Jesus gives His disciples different spiritual gifts, He commissions all of us to be His witnesses and testify to what He has done (Acts 1:8, Matt. 4:19, John 20:21).
Later in scripture, Paul exhorts Timothy to do the work of an evangelist, even though that probably wasn’t his primary gifting (2 Tim. 4:5). In order to shift the tide of evangelism in our churches, we must first take greater ownership of it ourselves.
Model personal evangelism that your people can imitate. Too many pastors have limited their outreach to only include those who walk through the church doors, brought by the people in their church. Pastors have often stopped reaching out in their own everyday lives. There may be many legitimate reasons for this, but if we want to see our churches become vibrant in evangelism, we begin by modeling outreach that our people can imitate!
This means that we need to set an example of reaching out to others wherever we run into them– whether in our neighborhood, at the local Starbucks, through the activities of our kids, or through our own personal hobbies. As church leaders, if we are not missional in our everyday lives, our people will not be missional either. We cannot lead what we are not living.
Expect unchurched people to attend your ministries. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we prepare for and structure our services and ministries based on who we expect to attend. If we don’t expect unchurched people to be there, we may find ourselves using insider language that would likely be confusing for a first-time guest. It’s essential to anticipate unchurched people in our congregations and to make sure we translate the insider language so that unchurched people can understand and relate.
Granted, expecting unchurched people to show up at our events and ministries and then preparing for them is not always easy. It will require us to invest more time and energy into preparation; however, it will go a long way toward motivating our people to invite unchurched people, as well as making visitors feel welcomed. It will also powerfully demonstrate the love of God, who goes out of His way to communicate to us in ways that we can understand.
I am not saying our worship service ought to be focused on unchurched people. I am saying that our worship service ought to be as hospitable for unchurched people as we can possibly make it. After all, the worship service is still the most likely place unchurched people will first connect to our congregation.
Integrate an evangelistic edge into everything you lead. No matter what ministry you lead, it is possible to cultivate an evangelistic edge – and it is critical that you do so! For example, if you provide meals for your people who are sick or grieving, a natural way to incorporate outreach would be to begin providing that care to the unchurched people in your networks and neighborhoods as well.
If you greet friends at church, be intentional about greeting strangers and new people with equal warmth. If you teach your people to budget, save, and give, take the time to teach the unchurched to budget, save, and give as well. As we expand our circle of concern to include unchurched individuals, we will begin to draw people not only into our church communities, but also into the family of God.
Seek out accountability! As Bill Hybels likes to say, “Vision leaks.” We have found, “Evangelism evaporates!” If we don’t have people in our lives with whom we share our outreach stories and struggles, mission drift will inevitably set in. It honestly doesn’t take long for evangelism to slip off of our list of priorities, so we all need people to cheer us on and help us move past our own evangelism related barriers.
Accountability is the deal-maker when it comes to evangelism. Without it, our best intentions and efforts will eventually fizzle out. But with it, we will begin to see evangelism effectively integrated into every aspect of our lives.
The world longs to see genuine care and servanthood extended not just to our own fellow believers, but to all! In the midst of a cultural climate that seems dead set against evangelism, we have an incredible opportunity to lead our congregations into effective and vibrant love for God and people that draws the unchurched toward Jesus.
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.