Every pastor I know wants to grow his church by leading people to Christ. If that’s you, you’re in good company. If you’re succeeding at it, you’re in rare company.
According to the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, only 10% of our churches are succeeding at leading people to Christ. 90% of American churches are either not growing, or only growing because Christians are leaving other churches to join theirs.
Sharing our faith is supposed to be our main thing, but it looks like we pretty much suck at it.
In last month’s PastorMentor survey we asked pastors and church leaders what new skill they would like to learn. Their number one answer was to help their church improve in the areas of evangelism and discipleship. I’m exceedingly encouraged by this. Evangelism and discipleship are the vital mission of the church. I can’t imagine anything more God-glorifying that church leaders saying, “I want to get better at the things that are central to Jesus’ mission.”
Why isn’t evangelism happening more, or better? Thom Ranier asked pastors why churches aren’t evangelistic. He got a fistful of finger pointing:
- Church membership is more about getting my needs met than reaching the lost.
- Churches do not want to share the truth of the Gospel for fear they will offend others.
- Our churches have too many activities. They are too busy to do the things that really matter.
What went wrong with the harvest? It’s tempting to blame society, or the inward-focus of our churches. But let’s face it, everything rises and falls on leadership.
If evangelism isn’t a priority in our churches, the responsibility lies with us.
The weak state of evangelism these days is a leadership issue. It’s our responsibility as pastors and church leaders to lead our churches to be evangelistic.
Effective Evangelism Is a Journey
Fresh out of seminary, I was terrible at evangelism.
Yes, I had taken the required evangelism class, but I didn’t have a heart for lost people. My excuse for not caring was “I don’t have the gift of evangelism.” It took being lost in the middle of the night in a strange city and a whisper from God to launch my journey into evangelism. Looking at a map by the side of the road at 2 a.m., the Lord said to me, “This is what it feels like to be lost.” I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone.
These days we do nine main things around New Song that make us evangelistically effective.
We don’t do them perfectly. We still have a long way to go. We continue to work at them every week, month, and year. But step by step, we’ve become a church where an average of three people a day come to Christ. I once thought evangelism was the evangelist’s responsibility. Now I know that it is the God-ordained commission of every church and every believer.
I’m convinced that if you push to make evangelism a value and habit in your church, you will see people come to Christ regularly. God will and wants to bless your efforts!
9 Practices of Evangelistically Effective Churches
1. Get your heart right.
For me, it was praying a short prayer that I learned at the conference where I got lost. I was challenged to pray this prayer every day for 90 days. It changed my life.
“Lord, I don’t ask you for much. I just ask you to give me your heart for lost people.”
Thirty days into that prayer, I joined a fitness group so I could get to know lost people. Sixty days in, I broke down in a grocery store line because it occurred to me that of the fifty people standing in lines near me, forty of them were probably going to hell. By the end of the ninety days I was willing to become a church planter, because church planting is the most effective means under heaven to reach people for the Gospel.
These days, I spend my time at stoplights praying for the people in cars around me. I do the same in grocery store lines, at the bank, and at the post office. I swim almost every day at my local YMCA, and every day I look for the other regulars, nodding, smiling, or saying, “Hi” to them in hopes that one day I’ll get a chance to share Christ or invite them to church. Yesterday I swam next to Kevin. Kevin came to church on Christmas Eve two years ago. A year ago he told me that he’d like to go to lunch with me. Yesterday I said, “Let’s go to lunch soon.” With some, evangelism is a slow process, but I believe Kevin will find Jesus one day.
What I’ve learned is this: If I’m called to lead a local church, I can’t expect anyone to be out in front of me. If I want my church to bleed for lost people, I have to hemorrhage for them.
2. Lead your board and staff.
As you develop a heart for the lost, you want to help your board and staff develop that same heart.
In my journey, I found myself wanting to be able to answer the questions pre-Christians ask. I decided to learn those answers by doing what teachers do: I taught a class on them. I called it, “Answering the Questions Pre-Christians Ask.” During that study, a group of us not only learned answers to questions, we cultivated hearts for the lost together.
Ten years after that original study, I wrote The God Questions so I could lead my whole church in learning answers and cultivating hearts. I recommend you take your board and staff through this study.
Organizational change is bumpy even over things that don’t matter; when eternity is at stake, you can expect struggles. Don’t let them stop you.
3. Plan a sermon series to open up your congregation’s heart for lost people.
Once you’ve infected your board and staff with a love for the lost, it’s time to spread it to your congregation. Preach a three-week series to get them bleeding for lost people with you.
4. Set the date for a church campaign.
A church campaign gets everyone moving in the same direction because the sermon series, the small group materials, and the personal studies focus everyone on learning the same Biblical truths and principles.
Choose a campaign that is highly attractional and you have a strong pull for visitors.
An attractional sermon series addresses a felt need of the people in your community. That’s usually family, money, or purpose in life. Unchurched people will more likely come to church hoping to find a solution to the problems they face. They will find out once they start coming that the solution they really need is Jesus.
5. Teach your church to be inviters.
It’s time to ask yourself why your congregation doesn’t invite their unchurched friends to church. There are three reasons, at least:
- They don’t have unchurched friends.
- They don’t know how to speak up and invite them.
- And worst, they don’t trust that their friends will have a good experience at your church.
It can be a rough start when you decide to do something to reach people. You get everything ready so unchurched people will want to come to your church, and then…crickets.
You can sweep away those crickets by addressing the unspoken barriers.
Teach your congregation about strategic patronage – building a redemptive relationship with their hair stylist, the other parents on their kid’s soccer team, or the grocery store clerk.
Give them invite cards for the series. These are business card-size and have the name of the series, the dates, the service times, a map, and about your program for kids. We put these in the programs for two weeks leading up to the series and encourage everyone to pray and to boldly invite the people they know.
We do two or three attractional series every year so it’s normal for our congregation to be thinking about who they know who needs Jesus.
6. Work on being a church that visitors want to come to.
Every expectant couple goes into “nesting” mode a few months before they give birth. They paint walls, buy baby furniture, plan the route to the hospital, make arrangements with relatives, etc.
The same goes for churches that expect newborns. They invest in facilities, making sure their walls are painted, carpets are clean, bathrooms smell nice, and whatever needs fixing gets fixed. These may costs some money, but what parents aren’t willing to make sacrifices for their children?
First time guests usually make a decision about whether they will return based on their first few minutes’ experience. If your parking lot is messy, or if finding the front door is confusing, you’ve already lost them. If no one greets them, or if they’re just pointed (not taken) to the children’s area or auditorium, they may decide they’re not welcome.
Modern parents feel the need for secure areas for their children. Does your church have a check-in system to make sure that each child is identified and can’t be picked up by a stranger (or former spouse)? If not, create a system.
Once inside the auditorium, the last thing a newcomer wants is to be singled out as a newcomer. Announcing from the stage, “If this is your first time with us, please raise your hand,” is one of the worst things you can do to your precious guests.
Instead, train your people to LINE-UP:
- LOOK for someone new.
- INTRODUCE yourself.
- NEVER sit alone. (Invite your new friend to sit with you.)
- ENGAGE in conversation after the service.
- USE your church’s newcomer’s lunch to invite people to get to know the church leadership.
- PRACTICE the 3/10 rule: talk to 3 people you don’t know for the first 10 minutes after the service. Your friends will still be there when these 10 minutes are up, but newcomers leave quickly, so engage with them first.
You can overcome the barriers that keep newcomers out of your church by teaching members to build new relationships with lost people, by equipping them with invite cards and modeling how to use them, and by sprucing up your facility and your weekend teams.
7. Use marketing to reach further into your community.
Teaching your congregation to be inviters will reach the people they know, but you want to go beyond that circle, further into your community.
For the sake of the Gospel, maybe it’s time to consider marketing.
You can use social media. You may want to run some inexpensive Facebook ads. You can get a banner for your series from Outreach, Inc. to put on the street in front of your church. You could do a postcard mailing.
Where does the money for marketing come from?
- Designate all or part of an offering.
- Ask a donor for a special gift.
- Or set a very small budget.
8. Follow up with all your newcomers and especially with new believers.
There is a better chance that people who receive Christ will come back to church, but don’t take it for granted.
We also have a team of next step mentors in place who are ready to begin a few weeks of one-on-one new life in Christ meetings with new believers.
9. Provide personal evangelism training and opportunities for evangelistic missions trips.
In John 4:29, the woman at the well went into her village and invited everyone to “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did.” Many Samaritans believed that day because of her invitation.
Andrew did something similar with his brother Peter in John 1:40.
In Mark 5:19, Jesus told a freshly-healed man, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you.” In Acts 5:20, the Angel of the Lord told the apostles, “Go, stand in the temple courts and tell the people the full message of this new life.”
“Come and see” and “go and tell” are two major New Testament evangelism strategies.
“Go and tell” can be intimidating when the person is your neighbor, but not when it’s a person far away. There’s something exciting enough about sharing your faith in a foreign setting that often people will sign up for an evangelistic missions trip and get trained in one or more methods of sharing their faith.
While on the field, they’ll lead several people to Christ and then return home with a renewed desire and confidence to invite neighbors into a relationship with Jesus.
At New Song, we offer personal evangelism training classes on a regular basis. People are busy enough that they usually skip these opportunities – until they decide they want to take a missions trip. Then they jump in and learn how to share their faith.
Over the years, almost half the people we’ve led to Christ have been on missions trips. The other half are “come and see” invitees who come to Christ in our church services or other ministries. Combining these two strategies seems to provide a reinforcing power to each.
We have a tool that will capture these strategies and help you work out how they apply in your situation. You can find it in the Pastor’s Personal Toolbox. It’s a library of our best tools and resources — all in one place. Tap below to learn all about it, and learn how to lead your church to have an evangelism strategy.
I am praying for you as you lead your church to be evangelistically effective.
Start Here to learn more about the resources available for you at PastorMentor.