Evangelism. I have never met a pastor who thought evangelism wasn’t essential or even commanded. As Christians, we know what the Bible says about reaching the lost and the importance of sharing our faith journey with others.
The sad reality is that many churches are just not reaching people far from Christ. Yes, fellowship and discipleship are essential; but I would also suggest that discipleship cannot be divorced from the responsibility of evangelizing.
If we are trying to live the great commission, why are we not doing more to reach more people? Somewhere along the road, many churches lost their zeal for reaching those without Christ — not in theory, but more in practice.
Moving a church to think about and engage in the responsibility of evangelism requires a particular culture and mentality. These are probably among the more difficult qualities a church can attempt to create.
How can we ever become comfortable watching someone walk into hell?
Evangelism is scary and it goes against almost everything in our American culture. Americans are the world’s highest consumers of goods. As a result, too many of our church attendees have become consumers when it comes to church.
I saw it happen in my church. People will give their money with the expectation they will receive a certain amount of goods and services in return.
If we want to reach the lost in our community, we need to help our people learn to stop asking, “What is in it for me?” and start asking, “What will it take to reach my neighbor?”
One of the most selfless things a church can do is focus on reaching people far from Christ. He gave us a great example of this. Jesus didn’t come for the righteous — but for the sick and the sinner (Mark 2:17).
How can we ever become comfortable watching someone walk into hell?
If we want to create a culture of evangelism in our churches, I believe we must do several things:
Make prayer a regular practice. Consider praying at every gathering for those who don’t know God. Pray about your responsibility as a church and as individuals when it comes to evangelism. I have been inspired by others who regularly pray God would allow them to be directly involved in seeing someone come to faith in Jesus. What could happen if this was a regular prayer of the church?
2. Model in their midst
Leaders create culture. Culture tends to be developed more from modeling desired behavior than from telling others what they should do. If it is vital for the church to be on its game when it comes to evangelism, then it is even more critical for the leaders to model this in their daily lives.
Take time to share stories of the wins and the losses. Your people not only need to be inspired by the successes that come along the way, but also by seeing that the pastor isn’t God’s most excellent evangelist.
Allow failures to encourage others to reveal their faith journey, knowing not everyone they talk to will receive Jesus on the spot. Moreover, take time to celebrate those who do share their faith.
3. Paint a picture
To create a culture of evangelism in your church, you have to create a circle of concern. Paint a picture in which people see faces of those they are connected to who are far from Jesus.
Ask them to think of people who live nearby, such as a neighbor, coworker, family member or someone in their daily routine. Awareness is key to growing concern and ultimately creating culture.
4. Help people develop a plan
Now that you have worked at creating awareness, many people don’t have a clue about what to do next. There are three stages of evangelism you can guide people to understand: cultivate, plant and reap. Teach people how to cultivate relationships and engage in spiritual conversations.
Relationship is key. Don’t look at your neighbors as a project. Look at them as someone to love.
Healthy relationships will open doors to more in-depth conversations that lead to spiritual discussions. But first, get to know your neighbors by learning their names and understanding who is in their home. Eventually you can bridge to the church questions, which springboard you to being able to talk about and share the gospel.
Don’t look at your neighbors as a project. Look at them as someone to love.
5. Give people words to say
Take time to teach people the story of redemption — God, man, Jesus, response (and critical Bible verses that support the story). If people are getting this training in your church, you are well on your way to creating a culture of evangelism.
However, many church members just need help in knowing where or how to get started. Sometimes, they have a hard time talking to non-Christians merely because they are so used to talking to Christians. Teach them how to plant seeds using one sentence that gets sprinkled into a normal conversation. Keep it simple.
6. Create consistent reminders
It is easy for leaders to think, Because I said it once, everyone automatically gets it. Seldom is that true. People tend to forget. Find ways to keep the urgency of evangelism present in the daily routine.
Reminders can be anything from a bookmark, a business card they keep in their car, a wristband or a refrigerator magnet.
Taking time to celebrate regularly also reinforces the importance of this evangelism mission. Every time there is a baptism or a high-attendance weekend, link it to life change and stories of impact.
What gets celebrated gets repeated. The areas in which we lack discipline are the very areas we need to add structure. What does this look like in your current context?
7. Follow up for the future
Church leaders need to remember we are not in the business of making decisions, but of making disciples. Make discussions about vital next steps in the faith journey a regular part of every conversation with your members. Have a system to follow up, thank those who invite first-time guests, teach on baptism and invite people into ministry.
If done right, more people will grow in their awareness of the call to evangelize.
8. Cut programs that aren’t evangelistic
Programs have a way of sucking the life out of evangelism. Oddly, it seems evangelistic programs often do other things better than evangelism: they produce community among participants, open the doors to new places of ministry and encourage people to make a stand for Jesus.
Don’t get me wrong — these are good things. However, they tend to do little when it comes to actual evangelism. If lost people aren’t coming, if they do not hear a clear presentation of the gospel, if next steps aren’t being talked about — cut the program!
Pastor, building a culture of evangelism in your church starts with you. If you are modeling evangelism, creating evangelistic environments, teaching people how to share their faith and what to say, celebrating those who are trying to evangelize and the lives that are being changed — you will become an evangelistic church.
Some of you are already doing this. Great job! Don’t grow weary. Keep up the great work.
Others of you have gotten stuck and maybe even forgotten the evangelistic roots that first started your church. It isn’t too late to start turning things around. God still wants to use you and your church to advance the kingdom.
None of this is about the size of your church. It is about the size of our mission to make disciples of all nations. Let’s do this together!
Lee Stephenson, Former Vice President of Church Planting
Lee Stephenson served as Converge's vice president of Church Planting from 2015-2022. He earned both a bachelor and master’s degree in ministry from Bethel College (Mishawaka, IN). Lee also started and is lead pastor of Harvest Community Church, Orlando, Florida. He has also served on the Vision Arizona church planting LEAD team and is a go-to coach for church leadership and planting.