From time to time, I get emails from pastors and other outreach workers looking for a fresh perspective on evangelism and local outreach ministries. The questions range from what tracts we use to training materials to invitations to evaluate their ministries. One email interaction I enjoyed having was with a pastor of a small church (we’ll call him “Phil”) looking to stir a passion in his congregation for evangelism. My hope is that sharing his email and my answer (both adapted) will be helpful in motivating all of us to be faithful in speaking the Gospel to people.
My name is Phil and I am pastor of a small Baptist church in [City, State]. I’m wondering if you have any suggestions for some resources about evangelism that would be effective in our area. As you may know, “liberal” is too conservative of a word to describe our city. As much as I love the area and am committed to serving this church for as long as God desires, it is a difficult environment.
I’m looking for strategies for person-to-person evangelism in this pretty hostile environment. Our church is small and “dormant” (stagnant!). The leadership is really trying to think of ways to encourage vibrancy and life. We are committed to expository preaching, trying to move the church toward biblical eldership, introduce some of the newer, excellent, God-honoring music being produced. But the long and short is that we’re pretty beaten down and looking for ways to foster encouragement and seeing some souls saved would be very encouraging.
Any ideas you have would be greatly appreciated.
What will most encourage and invigorate the church is a renewed passion for the glory of God Himself. Jesus is not boring, and our preaching should present Him as the most captivating, thrilling, and compelling person that we know how to speak about. Perhaps a sermon series on the glory of Christ revealed in the Gospel of John would be in order. Or maybe a series from Hebrews on how Christ is “greater than” all the things Hebrews lists (e.g., the angels, human beings, Moses, the priesthood, the Law, mediator of a better covenant, a perfectly sufficient sacrifice etc.). I’m not necessarily suggesting preaching the whole books of John and Hebrews; you could just pick out certain texts whose intent is to display Christ as gloriously compelling and do expositions on those texts. An introduction to a good commentary on either book (I’d recommend Carson or Koestenberger on John; Lane, O’Brien, or Homer Kent on Hebrews) would provide a helpful outline of material.
Coincidentally, it is this vision and passion for the magnification of the glory of God that will most effectively fuel motivation for evangelism. God loves His glory (Isa 42:8; 49:11), and His desire in saving people is to create worshipers (Isa 43:25; John 4:23–24), because He is actually worthy of that worship. God is after His own glory in His salvific work, and the amazing thing is that He enlists the means of the Church—the means of evangelism—in the pursuit of His glory. We get to get in on that! That’s why we evangelize: Because we love God’s glory and we want to see more people enjoy that glory. And if you can display Christ’s glory to them as compelling by the preaching of the Word, their love for Him will well up into expression—provided you teach them what this proper expression is. It’d be great to find an appropriate time (whether a sermon series or a Sunday school series) to preach or teach on the foundations and motivations for evangelism.
Also, even though your city might be especially difficult, I think it would be helpful to recognize that the world is always hostile to the Gospel. Equip your people to not think of your city as extraordinarily impenetrable, but as the natural way you’d expect the world to be. Almost like assuring them that there’s nothing to be afraid of, but that it’s like it is there everywhere. That’s kind of what Peter does in 1 Peter 5:9; he reassures and strengthens suffering believers by reminding them that they’re not alone. Or Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:13: “You can fight this sin, because no matter what you’re facing, it’s not something that isn’t common to man.” So (and I’m not saying you’re doing this, just cautioning you), try not to project a stagnant atmosphere, or a pessimistic defeatism. Encourage the leadership to be passionate yourselves. Get excited yourselves, show the congregation what a joy it truly is to lose your life for Christ.
Going with that, have the leadership decide that they are going to be the examples. Commit to intentionally doing personal evangelism weekly, and then bring up those events often in personal conversation. Even use them in sermons as illustrations and applications. Give details of the interaction, and major on the joy and satisfaction that comes from obeying Christ in this way—serving alongside Him in the mission to bring glory to our Father. Highlight any salvation testimonies at a special baptism service (i.e., strongly suggest that those who are baptized give their testimony at their baptism), and use that content as an encouraging example in sermon illustrations. It gives the people the sense that God is truly working in their midst.
I suppose all of that is introduction and background to the answer you’ve actually asked for: person-to-person strategies. I think one thing both the leadership can do by example, and something the church can be encouraged to do, is to see every-day opportunities for what they are. So many people think of evangelism as an event. “We’re going to evangelize on Friday at 7pm.” But evangelism should be more like a lifestyle. (NB: I don’t mean “lifestyle evangelism” here.) This is how we live. It’s woven into the fabric of our Christian lives to be speaking the Gospel to people. It’s all about developing relationships. Go to the same sub shop or fast food restaurants and get to know the workers there. Try to always visit the same cashier at the grocery store. Wait the few extra minutes if her line is long, but engage her personally and look for an opportunity to mention Christ or invite her to church. Be more intentional about being a good neighbor; invite folks on your street to your house for dinner and get to know them. All of these will provide contexts in which one can speak the Gospel, even if one doesn’t do it right off the bat.
Breaking the ice can be hard, and I suspect many Christians don’t evangelize because they just don’t know how to start. I wrote an article about this that I would recommend to you on this issue. The key is to listen to people, pray for and cultivate a love for them as those who are lost and need the Savior, and just to preach the Gospel faithfully.
Well, I hope that’s helpful. Feel free to follow-up if I can help further.
Yours for the Truth,