A few years ago, when I was an outreach pastor at Grace Church in Los Angeles, I was at a meeting with a group of outreach pastors from other large churches in the country. The topic was what our churches do to transform our communities. When the question about what we “do for evangelism” was lobbed my way, I knew what the expected answer would look like: a list of programs. People around the table, many of them pastors at some of the most extreme program-driven and seeker-sensitive churches in the country, looked over to me. They were curious about what Pastor MacArthur’s church does to impact our community.
“What does your church do for evangelism?” the man repeated.
“We evangelize,” I answered. As the group laughed, thinking I was joking, it occurred to me that my answer was more profound that I had intended.
A healthy philosophy of evangelism hinges on the idea that evangelism is not only a program. A church does not transform a community through activates and events. In fact, church sponsored programs generally do not produce results. Instead of converts, they produce administrative tasks, and add an additional burden on the pastor of trying to get people to attend. One of the biggest mistakes pastors make in the area of evangelism is trying to measure their church’s faithfulness to the great commission by the number of (or attendance at) outreach events. This makes evangelism a guilt-laden endeavor, and also unnecessarily weds it to programs which in all likelihood don’t produce converts anyway.
There is a better way. Pastors should realize that a church impacts its community through the lives of its members. As believers are faithful in evangelism in their individual lives, the kingdom is expanded. All believers are to be active in evangelism. In fact, all four Gospels end with Jesus commanding believers to bring salvation to the lost (Mat 28:19, Mark 16:15; Luke 24:37; John 20:21). Jesus’ last earthly words were another repetition of this same command, to bear witness to the Gospel (Acts 1:8). It is not an overstatement to say that all Christians should be driven by a love for evangelism. After all, it is our mission in life.
Thus, one of the marks of a Christian is a love for evangelism. Everyone of us is in a network of relationships. Our friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors all need the gospel. The most effective evangelism is at this level. When pastors encourage their people to give the gospel to those whom the Lord has already put into their life, they are cultivating evangelism in a much more effective way than spending their time leading evangelistic programs. When a pastor stresses the importance of developing new relationships for the purpose of evangelism, he is reminding his people of why they are on earth: to reach the lost.
A healthy church is marked by a love for evangelism. The congregation is faithful to reach the lost, to share the gospel with strangers, co-workers, neighbors, and friends. How sad would it be if people thought that evangelism was what their church did on Wednesday nights (or whatever other slot a program fits in), rather than what they are privileged to do, Monday though Saturday!
For laypeople: realize that evangelism is the task God has given you. Deliberately develop relationships with those around you for the purpose of giving the gospel. Be bold in sharing your faith. If you are fearful, evangelism gives you the opportunity to trust God for courage. If you are timid, evangelism gives you an opportunity to trust God for confidence. Christians are slaves to Christ, soldiers in his service, and sons of God. Our master, our general, and our Father has given us our orders: to reach the lost with the hope of the Gospel. As Christians, we love what God loves, and God loves the lost. As we become more and more sanctified, we become more and more like Christ. And this growth causes us to grow in our love for those who are still God’s enemies.
A healthy church impacts their community because their members love their neighbors. This love results in us reaching out to the lost, presenting the Gospel to them, and seeing some of them saved. As we do this, our churches grow, and our evangelism results in changed lives. In fact, 2 Corinthians 4:15 says “that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God.” In other words, the more we evangelize, the more God’s grace extends to our community.
Don’t get me wrong: churches should have evangelistic programs and outreaches. Structured events are helpful in evangelism training, street evangelism, visitor follow up, and maximizing opportunities for those particularly gifted in evangelism. A smart pastor will find those who have a particular love for evangelism, and give them specific opportunities to use their gift. But what has consistently produced more fruit than any program is the faithfulness of individuals who express their love for the lost through evangelism.
And this is why it can be simply said that the “what we do for evangelism” is evangelize.
*A slightly different version of this post ran on The Cripplegate on July 12, 2011.