My simple premise in this article is that a solely individualistic approach to evangelism cuts us off from the rich potential of what we are capable of when we own evangelism together. One-man armies don’t win any wars; we need everyone pitching in.
A successful environment for evangelism
Evangelism is far from dead in New Zealand, but I think it is true that for the average Kiwi Christian in the average Kiwi church, seeing someone come to faith is an exceedingly rare event.
I work for an organisation that sees hundreds come to faith every year on campus, with roughly a third choosing to go on a journey with us and grow as fine young Christian leaders. I have a work colleague involved with Christians Against Poverty, an organisation that offers debt counselling and debt management and has seen hundreds come to faith. Every year Alpha sees hundreds of people come to faith through the churches that adopt their programme.
So what creates a successful environment for evangelism? After years in ministry it seems to me that some of the following factors need to be present (the more the better!):
- Togetherness – the excitement of being part of a movement
- Clarity about who we are trying to reach
- Support (including training) and accountability structures
- Quick and easy entrance to the movement by new believers
- A coherent strategy that maps a pathway to discipleship
If this were a test, the average church in New Zealand would score very poorly
Taking the five factors above, I think for ordinary Sue in the Pew the reality when it comes to evangelism is this:
- You are on your own. We may guilt you, but we don’t know how to support you.
- Who am I trying to reach? It’s purely opportunistic.
- There is little training or overt encouragement of my personal evangelistic effort by church, and if I do nothing no-one will even notice.
- If I see someone come to the Lord, I then have to introduce them to my church. This may be complicated by the things about my church which may be off-putting to a brand new Christian.
- I alone bear the burden of follow-up and helping this new believer grow spiritually.
How did we get here?
How did church evangelism get to this place? I believe the highly individualistic approach of past training evangelists is partly to blame.
When evangelists have taught the church how to do evangelism they have focused on tools and the ‘how-to’s’. They may honestly think that their personal success in evangelism is due to these things, but really the ‘doing’ is only half the story. The other half of success in witnessing is ‘being’ – being in community, being on a mission together, being encouraged and inspired by each other – so that evangelism becomes the natural outflow not just of my personal faith but also out of who we are and what we do as church together.
So how could things be different?
- Let’s get away from only thinking about evangelism in purely individualistic terms. Let’s appreciate that the local body of Christ, your church, is intended to be a witness to its neighbours as you worship and serve together. Matthew 5:14-16 says “You are the light of the word… let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” This witnessing church is the whole church in all its wonderful diversity – young, old, rich, poor, the greatest and the least – demonstrating unity in Christ.
- We need to celebrate everything that is encompassed by the gospel. Personal salvation is centrally important, but Jesus makes it clear that the ‘good news’ of the Kingdom is way bigger than that. Not everyone is a gifted evangelist but the Spirit has gifted each of us with something that brings help, hope and healing. The good news is both heard and experienced. Together we play the whole symphony of the gospel.
- Whilst setting the individual evangelist free, every church also needs a plan for how we are going to do evangelism together. That plan needs to be relationally-rich, sustainable and make it clear how every person in church could play a part if they so wish. The plan must include the how, when and where the message of salvation will be proclaimed.
- The truly evangelical church makes it easy for new believers to belong and provides pathways for their spiritual growth and development. We need to evaluate our church through the eyes of a brand new Christian: What do we look like? How do we make them feel? Are they being loved and cared for?
Love Your Neighbour