I am concerned.
We live in a time when church planting continues to capture more of our attention, mission volunteerism continues to be on the rise, and yet evangelism seems to be on the decline. Now, I think I have the background and practice to say that church planting matters to me—deeply. And, mission volunteerism has been a part of my life for decades. However, I think evangelism is on the wane.
We see that in research. Over the past few years LifeWay Research has studied North American Christians and our research has turned up a glaring lack of concern for evangelism. The research indicates that Christians know they should share their faith, they just don't. This is where denominations and networks can step in and help.
In 2010, I wrote an article for Christianity Today in which I suggested that denominations are a good and helpful thing, when they are focused on helping churches and Christians more effectively engage on mission. This is where partnership among churches shines.
Unfortunately denominations and networks, like any other organization, can lose their way over time, and clutter their primary mission with a series of other agendas. These other focal areas can be good, but they turn our attention away from the most important thing we do, and that is join together for mission. As Jim Collins is prone to say, we miss the "great" because we are focused so much on the "good."
So, if evangelism is on the decline, and denominations and networks exist for mission, then the creation of a national evangelism strategy should sit at the top of the list of organizational priorities. Of course, all of this begs the question, how should a denomination or network go about developing this strategy?
I recently consulted with two denominations on the same topic—how to create a national evangelism emphasis. This might not be applicable to you, so please forgive the very specific focus, but our team put together a few thoughts that we think could help a denomination or network create a national evangelism strategy.
Christians believe that God redeems people. The scriptural teaching on that points us to three basic truths found in Titus 2:14, which says "He gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for Himself a people for His own possession, eager to do good works" (HCSB). As such, we framed the ideas around that passage, and the strategy is acted out in two primary ways.
1. First, God is always at work redeeming people. […gave Himself for us…]
The God of the universe, the majestic Being who spoke into existence all of creation, sacrificed himself on behalf of his broken creation. Perhaps one of the most quoted phrases in all of Scripture, often quoted by Christians and non-Christians alike, is the phrase "God is love" from 1 John 4:8. How do we know this to be true though? How can we be sure that God truly is love?
John 15:13 reads, "No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends." So, how can we possibly know that God is, in fact, love? We know that God is love because His Word says that the greatest act of love the world has ever known is that of one sacrificing Himself for His friends.
When God the Father sent God the Son to live a perfect life, die a sinner's death, and be raised to life, He didn't send Him just to pay for human sin, but to redeem His people. God paid the ultimate price to give us the ultimate gift—a perfect relationship with Him.
Any national plan for evangelism has to begin with the fact that God gave Himself. Just as in the mission—rooted in the identity of God Himself—evangelism begins that God sent His Son.
2. Apart from faith in Jesus Christ, there is no redemption or cleansing. […to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse…]
The redeemed people of God have been raised from spiritual death to eternal life and perfect fellowship with God.
God is seeking to snatch us out of our sin and shame, clean us up, and invite us to join Him in eternity. The God of the universe hates sin because it separates Him from the creation He loves so deeply. In order to release us from our slavery and redeem us to Himself, the justice of God must be reconciled with the brokenness of man.
Only One can be the spotless Lamb to be slain for the sins of the world. No other human qualifies as a worthy sacrifice to pay the insurmountable sinful debt that creation owes its Creator. Only the perfect Son of God Himself is an adequate sacrifice for the depth of human sin.
Any national evangelism strategy has to include the idea that it is only through Christ that such liberation and cleaning can come. People have to be reminded of the desperate nature of the world without Christ.
3. God has given Christians the privilege of joining him in his redemptive activity. […eager to do good works…]
The redeemed people of God have been raised from spiritual death to eternal life and perfect fellowship with God. However, the salvation of the Christian is not merely a future salvation focused on God's heavenly, kingdom but it is a present salvation that is also focused on the Kingdom of God on earth. Hebrews 10:24 says, "And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works."
And, here is the heart of the matter. God sent Himself. God redeemed a people. However, any national strategy has to see those people eager to do the good work of evangelism. People, not denominations, do evangelism. Denominations provoke churches to evangelism. Churches provoke people.
So, if these theological realities are the basis for our evangelism, how should a denomination or network actively move people to engage those priorities? What are our actions that flow out of that belief?
We see two primary ways in which these would be developed.
1. Declare the gospel.
In Mark 16:15, Jesus says, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation." Throughout the life of Jesus and the writings of Paul, the proclamation of the gospel is of utmost importance. Though it is important to act in a Christ-like manner, the gospel of Jesus Christ is not one that must be spoken with words only if necessary. Denominational evangelism strategies should create opportunities for people to actively declare the gospel. We have put together some possible resources that you could develop and deploy to help advance this among your people.
- National prayer strategy to pray for workers in the harvest
- Evangelism training resources made available to churches
National Evangelism Toolkit including:
- Follow-up materials
- Evangelism booklet or resource [digital and print]
- Evangelism Bible (either publishing one, or using others that are available)
- Discipleship resources for follow-up
- Evangelistic visitation resources
Consultants and evangelists should be trained and deployed at the judicatory and national level to assist in the roll out and implementation of resources.
Ultimately, tools should be provided to local churches to implement the strategy easily into a local church setting.
Local Church Tools
- Suggested sermon outlines
- Local church Evangelism training course
- Branded sermon illustration videos
- Multi-media for churches
- Testimony videos
- "How to" training for the tools
- Evangelistic videos that can be shown via mobile applications
- Booklet (digital/print)
- In-home evangelistic video kit (for members to lead seeker groups in homes)
- Evangelism tool for children
- Children's evangelistic bible
- Children's evangelistic digital app
- Pastor Tools
2. Display the gospel.
While we must declare the gospel, it is also vital to display the implications of gospel in actions. Galatians 5 shows the Christian that one who walks in the Spirit lives differently than one who walks in the flesh. The seed of faith produces the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and such fruit are a means by which the world will witness the unmatched love of Christ.
In order for a denominational evangelism strategy to be effective, you should also be creating means by which your people are encouraged to display the gospel in their lives, communities and churches.
Thus, any national evangelism campaign should include a significant element of serving the hurting.
National evangelism strategies in mid-sized to large denominations (1000 churches or above) take at least a year of planning to:
- build awareness
- bring together key churches and pastors from key constituencies (small churches, large churches, churches of different language/ethnic groups)
- involve gifted evangelists
- create buy in from judicatories
Smaller denominations can move more quickly, but generally any national strategy needs time to build a national team so the denomination or network can move forward together.