When you read the Book of Acts, you see that sharing Christ was as much a daily part of the lives of believers then as texting on a cell phone is today. But today, in most churches, evangelism is occasional at best.
How do we make evangelism less occasional and more normal in our churches today? Let me share a few thoughts.
First, remember evangelism is caught more than taught.
The truth is that people follow our example more than they listen to our words. Too often, pastors tell their people what they should do without giving examples from their own lives. Our application can become, “Do what I say, not what I do.”
Try this idea: every week for the next six months, mention a time that you, a fellow pastor, or a church member attempted to share Christ the week before. Give a quick testimony, offer a prayer request for someone with whom you shared, or perhaps a time you should have witnessed but failed to do so.
Pastors who have done this testify to a growing practice of evangelism by their people simply through the consistent example of leaders. This helps normalize witnessing as something we do, not something we just talk about.
Sharing personal stories of evangelism is one of the best gifts a pastor can give to a congregation.
Of course, the only way you can do this is by having actual stories to tell. I was convicted of this in my own life. My wife and I mapped out our neighborhood. We identified our neighbors who we believed didn’t know Christ based on previous interaction.
We sought to share the gospel with each of them over time. We had the privilege of sharing the gospel with people in seven of eight of the homes we identified. We led to Christ one couple three doors down and baptized them. We watched them become leaders in the church, eventually leading others to Christ.
We reached three of the eight homes we identified and sought, and all three became active in church. We can make evangelism as normal as singing in a service or giving to the offering when people in our church can testify regularly: “By God’s grace, in our small group, we’re engaging our neighbors. We had the privilege of leading them to Christ and baptizing them.”
The fact is that our example does become normalized whether good or bad. You can’t lead what you won’t live. It’s okay to admit you struggle in this area if you do. Find a pastor or godly layman who is effective at sharing Christ and have the humility to ask for help.
Second, you have to make time for it.
The Great Commission is not the Great Suggestion. It has to be a priority.
We are all busy. But we all have the same 24 hours a day and we all have time to do what is most important. Evangelism has to be a priority.
Here’s what you find when a congregation goes through a study like Natural Church Development or Transformational Church: There are usually two areas that need serious improvement. It might be prayer and evangelism, or it could be fellowship and evangelism; evangelism almost always an issue that must be addressed.
But congregations typically respond by appointing a committee or a group to help grow the fellowship or the prayer life of the church. Evangelism is low, but consistently churches address the other issue more urgently than evangelism. People will say, “Well, our evangelism’s low, but we really have to grow our fellowship.” It’s not a priority.
To help prioritize evangelism, find the evangelists in your church. Not, “find those with the spiritual gift of evangelism.” There’s no spiritual gift of evangelism in the Bible. Look it up.
People can use that as an excuse, “I don’t have that gift.”
However, there are evangelists God gives to equip his people (see Eph. 4:11), but all of his people are called to evangelism. By “evangelists,” I’m referring to people who God has placed in your church who have a passion for evangelism, not those preachers we used to bring in for spring and fall revival meetings we called evangelists.
Every church has the kind of evangelists I’m describing. When we identify them we typically tell them, “Go and do it.”
Instead, ask them to help you as pastor to equip the whole church to evangelize. Find a time and a place. Find a simple tool to get them started. At the Billy Graham Center, we have created a number of studies that you can find in the Resources section of our website, one being the Our Gospel Story curriculum.
Teach people how to do it, ask people to do it, and go with them while they do it. I’m not talking here about Tuesday night visitation, though that’s fine, too. I’m talking more about helping people get in the habit of starting spiritual conversations that can lead to an evangelistic passion and practice in your church.
Third, if you’re a pastor or church leader, preach and teach on it.
Take the time to train everybody in evangelism on a Sunday morning, saying, “I’m going to take 30 minutes today to talk about how you can share your faith.” Many pastors of evangelistic churches do this annually. Communicate with everybody how to do it and help them to do it.
First, model it. Second, plan for it in the life of the church and make that a priority. Third, preach and teach on it. Richard Baxter, the great Puritan pastor, said this to fellow pastors:
“[Your people will] likely feel when you have been much with God: that which is most on your hearts, is like to be most in their ears.” 1
When they see it in you and in the church’s priorities, hear it in your teaching and preaching, and sense it in your heart, you are on your way to seeing evangelism become a normal part of your church.
Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. The Exchange team helped with this article.