I was recently asked to share some thoughts about cultivating a culture of evangelism within the local church. While any evangelistic culture among a community of faith is ultimately a miracle of God’s Spirit, there are some practical things we have done at our own church to encourage such a culture.
- Preach the Gospel in Every Sermon
This one should be the most obvious. I firmly believe that the Sunday morning gathering is primarily for the edification of the saints and the building up of Christians in our church, but the message that they need to be reminded of every week is the message of the gospel. I also want to operate under the assumption that every week church members have been praying and laboring in an effort to invite unbelieving co-workers and friends to attend our church service. Church members should be confident that on any given Sunday any guest they invite will at some point hear a very clear presentation of the gospel message that eternally saves.
- Include Your Existing Members in the New Member Process
To become a member of our church, candidates must go through a six week membership class which exposes them to our church’s core beliefs and practices. This is an extremely important aspect of our life together as a church. Meaningful membership and helping all new or prospective members understand what it means to be a member of the body of Christ helps shape the culture of your church over time. In the early days, I tried to lead all those classes myself. I quickly ran into logistical problems. When someone in the class would miss a week and would need to make up what they missed it was a scheduling headache. It occured to me that I was complicating the process by making myself the primary teacher of the membership class content, and that I was robbing our own church members of a potential discipleship opportunity that would sharpen them and make them better disciple makers as well. We made a big change that has made a big difference in the life of our church for the last six years.
Individuals who want to join our church now are encouraged to walk through the membership class material with an existing church member in a discipleship relationship. They meet according to their own schedule and at their own pace. When they finish the material, the membership candidate meets with an elder to give their testimony of salvation and a brief summary of the gospel. This process of equipping the saints to do more of the work of the ministry in our church has actually made our church members more evangelistic as they have used the membership class resource as the starting point for helping unbelievers understand the core beliefs of our church. We as church leaders often wonder why church members aren’t doing more of the work of the ministry, all the while, we often hoard much of the organized ministry for ourselves.
- Multiply or Shuffle Small Groups Regularly
When we started St. Rose Community Church, I knew that I wanted our small groups to be intergenerational. I also knew that I wanted our small groups to multiply regularly. I had grown up in Southern Baptist contexts where the young married sunday school class had been meeting together for the last fifty years. To guard against these little eternal silos of community, we built our small groups to operate on a semester system. In August, sign-ups are published for the church to register for their small group. These groups meet in different homes in different neighborhoods around our church. At the end of November, the groups end and new sign-ups are published with new locations for the spring semester. Those groups begin in January and end in May for the summer, while new groups start again in the fall. This constant mixing and shuffling of the small groups has made it to where more of the church knows one another. It has also made multiplication a part of the small group culture. Each group is encouraged to be evangelistic in their particular neighborhood during their semester, even coordinating an evangelistic social event at some point during the semester.
- Utilize the Weekly Prayer Meeting for Testimonies and Pointed Intercession
The prayer meeting is for more than just prayer. The prayer meeting is a discipleship meeting. We as church leaders teach our congregation what to prioritize by what we lead them to pray for in the corporate prayer gathering. We try to mix up our prayer gathering every Sunday night, sometimes splitting up into small groups and sometimes praying together as a big group. There have been occasions where we open the mic for any church member to give testimony to their evangelistic efforts and to request the prayers of the church. There have been times where we pray for the lost and we encourage everyone present just to say out loud the name of a person they are hoping to lead to faith in Christ. We have prayed for particular neighborhoods, demographics, churches, and missionaries. God hears our prayers and powerfully moves in response to them, but he also uses the prayers to shape everyone in the room.
- Lead the Church to Think Strategically About Where They Live
Some in our church have jokingly called me the church realtor. I am not a realtor, but I am always very actively working to get more church members living in close proximity to our church building and in particular neighborhoods that desperately need a Christian witness. A very large percentage of our church members live within two miles of our church facility, and that didn’t happen accidentally. We prayed for that and we have advocated for that. God is king over all our lives, and he should be king over where we choose to buy a house or rent an apartment. Lead your church members to think strategically about where God would have them set up the biggest tool for evangelism and Christian community that they have – their own home.
- Identify the “Market Places” of Your Community and Invest Heavily
In Acts 17, Paul’s spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city of Athens was full of idols. He had spiritual eyes to see both the spiritual need and the opportunities before him. Verse 17 tells us that he reasoned in the synagogue and in the market place every day with those who happened to be there. Paul identified the particular places that he could invest in with hopes of having gospel conversations. Every community has “market places” where people from the community frequent regularly. Consider restaurants, parks, local libraries, and stores near your church community that you could intentionally invest more time in. What would it look like to go to the same restaurant on the same day every week until you got to know the name of your waitress and could comfortably ask if there were ways you could pray for her? It is a simple concept, but we tend to over complicate what God has called us to do. We build relationships with the intent of sharing the news about Jesus, but we can’t build relationships without some intentionality. Pastors and church leaders should lead out in this both modeling it and advocating for it.
One of the biggest mistakes that pastors make as they think about evangelistic outreach is to focus on evangelistic programs or outreach events that will draw in the unbeliever. In Paul’s letters to the churches, he never advocates for outreach programs or strategies. His primary concern is the spiritual vitality of the members of the congregations he was writing to. Don’t focus on the kinds of events that you can do to get more evangelism to happen. Focus on discipling your church members to be the kinds of people who evangelize regularly and equip them to see the contexts and opportunities for evangelism in their own spheres of life and influence.