By David Bycroft
In my last article, “Evangelism Is Natural Church” (June 15), I referenced the fact that most churches see few people baptized into Christ because they fail to plan and work to see baptisms happen. According to Thom Ranier, 85 percent of all churches are in decline. That number persuades me to think we are not doing much evangelism in our churches.
We need to rethink some of our principles for how and why we do church. We have a pretty good handle on Bible study and invest lots of money into Sunday school material for all ages. We supply good resources for home groups and discipleship groups. We do an excellent job at preaching the Word. Communion is a mainstay in our fellowship. We never miss a chance to pass the plate. Our prayer list for the sick and people with other physical needs grows longer each week. Our music has been enriched and updated. We provide great programming for children, teens, and senior citizens.
But do we plan for evangelism or expect to see souls come to Christ? It really is an afterthought, if it is thought of at all!
How do we retrain the church to become intentional about evangelism? Let me list some ways:
PRAY TO REACH THE LOST
I believe evangelism will start when we begin to pray about it. When every group, from the choir to the nursery committee sees its role in reaching the lost, and also prays for God to help us reach the lost, then we will begin to become a church passionate about saving souls.
Our churches are very good and consistent about praying for the sick. I’m glad we do that. But to pray for the physically ill and neglect the spiritually ill grossly overlooks why Jesus died on the cross. Remember: Everybody you ask God to physically heal will eventually die. Then they will need to give an account for their life choices. So which should take the higher priority during our services—praying for temporary physical wellness or eternal spiritual wellness?
What if the elders or church board prayed for lost souls at every meeting before haggling over how many rolls of toilet paper to buy this month? How about instructing Sunday school teachers to include as much time praying for those separated from Christ as they do for all the other needs listed each week? Why not mention at every service the church’s responsibility to reach the lost and include it in corporate prayer times? Let’s start asking God to use us to reach people who are under Satan’s condemnation.
The book of Acts says the Lord added daily to the church those who were being saved. At a minimum, that would be 365 converts per year. There are not many churches averaging that number! How about praying for one convert per week—52 new disciples of Christ each year?
If every church listed among the 85 percent in decline would set that as a goal, I’m sure we would turn things around. Perhaps then 85 percent of churches would be growing and only 15 percent would be in decline. Prayer is the first and most powerful step to take to achieve this.
BECOME A CHURCH OF INVITERS
In my early days at Tyro Christian Church, I pushed hard for a once-a-month calling night. We had some success as a few teams helped to lead a few people to make decisions for Christ. But I must tell you, this approach was not “natural church evangelism.”
Most everyone doing the calling hated it; some even told me later they prayed no one would be home! I found myself having to push harder to get callers to participate. I even browbeat them from the pulpit the Sunday before our monthly calling night.
Then we launched a new approach: Encourage members to connect with people at work, school, and community activities, and then invite them to church. Our people bought into this natural approach, and it has become the big funnel into TCC.
We still use a calling night from time to time, but not monthly. In March instead of having a revival meeting, we enlisted all the elders, deacons, and staff members to go decision calling one of three nights during a week. We had a meal together, divided into teams of two (some of the men found a calling partner outside of the leadership group), and then we contacted people who had been putting off making a decision for Christ.
The following Sunday, there were 31 decisions made during invitation time. Several more people we contacted made decisions over the next several Sundays.
But most of the people who made decisions in those weeks had first been introduced to TCC by friends or family who simply and naturally invited them to church. Our people are now encouraged to look for opportunities to invite people from their daily associations and to pray they will be receptive.
DEVELOP A VIBRANT SUNDAY SERVICE
Ben Merold has long said the most effective evangelistic tool is an exciting worship service. If worship times are boring and uneventful, no one wants to ask friends to visit.
Get some of your most creative people together and ask them to help put new life into your service. From music to technology, start making your people wonder “What will happen next?” The possibilities are endless! You might be surprised by the creative people who are just waiting to be asked to help.
One thing that cannot change is the preaching of God’s Word. Do not become an entertainment center that is “biblically lite.” Romans 1:16 reminds us the gospel is the power of salvation. If I can enhance my preaching skills with some innovations that cause people to really connect with the message, there is a great chance they will want to invite others to come and share in the excitement.
CREATE SPECIAL EVENTS
When the church began on the Day of Pentecost, God used some special events to attract people to hear the gospel. There was nothing spiritual or biblical about the sound of rushing wind or the sight of tongues of fire resting on the apostles. They were simply effects used by God to get people’s attention so Peter could invite them to make Jesus the Lord of their lives.
We would do well to follow God’s example in the modern world. Special days and events will inspire your people to invite unchurched friends.
In an article in REV! magazine (September/October 2007), Rick Warren gives several reasons why he schedules big events at his church.
• They attract community interest.
• They help your church have a bigger vision for what it can do.
• They build excitement.
• They increase your pool of volunteers.
• They expand your prospect list.
• They stretch people’s faith.
I think the greatest value is that more people get involved in inviting others. That is when natural evangelism begins to take place.
One of the best ways to determine the kinds of events to plan is to look at what interests your people have and where they are already involved. I noticed six families in our church really enjoy car restoration and attending car shows. I asked them to brainstorm how a car show at the church could be used as a platform to attract people for hearing the gospel. They became really excited about taking something they love to do and using it for the glory of God.
Now the church’s car show attracts much attention each year. We have a lot of fun the day of the car show. An awards ceremony takes place in the main auditorium of the church at the end of the day. I emcee the presentation. That way I get to connect with people and they can see I am a pretty normal guy who loves the Lord. At the end of the awards, I simply invite everyone to our worship services the next morning.
Two years ago, we had 50 new people attend on Sunday as a direct result of the car show. To date, 27 of those people have made decisions for Christ. We have not had such a strong response every year, but we continue to open doors that we hope will draw people to Christ.
The key is getting your people excited about an event that will attract outsiders so they can hear (and see) the gospel!
After I presented this information at a church growth seminar, one preacher went home and got all the guys in the church who hunt and fish to plan a similar expo. That church family got excited and involved and made a big impact on their community.
Among the other special one-time or yearly events and activities we have used are a community hog roast, community cleanup day, community patriotic service and fireworks display, Galilean service at an area lake, trap/skeet shoot, golf scramble, sports camps, rodeo, women’s makeover night, and craft days.
Truthfully, almost anything will work if there is already interest within the church. Let your people organize and put the effort into it while you cheerlead from the sideline.
The main thing is still the main thing—reaching the lost for Jesus!
David Bycroft has served as evangelist with Tyro (Kansas) Christian Church for 38 years. During that time the church has grown from 40 to almost 1,000.