There are certain words in the English language that cause certain reactions and responses even at the mere thought. Evangelism is one of those words inside of Evangelicalism. Through the years, evangelism has been an activity reserved for the Special Forces of the church, for those who have a special gifting that the rest of us somehow did not receive from the Lord. The focus on evangelism in the local church is generally measured by baptisms since baptisms are the public testimony of these decisions to trust Christ.
In the New Testament, the word gospel is used to describe the Good News of eternal salvation through Jesus. The Greek word, euangelion, was originally used to describe the good news of military victory brought from a messenger to his commander (Holman Treasury of Key Bible Words, p 293). The Gospel is the good news of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. Jesus died to pay the price for our sins. He was buried and rose in victory over death, hell and the grave. Because He lives we can live, too. This good news must be proclaimed, heralded, to every man, woman, boy and girl on the face of the earth. This proclamation is what the church knows as evangelism. Yet, herein lies the quandary in the church. Is evangelism an activity, ministry or event of the church? Is evangelism a function of local church programming? Is evangelism a behavior in the life of a Believer? Is evangelism the cause of discipleship or the result of discipleship?
Bottom line … the church has debated the who, what, when, where, why and how of evangelism long enough. Jesus encompassed evangelism in the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). The Great Commission is to make disciples, to lead persons into a growing relationship with Jesus, to help them follow whole heartedly after Jesus in every area of their lives. This would include equipping them to share their story of coming to saving faith in Jesus … as they are going, in their daily schedule, among the people God has planted them.
In an effort to be more evangelistic, the local church has tended to stunt evangelism by treating evangelism as a ministry only for a certain group of elite specialists. This was never the intention, but we put all of the church’s eggs in the basket of outreach visitation.
The Great Commission of making disciples happens best in the context of relationships. Reaching the world for Christ is a commendable goal. Who would not be for reaching the world for Christ? The struggle is that we can be overwhelmed with the number of people to be reached to the point that we become paralyzed. However, each one of us can look around in our sphere of daily living and see those whom God has granted us relational access to share the gospel.
Is there any hope for those who are spiritually lost and apart from God without Jesus? Yes! Is there any hope for those who feel a burden to share the good news of salvation with a lost world? Yes! The hope in both cases is the same – JESUS!
The question is generally asked in the wrong way. Instead of does a church have an outreach evangelism ministry? The better question is how is a church prepared to help equip people to share the good news of salvation? The answer to the second question may include a formal outreach evangelism ministry or it may not, but the second question is about a multiplication and mobilization of the most number of persons possible to be faithfully and regularly sharing the gospel.
I’m not opposed to a church outreach evangelism ministry. A church needs a process for follow up and assimilation of recent guests to the church. This process should include multiple gospel sharing points to ensure people hear the gospel and have a chance to respond in faith. However, I have come to realize that my pastoral efforts over the years have come up short of mobilizing people in their daily lives and natural areas of serving through the local church. I have spent more time trying to create an evangelistic program that would excite people than integrating evangelism training into what the existing ministries were already doing. Pastorally, I have been derelict of equipping the saints for the work of ministry (Eph 4:11).
Let me share a few thoughts on evangelism through the local church:
- Provide evangelism training as part of the ongoing training within each ministry area rather than creating a separate evangelism ministry. Evangelism should be a part of what each ministry is doing, not something each ministry is able to make optional.
- Share stories of salvation and life change as part of people’s baptisms. This is an opportunity to let the church hear how someone was faithful to share the gospel and the result was salvation. The church should celebrate just as the angels in heaven celebrate when a lost sinner comes to faith in Jesus.
- Lead to create a prayer culture in the church that prays for lost persons by name. Rather than a faceless, nameless mass of lost people, what if the church personalized the need for evangelism by confronting the spiritual reality of those in our lives?
- As part of the weekend worship gathering, make the gospel clear and accessible. Make the action steps for trusting Jesus as Savior and following Him in baptism clear and plain to follow. This does not mean to preach an easy believes, but to not create more obstacles than the gospel itself for persons to come to faith in Jesus.
- In the preaching of the Bible, illustrate how sharing the good news of the gospel was a natural part of the lives of God’s people. Because of what God had done in their lives, they could not help but tell their family, friends and neighbors.
- Create a ministry plan that mobilizes the church to get out in the community to serve rather than waiting at the church for the community to show up. The Great Commission is Go and Tell not Come and See. Serving is a platform for sharing. Equip people to have gospel conversations while they are serving and then help them find the serving avenues to take these tools into the community. Go into the highways and byways and compel people to trust Jesus.
There is so much more that can be said about evangelism and the local church. The goal should not be to argue about who’s doing better than the rest. The goal cannot be to create a stigma about evangelism in the local church that marginalizes people from being equipped to share. The goal must be to be faithful to God with the Good News of the gospel in fulfilling the Great Commission. Let’s encourage one another. Let’s spur one another on to good works and faithfulness to God. Let’s celebrate what God is doing in all of His local churches. Remember, evangelism is a spiritual discipline to be exercised by all Believers not a spiritual gift reserved for a select few.