Pastors face several challenges that make it tough to lead their churches in evangelism. Trying to “convert” others is often a major turnoff in broader Western culture. In the church, as compassion and justice ministries have become more affirmed and applauded, it’s often easier to focus our outreach efforts in those areas rather than in evangelism.
Additionally, many younger evangelicals don’t even necessarily want to identify as “evangelical” and would rather focus on the inclusion of others than on the message that rejecting Jesus leads to exclusion from the presence of God.
With these cultural odds stacked against us, how do we keep from becoming defeated in sharing our faith? More than that, how do we become effective in leading others in the area of evangelism? Here are five simple steps that will help us lead our churches toward fulfilling the call to make disciples.
1. Commit to being a witness, even if you’re not an evangelist.
The truth is that not everyone is an evangelist. In fact, many pastors are not gifted in evangelism, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t tell others about what God has done for them through Jesus. Although Jesus gives his disciples different spiritual gifts, he commissions all of us to be his witnesses and testify to what he has done (Acts 1:8, Matt. 4:19, John 20:21).
Later in Scripture, Paul exhorts Timothy to do the work of an evangelist, even though that probably wasn’t his primary gifting (2 Tim. 4:5). In order to shift the tide of evangelism in our churches, we must first take greater ownership of it ourselves.
2. Model personal evangelism that your people can imitate.
Too many pastors have limited their outreach to only those who walk through the church doors, brought by the people in their church. Pastors have often stopped reaching out in their own everyday lives. There may be many legitimate reasons for doing this, but if we want to see our churches become vibrant in evangelism, we must begin by modeling outreach that our people can imitate.
This means that we need to set an example of reaching out to others wherever we run into them—in our neighborhood, at the local Starbucks, through the activities of our kids or through personal hobbies. As church leaders, if we are not missional in our daily life, our people will not be missional, either. We cannot lead what we are not living.
3. Expect unchurched people to attend your ministries.
Whether we’re aware of it or not, we prepare for and structure our services and ministries based on who we expect to attend. If we don’t expect unchurched people to be there, we may find ourselves using insider language that would likely be confusing for a first-time guest. It’s essential to anticipate unchurched people in our congregations and to make sure we translate the “Christianese” so that they can understand and relate.
Granted, expecting unchurched people to show up at our events and ministries and then preparing accordingly is not always easy. It will require us to invest more time and energy; however, it will go a long way toward motivating our people to invite others, as well as making visitors feel welcomed. It will also powerfully demonstrate the love of God, who goes out of his way to communicate in ways that we can understand.
I am not saying our worship services ought to be focused on people who don’t know God; however, our services ought to be as hospitable as possible for unchurched people. After all, the worship service is still the most likely place where visitors will first connect to our congregations.
4. Integrate an evangelistic edge into everything you lead.
No matter what ministry you lead, it is possible to cultivate an evangelistic edge—and it is critical that you do so. For example, if you provide meals for church members who are sick or grieving, a natural way to incorporate outreach would be to also begin providing that same care to the unchurched people in your networks and neighborhoods.
If you greet friends at church, be intentional about greeting strangers and new people with equal warmth. If you teach congregants to budget, save and give, take the time to teach the unchurched to budget, save and give, as well. As we expand our circle of concern to include those who aren’t Christ-followers, we will begin to draw people not only into our church communities but also into the family of God.
5. Seek out accountability.
As Bill Hybels likes to say, “Vision leaks.” We have found “evangelism evaporates.” If we don’t have people in our lives with whom we share our outreach stories and struggles, mission drift will inevitably set in. It honestly doesn’t take long for evangelism to slip off of our list of priorities, so we all need people to cheer us on and help us move past our own evangelism-related barriers.
Accountability is a deal-breaker when it comes to evangelism. Without it, our best intentions and efforts will eventually fizzle out. But with it, we will begin to see evangelism effectively integrated into every aspect of our lives.
The world longs to see genuine care and servanthood extended not just to believers, but to all. In the midst of a cultural climate that seems dead set against evangelism, we have an incredible opportunity to lead our congregations into an effective and vibrant love for God and become people that draw the unchurched toward Jesus.
Dr. Rick Richardson, with Dr. Ed Stetzer, leads the evangelism and leadership master’s degree Program at Wheaton College, where students are trained to lead missional churches, ministries and church plants, always with an evangelistic edge.