Church and ministry leaders agree that evangelism needs to happen through the local church, because ultimately God has called all of his disciples to be his witnesses, and has called the church to be God’s redemptive agent in the world.
However, in our work with churches through the Church Evangelism Initiative at the Billy Graham Center, we’ve found that there are often differing perspectives on who can best lead the cause of evangelism in the local church.
Here are three candidates that often get put forward:
1. The lead pastor
After all, the lead pastor has the opportunity to share the gospel from the pulpit and invite others to faith. What’s more, the lead pastor shapes the church culture the most. If the lead pastor doesn’t value and engage in evangelism, why would anybody else?
2. The evangelists
The church is the body of Christ. Not everybody is a mouth. Not everybody is a foot. The evangelists—those who are naturally gifted in sharing the gospel—are the ones responsible to evangelize.
3. The head of the evangelism committee
Shouldn’t that committee be responsible for evangelism for the church? Why else were they appointed?
So, who is ultimately responsible for leading evangelism in the local church?
The truth is that none of these candidates can do it alone. It takes a team—a three-stranded cord of leadership—to effectively direct the local church in evangelism.
Senior pastors play a critical role in leading evangelism because they are uniquely able to shape the culture of their churches. Although they might not have the gift of evangelism, they need to intentionally fight mission drift to keep evangelism central in their life and ministry.
If the lead pastor does not model witnessing in ways their congregation can imitate, the people will not be a witness either. This call for nonevangelists to lead their churches into evangelism is reflected in Scripture when Paul exhorts Timothy, an apparently more introverted lead pastor of the church in his city, to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5).
Because so many other things vie for time and attention, senior pastors need others to help them champion evangelism, such as those who are gifted in this area. These natural evangelists are important because they are passionate about communicating the gospel and persuading others to respond. The ministry and example of the evangelist inspires and equips the rest of the body of Christ to be a witness in their own spheres of influence.
At the same time, it can be very challenging to corral and channel evangelists in any one local church. Evangelists tend to think outside the box and want to reach people outside the box. Harnessing them for an organizational role can be a challenge—and it can dampen their energy and enthusiasm to saddle them up with organizational roles so they no longer do what they do best: lead people to Christ and inspire and equip others to do the same.
So a critical third member is needed for the local church evangelism team. This person needs a passion for evangelism, an ability to influence others relationally and organizational strengths. You could call this person the church’s evangelism champion.
This person needs the gift of leadership more than the gift of evangelism. As a matter of fact, if they are not very gifted in evangelism but have a big heart and reach out in everyday and unspectacular ways, they can activate people in the church much more than the evangelist does. I think of my friend Jason who plays this role in a local church. He is introverted, but everybody respects him. He influences people by who he is. And if he can reach out, others in the church have no excuse when they don’t.
Here’s a twist for that evangelism champion: Don’t appoint that person to head a committee on evangelism. The church will assign the responsibility of evangelism to that committee and not take any for themselves. Instead, make the evangelism champion an influence leader over every ministry and every person in the church. Their job is to activate everybody and make sure evangelism gets integrated into every ministry.
Evangelism belongs to the whole church, not any one person in particular. But to get the whole church engaged in witness—and to reach our redemptive potential as a church—we need to raise up and appoint a team of people to equip and inspire all of us.
Rick Richardson is director of the M.A. programs in evangelism and leadership and in missional church movement at Wheaton College, and director of the Church Evangelism Initiative at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. He will head up two tracks at the Amplify 2018 North American Evangelism Conference, one on evangelism and leadership and one on evangelism in the local church. Amplify 2018 will be held June 26-28, 2018.