First, a caveat—I believe in evangelism programs. In fact, here are some to consider (Three Circles, The Story, Share Jesus without Fear, Two Ways to Live, or digital apps from Cru). On the other hand, here’s why I’m arguing in this article that evangelism programs often aren’t effective:
1. We wait too long to teach them. That is, we allow believers to sit for years, and then we challenge them to evangelize after they’ve lost their fire for Jesus. That’s late in the game.
2. The programs assume that believers actually know non-believers in the first place. Even if we trained every church member to be evangelistic, many—if not most—of them have no real relationships with non-believers. We’ve wrongly cocooned ourselves among believers.
3. We use non-evangelistic people to teach them. Too often, the very people facilitating evangelism training aren’t doing evangelism themselves. When no one in the room has a genuine passion for telling others about Jesus, the program won’t accomplish much.
4. We expect too much from a single program. Some programs try to change believers who’ve never shared their faith into full-time, on-fire evangelists within a few weeks or months. That’s a lot to accomplish via a single program.
5. We assume they’re only for adults. Sometimes, adults are the hardest believers to convince to evangelize. They’re busy. They’re nervous. They’re sometimes afraid. Teach children and teens to evangelize, though, and they’ll take the lead.
6. The programs don’t produce life change. Any change they create is often temporary—the fire for evangelism burns for only a short time after the program ends. Fascination with Jesus and lifestyle evangelism are seldom the result.
7. Often, only the people already doing evangelism complete them. However we enlist participants for the training, we frequently wind up with only those folks who already have a heart for evangelism. We want those folks in the room, but we need to go after the others, too.
8. The programs often give too little attention to prayer. The bottom line is this: We cannot change the hearts of non-believers, and no program we have or create can change that fact. Thus, evangelism training tools that don’t emphasize prayer neglect the power that must undergird all our efforts.
So, what’s my point? Programs aren’t really the problem. Our issues go beyond having the right program—but all our issues are fixable. Be sure to address these concerns in your congregation even as you look for the best program for your church.
Chuck Lawless is dean and vice president of graduate studies and ministry centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and global theological education consultant for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. This article was originally published on ChuckLawless.com.