Evangelism Is Better Caught Than Taught

Most pastors I know want their churches to be places of outreach. They want to grow by conversion, not by transfer. In fact, part of why they decided to become pastors was so they could reach people and help change the world. But here is the dilemma so many pastors face when it comes to outreach: you can’t lead what you are not living. Many pastors feel overwhelmed with the pressing needs of their churches and families. They share the gospel only with the people their people bring them. But when was the last time they shared their faith with a friend from their neighborhood or their larger social world?

Chad Benkert, one of the pastors in our cohorts, has recently found some answers to these questions. He became senior pastor of Federated Covenant Church in Dowagiac, Michigan, a couple years ago when 30 people were attending. As he has gotten involved in the cohort of 18 senior pastors, he has been encouraged to get more into the outreach game himself.

A bakery opened this past year in his community and he decided to do his reading and study there. For the last four months, he has been there every weekday for two hours a day. He uses the time to read and prepare, but also to connect and share life with the people who come into the café. He is now a fixture at the place. In the beginning, no one knew he was a pastor. He just wanted to be a guy who hung out, drank coffee and cared about people.

Four months later, he has had countless conversations with unchurched people, some of whom now come to his church. The experiences have made him genuinely passionate about seeing the people in his church build relationships and share their faith stories with unchurched people in their lives. He is now living what he is leading, and it has made a huge difference.

For instance, there’s Tony. Tony told Chad there is no way he could share his faith like Chad does. Recently, however, Chad and Tony were in a conversation with a visitor to the church. Suddenly, Tony jumped in with both feet and shared his faith story with the visitor in a winsome, compelling and enthusiastic way. Chad could only smile. Such contagious passion for people not yet in the family of God can only be caught, not taught. And Tony had caught it.

Today, the church of 30 has two weekly services, with 150 total people attending. Many were unchurched. People like Dave, who struggled with addictions, found help at the church after being invited by a friend, and now lives a committed and contagious life for Christ.

Pastor Chad’s challenge to us is this: Whether you are a busy pastor or a busy leader in your church, you can live what you lead in the area of outreach. And when you do, your passion and lifestyle will spread.

Rick Richardson is evangelism fellow at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism and director of and professor in the M.A. in Evangelism and Leadership and the M.A. in Missional Church Movements programs at Wheaton College.

Rick Richardson
Rick Richardson

Rick Richardson is director of the Billy Graham Center Institute and its Church Evangelism Initiative, and professor of evangelism and leadership at Wheaton College Graduate School.