“We need to get to the place where our people can articulate a simple gospel message and call others to faith in Jesus.”
There’s no question that church planting has become the hot new thing. And I’m glad about that.
When I started my first church in 1988, church planting was an oddity. Now, it is mainstream.
Recently, I was in a hotel in Boston, about to talk to evangelism leaders, and two young men came up and said, “Are you Ed Stetzer?” Turns out I was, and they a were church planters meeting in a high-rise hotel in Back Bay Boston, at Reunion Christian Church.
Today, it’s normal to find church planters everywhere—even when I’m in Boston to talk about evangelism to evangelism leaders.
Books, conferences and initiatives that champion church planting are manifold. This is a good thing. But it seems to me we’ve got better conferences and bigger excitement and, according to the research, only incremental progress when it comes to the evangelistic fruits of actual church planting.
Statistically, we have more church planting, but slightly less evangelistic impact. And, most importantly, too many church plants don’t have the needed evangelistic focus that should undergird what they do.
Evangelistic Church Planting
It is not just in church planting, but in the church in general, that evangelism has fallen on hard times. And two things I am passionate about have, at times, become replacements for evangelism in the minds of many: missional ministry and church planting.
People love to be missional. People love to plant churches. But when we actually talk about sharing the good news of the gospel—calling men and women to trust and follow Jesus—the passion can falter. It appears that, in many cases, the value we place on being verbal witnesses of the good news of Jesus Christ to those around us is declining, while church planting and acts of service are increasing.
That’s a concern, when we need missional ministry, church planting and MORE evangelism.
Now, groups and denominations that love evangelism tend to do this well in church planting, but as others have gained a passion for planting, they often did not start with a passion for evangelism.
We need both.
So, statistically, we are seeing more church planting. Anecdotally, I think we are seeing more missional ministry. But, for many, they are talking themselves out of evangelism.
So, in some settings, church plants are providing new places for believers who want a new experience. In other words, in the name of being missional, we’re actually appealing to a consumer mentality and simply offering a new and improved product to Christians. That’s not an effective way to reach the world, and it’s certainly not biblical.
However, there are churches (and groups and denominations) that are doing evangelistic church planting with a missional focus.
Evangelistic Intentionality vs. Evangelistic Strategy
We spend significant amounts of time, energy and money discussing, developing and training in evangelistic methodology and strategy, but the truth is that evangelistic intentionality is far more important.
The fact that you do something is much more significant than what you do when it comes to evangelism.
What tends to happen is that a few churches do something (even if it is a methodology that causes others to turn up their noses), while others wait until they are “in community” or “get missional.”
Where does this leave us? I don’t think that the answer is to start doing seeker services again.
Ultimately, however, we must get over the embarrassment of evangelism methodologies.
Teach people! You say you need to teach them a little differently. That’s fine.
You and your people don’t want to say, “If you were to die today, do you know for sure you’d go to heaven?” That’s fine. Find or develop a method you support and is biblical. But don’t make it so complicated that someone has to have a Ph.D. in theology to understand.
We need to get to the place where our people can articulate a simple gospel message and call men and women to faith in Jesus Christ, and that has to flow naturally in and through a church plant.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham distinguished chair of church, mission and evangelism at Wheaton College and the Wheaton Grad School, where he also oversees the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism.