Evangelism in Small Church America: Exclusive Research

“Intentionality in prayer, evangelism and discipleship are necessary to drive the church toward reaching the unreached.”

Pastors who are intentionally evangelistic also invest in relationships with non-Christians. In the survey, we found it encouraging that 8 out of 10 pastors spend time with non-Christians to make friends and share the gospel at least once a month. Nearly 60 percent of pastors intentionally block out time in their calendar to be outside the church office and share their faith with non-Christians. But, those who are seeing the greatest conversions say they make time to be in their community at a rate of 71 percent.

John Manning, former pastor of Spindle City Vineyard Church in Cohoes, New York, describes how he led his church members to set up chairs in the community and offer prayers for people. In one instance, a man named Patrick had asked for prayer, and through that prayer, God revealed himself and Patrick made a commitment to Christ.

Another way to do this is to actively consider the mission field right outside your own door. Pastors who openly invest in relationships with those in proximity to them and their family are modeling to their congregation what being missional looks like every day. Loving and caring for local schools, sports teams and neighborhood needs are all ways to purposefully invest in those whom God has placed in proximity to pastors, and will have lasting impacts on small-church congregations.

Intentionally evangelistic pastors are intentional about asking the non-Christian to commit to Christ after hearing the gospel, but they don’t necessarily do it every time. While 75 percent of pastors share their faith once a week, only 48 percent ask someone weekly to commit to Christ after hearing the gospel. When adding in the “once a month” frequency, the percentage of pastors grows to 75 percent. For those with the most effective evangelism, 88 percent of the intentionally evangelistic pastors reported they ask a person to commit to Christ at least monthly.

The Bible tells us to be bold with our witness, and pastors who exemplify boldness to their people will see it multiplied in their context. Doing this intentionally in front of lay leaders and new believers will solidify and form a culture of mission and evangelism.

Teaching the Church to Make Disciples

Ephesians 4 describes the reason God gave ministers to the church: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12-13). Essentially, the pastor is to create a climate of evangelism among the body of believers. This starts from personal faithfulness and moves to intentional modeling and public sharing, which should lead to replication.

Statistics show that pastors who are serious about evangelism present the gospel during the worship service. A total of 90 percent of intentionally evangelistic pastors stated they regularly receive feedback that they are strong in communicating with unchurched people who attend weekly worship services. The pastors also noted that they invite people to make a first-time commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior during the sermon. Sixty-five percent do this once a week.

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Successfully evangelistic pastors also equip church members to share their faith with non-Christians through formal and informal training. While 84 percent of the most effective pastors say their church teaches a course on personal evangelism once a year or more (formal training), 95 percent informally teach their members how to share their faith with unchurched people at least once a year.

By providing training to the church members, 92 percent of intentionally evangelistic pastors stated that members of their congregations reported engaging in evangelistic conversations in which they shared the gospel with non-Christians, compared to 78 percent of the least evangelistic churches. That which a pastor takes time to discuss will influence and shape the culture of the church. If there is training, discussion, dialogue, modeling and money being funneled into evangelistic efforts by the pastor, others will follow that lead.

Today there are many great resources available to help equip the body. It can also be helpful to find the most naturally gifted evangelistic believer in the church and mentor that person into leadership. The spirit of evangelism is contagious in a church. When one person is on fire about reaching the lost, it can spread like wildfire.

How the Congregation Can Help

The focus here is on how pastors can build the kingdom through personal evangelism and make disciples who will engage in the same. This will result in a healthier, growing church. But remember that the church plays a role in enabling the pastor to lead in evangelism.

Pastors of small churches are often so busy keeping ministry plates in the air, it is easy for them to feel like they have already done their part in building the kingdom. This can diminish the initiative to share their faith outside of the church. Or they can be so weary in the shepherding work that they struggle to find the spiritual energy to practice personal evangelism.

There are several reasons for the church to be supportive in the shepherding process. One of these is to help the pastor become more effective in personal evangelism. The spiritual nurturing of the flock starts with the pastor, but if he is the only one providing this, eventually it will consume all of his time. Many hands make light work. When other spiritual leaders in the congregation carry some of the shepherding load, it frees the pastor up to scout out other fishing holes.

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Beyond Planning

A pastor can’t plan the way into effective personal evangelism. All the seminars, blogs and videos on the internet cannot cause a pastor to reach the lost. This is primarily a spiritual issue. The Enemy is fighting hard to keep the church’s lead evangelist from sharing the gospel with lost people. Jesus prayed that his disciples would succeed. He’s given his Spirit to help pastors succeed. He has equipped them with gifts to succeed. Success in the spiritual realm comes to those who engage in spiritual battle.

In his book Faithful Over a Few Things, George McCalep Jr. writes, “The pastors and church leaders that want their churches to grow must make an intentional effort to make evangelism and outreach ministry a major focus in the life of the church. The key word is intentional or purposeful. Effective evangelism does not just happen.”

This fact is as true today as it was 21 years ago when McCalep wrote it. Pastors cannot sit back and wait for the people in the community to come and hear the gospel. Church members cannot sit still and let the pastors do the work. The gospel mandate was given to all of us. Intentionality in prayer, evangelism and discipleship are necessary to drive the church forward toward reaching the unreached, ultimately sparking a missionary movement across North America. While Jesus said the fields are white unto harvest, he also said we must go and make disciples. The crop of souls is ready, but it won’t harvest itself. No matter the size, the church must go.

Methodology

The study was sponsored by the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College and the Caskey Center for Church Excellence, in partnership with the following denominations:

  • The Assemblies of God
  • Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
  • Church of the Nazarene
  • Conservative Congregational Christian Conference
  • Converge Worldwide
  • Evangelical Covenant Church
  • Evangelical Free Church of America
  • The Foursquare Church
  • Missionary Church
  • Southern Baptist Convention
  • Vineyard USA
  • The Wesleyan Church

LifeWay Research conducted phone surveys of 1,500 pastors serving churches in evangelical and black Protestant denominations throughout the United States. The calling list was a random sample, stratified by church membership and denominational groups, drawn from a list of all evangelical and black Protestant churches. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error from the online panel does not exceed +2.7 percent.

Ed Stetzer is the executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College and holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission and Evangelism at Wheaton College.

Jeffrey Farmer is the associate director of The Caskey Center for Church Excellence and associate professor of Church Ministry and Evangelism at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.