Evangelism often gets short shrift in the church. Here’s how to discover and equip the latent evangelists in your midst.
Evangelists are hard to come by these days. Although the gift of evangelism is listed with several others in Ephesians 4, it seems like evangelists are few and far between. Peter Wagner, a longtime professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, first estimated that 10 percent of Christians are evangelists. However, more recent studies have suggested the percentage of a congregation who are gifted as evangelists to be closer to 1 to 4.
Interestingly, the word evangelist only appears three times in Scripture, which supports the idea that it may be somewhat rare (Acts 21:9; 2 Tim. 4:5; Eph. 4:11). What are the marks of an evangelist? How do you know if you are gifted? Here are several indicators.
• You love the gospel about the life and death and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of new life that can change hearts and change the world.
• You enjoy communicating the good news to people who have not accepted it yet.
• You love sharing in the spiritual journey of people who are not Christians, and you love to hang out with them, sometimes even more than you love hanging out with Christians.
• You are able to inspire and equip others to want to reach out.
• You have often seen people respond to the gospel and commit to Christ.
If this gifting of an evangelist is fairly rare, how can church leadership leverage it within the congregation? Here are five ways to maximize the evangelists in our midst.
1. Provide regular opportunities for your whole church to step out in evangelism.
Churches often find themselves in a catch-22 situation. They don’t create opportunities for evangelism because they don’t have leaders gifted in evangelism. But they often don’t have leaders gifted in evangelism because they haven’t created any opportunities for those leaders to emerge.
People may have the gift of evangelism without knowing it, and simply need opportunities to step out of their comfort zones and discover new gifts and passions that God has already put inside of them. In order to leverage the gifting of the evangelists, often the first step is creating space for that gifting to be discovered and explored.
2. Call them out of hiding.
People may have preconceived ideas of what it means to be an evangelist. This often includes picturing someone speaking in a stadium before large crowds of people, or perhaps someone standing on a box at a street corner, speaking to whomever will lend an ear. If people decide that they don’t really fit those stereotypes, they may begin to believe that they aren’t gifted in evangelism, even if they have a burden to reach the lost with the love of God.
But the truth is that the gifting of being an evangelist comes in different shapes and sizes. In order to maximize the evangelists in our midst, it’s important to correctly identify their gifting and call them out of hiding.
3. Let them build the church beyond the church walls.
Evangelists tend to think outside the box in order to reach people outside the box. Sometimes, they’re even willing to blow up the box if it gets in the way of reaching people. The box, made up of the four walls of the church, often feels like a very confining place to evangelists, and for that reason, it can be very challenging to corral and channel them in any one local church.
In fact, we must be careful that we don’t confine them within the structures of our churches. Instead, it’s critical for us to release them to build the church beyond the church walls. What evangelists do best is proclaim the gospel and gather people who then come to Christ. So, set them loose to preach the gospel, help plant churches and lead people to God.
We must continually remind ourselves that the kingdom of God is greater than any particular expression of the local church, and as we send out evangelists to minister beyond the walls of our church, we are still working together to build the church.
4. Empower them to empower others.
According to Ephesians 4:12, spiritual gifts are given for the building up of the body of Christ—including the gift of evangelism. Normally, when we think of the gift of evangelism, we see it as bringing more people into the church. While that is certainly one of the ways in which the evangelistic gift can build the church, it is not the only way.
Another key way in which evangelists build the church is by equipping and empowering the whole church to reach out. Although not everyone is called to be an evangelist, every Christian is called to be a witness to what Jesus has done for them. Evangelists are uniquely able to inspire and equip the rest of us to be witnesses in our spheres of influence.
We can maximize the evangelists in our churches by giving them roles and platforms from which they will be able to activate witness through the everyday people of the church.
I would share one caveat, though. Sometimes, evangelists are unique enough so that others cheer them on but don’t feel like they could imitate them. In light of that, we need a team for the evangelism ministry of the church. The team could include someone gifted in evangelism, as well as others who are passionate but perhaps less gifted in evangelism.
Interestingly, those less gifted in evangelism can sometimes motivate and mobilize everyday people into witness more effectively, since everyday people can more easily see themselves imitating the not-so-gifted.
5. Appreciate them appropriately.
People within the church can sometimes have a rather conflicted relationship and attitude toward the gifted evangelist. At times, the evangelist’s amazing ability to articulate the gospel and lead people into the kingdom of God can tempt us to view them as superheroes. At other times, their willingness to step out of the box and challenge the status quo may create a desire to escort them to the nearest exit.
However, neither attitude is particularly helpful. When it comes down to it, the gifting of the evangelist is an important and much-needed part of the body of Christ—along with every other part. In order to incorporate evangelists in the body of Christ, we must avoid the temptation to oscillate between putting them on a pedestal and sending them into exile.
As we find ways to appropriately value their contribution in the body of Christ, we will have greater freedom to make the most of their gifting—for the glory of God and for the benefit of his church.
So allow me to give a couple of final challenges. If you are gifted, turn over heaven and earth to develop and deploy that gift. You are fairly rare and very needed. And if you are not gifted this way but have influence, you can accept, encourage and empower the evangelists among us. They bring a stream of freshly redeemed people into the faith and into the church, and they help others do so. Both types of people are needed to grow the kingdom of God.
Rick Richardson is director of the M.A. programs in evangelism and leadership and in missional church movements degrees at Wheaton College, and heads up the Church Evangelism Initiative at the Billy Graham Center.