As a general rule, the best evangelistic programs (1) facilitate relationship building between church members and unbelievers; (2) emerge from the ground-up, rather than imposed by the leadership from the top-down.
Evangelism isn’t just for the “professionals”—pastors, ministers, Bible teachers, and all the rest.
Instead, the New Testament teaches that evangelism is the whole church’s job. But asserting the “whole church” does evangelism can be a bit confusing. What does that mean? Is there some special evangelism program hidden somewhere in the pages of the New Testament? Furthermore, what if any relationship exists between our personal evangelism and our church’s outreach ministry?
In most churches, the role of the church in evangelism is largely reduced to programs. Local churches create programs or events in order to share the gospel with the surrounding community. Unfortunately, such programs tend to displace the more important work of cultivating a culture of evangelism. They tend to divert members’ attention away from cultivating friendships with unbelievers and toward propping up a program—particularly, event-driven programs. (Watch The Gospel Blimp film for an older, slightly cheeky illustration of this tendency.) The result is as surprising as it is unintended: a church full of busy Christians who simply have no time for non-Christians.
We need to be careful here; not all evangelistic programs do this. But many do.
So, does that mean all evangelism should be unstructured and “organic”? Not necessarily. As a general rule, the best evangelistic programs (1) facilitate relationship building between church members and unbelievers; (2) emerge from the ground-up, rather than imposed by the leadership from the top-down.
Check out Christianity Explored and Christianity Explained for an example of an evangelistic study that encourages Christians to have non-Christians over to share meals and spiritual conversations.
Ultimately, purely programmatic evangelism is insufficient because it falls short of Christ’s vision for his church. After all, the church ought to make the gospel visible (Jn. 13:35; 17:20–21). The church equips people to share the gospel (Eph. 4:12). The church holds one another accountable to evangelize, and helps one another in the task. In other words, our congregations aren’t told merely to prop up an occasional evangelistic program, our congregations are the evangelistic program—one invented by Jesus.
This is why every church ought to cultivate a robust “culture of evangelism.” Programs are events. A culture is a way of life. Programs come and go. A culture endures.
Such a culture is easier to observe than to describe. But here are a few defining characteristics:
- The church labors to make sure every member understands and can articulate the gospel.
- Leaders and members regularly encourage sharing the gospel with people in their network of relationships.
- The church regularly prays (as individuals and corporately) for the evangelistic efforts of others.
- The church trains people to share the gospel winsomely.
- Members informally gather to talk about their evangelistic conversations, receive feedback and encouragement, and pray for the lost.
- Members try to build intentional friendships with their friends’ lost friends so that they can be yet another influence in the life of an unbeliever.
- The church endeavors to care for all its members and love one another in such a way that the gospel is made visible to outsiders (Jn. 13:35).
- The evangelistic programs that happen are chosen for their ability to facilitate and strengthen relationships between members and unbelievers.
How Can Pastors Promote a Culture of Evangelism?
1) Evangelize. (1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 5:2–3)
We can’t reproduce what we ourselves aren’t doing. If we don’t engage in personal evangelism, then we have no reason to assume we’ll be able to lead a congregation to evangelize those in their circle of influence.