Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rethinking our evangelism

A couple years ago, I first blogged about our mission statement at First Southern Baptist: "to make disciples of Jesus Christ who love God and love people by reaching and teaching everyone." It's inspired by the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20), and sums up what Christ has commanded the church to do until His return.

I think all of us at First Southern would agree we’re stronger on the teaching side of this paradigm than on the reaching side. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A church first needs to grow spiritually on the inside before it can reach out effectively to others. By the grace of God, we have matured in doctrine, in love, and in leadership. During this time, we have even seen a few people come to Christ and grow in faith, but honestly, our evangelism still has much room for improvement.

At our annual deacon retreat a couple weeks ago, we agreed that it's time for us to become more prayerful and purposeful in our evangelism. We really need to move further beyond the four walls of our church. We've hosted some good events, but too often, we are still being reactive rather than proactive. God occasionally throws a fish into our boat, but we are doing very little fishing of our own -- very little engaging of the culture around us.

There's no doubt about it. This is a challenging mission field. Consider these statistics: There are 27,000 residents in the immediate Yucca Valley / Joshua Tree community. Yet only 20% of these would say “my faith is really important to me." Even fewer (15%) consider it “important to attend religious services.” This is pretty representative of California as a whole. Yet how much of our church's outreach strategy and style of ‘doing ministry’ is targeting that 15% versus the other 85% who don’t even consider their faith important, and couldn’t care less about attending our worship service?

According to Chuck Williams from Gideons International, who recently gave a presentation at our church, there are 100,000 people in our basin, but only 6% of these are attending church (and how many of those are truly evangelical?). I don’t think it would be exaggerating to say only 1 out of 20 (5%) in our community is saved. Jesus did say “the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it” (Mt. 7:13), but this is no excuse for idleness in our evangelism.

So, how do we begin to break down this massive amount of lost people and create an evangelism strategy that is bold yet dependent on the supernatural, regenerative work of God? One thing that we discussed at our deacon retreat is the idea of moving more toward regional home Bible Studies. Something offered on a weeknight that would be a "first contact" with unbelievers. It would be a place where Christians could invite their unchurched friends and where the gospel could be discussed in a relaxed, non-threatening atmosphere. Plus, we would have the benefit of meeting regionally, which means we could host them in Palm Springs or Twentynine Palms, or anywhere in between where our church folks are talking with unsaved friends and co-workers, and want to invite them to a local evangelistic event. We're not exactly sure what this will look like in the months ahead, but we're looking very seriously at the Christianity Explored materials as our springboard.

Most importantly, we realize that just adding more evangelistic "programs" to our church calendar is not the solution. Programs and events are often very costly and labor intensive, and somewhat artificial, requiring people to come to us on "our terms." Instead, we need to incorporate evangelism into the very warp and woof of our ministry. We need to cultivate a burden for the lost and a confidence in sharing the gospel within the heart of every member of our church. We need to begin viewing ourselves as missionaries, and training our people to take the gospel to the people God has placed in their immediate circle of influence.

Father, forgive us for the many times we have failed You in our evangelism. We are weak and inadequate to save the lost. But we believe the Gospel is the power of God which leads to salvation (Rom. 1:16-17). And just as you had many elect in Corinth, we believe you have "many people in this city" (Acts 18:10). Bless our efforts as we try to become more purposeful in our evangelism in the year ahead.

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2 comments:

  1. I had an email reader make this comment:

    "A church first needs to grow spiritually on the inside before it can reach out effectively to others." I don't agree with this. The early church was very good at reaching out to others. You find most evangelism in the church in America occurring how? Generally, it's new believers who are excited about their new life who are reaching out to others.

    Here was my reply:

    Thanks for reading and interacting. By that comment, I have in mind Scriptures like John 13:34-35 and 1 Peter 2:12. If a church is full of conflict and ungodly behavior, it will be in no position to be an effective gospel witness. If you go into a long-established church that has plateaued or is declining, you will probably not find many new believers with the kind of enthusiasm you are speaking of. I think the first step in helping that church is not to start up an evangelism program, but to kindle their affection for Christ so they will want to and be equipped to evangelize others. Hope this helps a bit.

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  2. I'm not sure about evangelism "programs". But sure would hesitate to say that very loudly. But I think you are correct to focus on church health.

    Some thoughts; though I am a fellow struggler on this road.

    Those "first contacts" are invaluable -- in my opinion. We do 4 major outreaches. We see very little direct response (except for AWANA), but reap the benefit throughout the year because of those first contacts. They are:
    1. AWANA
    2. Harvest Festival.
    3. Christmas Dessert Theater.
    4. VBS

    Here's an interesting thing; I cannot discern a major difference in our baptisms between years we've done a coordinated evangelism effort and when we simply focused on church wide events. (So years we were doing FAITH evangelism, did not seem to make a huge impact on the yearly numbers.) My only conclusion to that is that evangelism is really more relational.

    I really try to make it easy for people to make a decision. That is everything from welcome card, invitation to even marraige counceling.

    I have noticed that many people are very interested in Baptism. Our culture has given them the impression that Baptism saves. So we include it on our welcome card as an option to mark -- but I meet one on one with every person we baptize. Honestly, I would guess half or more of decisions are made as part of baptism counceling as we clarify what the decision is.

    Sorry to jabber, Stephen! I love your heart for the lost as well as the church.

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