God’s plan to reach people with the gospel is not primarily evangelists or apologists, although both are vitally important. God’s plan to reach people with the gospel is the church. We can make no greater investment of our resources than to help churches become infectious communities of gospel-gripped people motivated and equipped to bring others into God’s family.
So what does a church need in order to be this kind of evangelistic tool in God’s hands? It seems like there are three vital ingredients in the mix. These could be seen as three legs on a stool, and the stool needs all three legs to be used as it was intended
1. People need to ENJOY God and the gospel.
It is easy to encourage or pressure believers to share their faith with others. Many Sunday sermons end with the call to read our Bibles every day and witness to somebody this week. The problem is that pressure without motivation will produce poor results. Many will simply default to doing nothing. Those that try to do as they have been instructed will often give a clear sense of their own obligation and reticence. The best witnesses and evangelists will always be those that are truly gripped with the goodness of the good news of who God is and what God has done for us in Christ.
We do not want a church full of reticent and obligated witnesses. We do want as many as possible to be so enjoying God and the gospel that they can’t help but spill that good news out to others. This is why simply telling Christians to evangelise is never very effective. We would achieve much more evangelistically if we invest more time in showing them Christ that their hearts become enflamed with love for him. When someone gets engaged they can’t help but smile big and show off the ring to anyone around them. O for churches full of people thrilled that they are more than engaged to Christ!!
2. People need to CONNECT with people outside the church.
A highly motivated community of Christians will not have much impact on their local culture if they live in isolation from it. The New Testament does not instruct us to purposefully make connections with the people around us because it was automatically happening. Not only is the church in the book of Acts an example to us, so is Jesus himself. He was known as a friend of sinners. Sadly too many churches are full of people that feel their main job is to find ways to avoid contact with non-Christians.
As leaders of churches let us lead by example and let us encourage through our teaching. God is relational and outwardly focused to the core of his being. Christianity has a missionary and evangelistic inclination in its very DNA. Many Christian leaders can easily spend all their time with Christians. Set an example by joining a club or taking a class, finding some way to connect with people that may have no other contact with true Christians. If you are working alongside not-yet-Christians, set an example to your church by guarding time to invest in those relationships. Invite a colleague to your home for a meal, socialize together, move the conversation beyond the superficial. Many Christians seem to have lost the art of conversation, and asking questions seems to be a dying art. Set an example and even teach believers how to ask questions and care about the answers. Our local churches need to be communities that connect with those around.
3. People need to be able to COMMUNICATE the gospel when they have opportunity.
We may have motivated and connected believers in our churches that are unclear on how to present the core gospel message. We can be overt here – tell them the value of a personal testimony that includes the three elements of before conversion, how I became a Christian, and the difference it has made since. The power of the personal testimony is massively under-utilized by many Christians.
And why not instruct our churches with a simple gospel presentation. I heard a famous preacher suggest the simple use of John 3:16 with four key points some years ago. It is still my go-to explanation if the opportunity suddenly crops up. Obviously I will adjust the explanation in light of what I know about the person I am speaking to, but still it is a useful presentation. 1. God loved so (2) God gave. 3. If we believe, then (4) we have eternal life. It starts with the kind of God we are presenting, moves naturally into what God did for us in sending Christ to go to the cross. It keeps the invitation unencumbered with unhelpful baggage by calling us to believe in – that is, not just believe that, but believe in … to entrust the full weight of our lives onto the person and work of Christ, with no backup plan! And it allows us to define the Christian offer not as a free pass or a ticket to heaven, but rather as coming into the forever relationship that we were designed to enjoy.
So that is the three-part recipe for helping a church to be more effective in its evangelism. There are other things that could be added. For instance, it is important for a local church to establish an evangelistic baseline (for our church it is about making every Sunday accessible to guests, and running a regular evangelistic course – we use Glen Scrivener’s 321). Then there are special events that can be highly effective. But first and foremost, the church is not the program, it is the people, and if we can help the people in our churches to enjoy God more, be intentionally connected, and be able to communicate the gospel, then we are unleashing God’s great evangelistic strategy on the world: the local church!