How can the Church develop a culture of evangelism?
Answering this question was the motive behind my books, God’s Not Dead and Man Myth Messiah, which helped inspire the movies God’s Not Dead and the recently released God’s Not Dead 2. In fact, the latest movie references a current Assemblies of God initiative, The Human Right. It underscores the basic need all humans have for God and our responsibility to give them an opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ.
Without a doubt, God’s people must be prepared to give the reason for the hope within us (1 Peter 3:15). I don’t need to restate the grim statistics of young people leaving the faith once they attend college or the fact that only a small fraction of churches grow through evangelism. Most Christian leaders are in agreement that reaching nonbelievers should be our top priority. The good news is that it isn’t hard to do.
God designed the Church to grow through the compelling truth of the gospel message and through the lives of those who present it. This type of church is evident in Scripture, as well as in history. An engaging church is one that equips its people to present the gospel in word and deed to the unbelieving world. Stated even more simply: An engaging church trains believers to reach nonbelievers.
I want to present some of the things that can help transform any congregation of any size into an engaging church. To help you remember these key ingredients, I will use the word GREAT (Gospel, Reasons, Evangelists, Approach, Tools) as an acronym. The angel Gabriel used the word "great" to describe John the Baptist when he said John would turn the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous (Luke 1:15–17). An engaging church is great in the sense that it does the same thing.
Most leaders say evangelism is their passion and that this is why they went into the ministry to begin with. Yet without an intentional process, evangelism becomes something only a few actively pursue.
With a vision in place, evangelism can become as regular as a music or youth ministry. Think about it. No one is shocked when they attend a church meeting and the music team leads in worship. With an evangelism team in every congregation, outreach can be just as consistent.
I assume you already have a heart for people and spend time praying for the lost. After all, if you didn’t care about others, you probably wouldn’t be reading an article about evangelism. So how can you begin putting your compassion into action? Consider these primary ingredients for developing an engaging church.
Tragically, most Christians can’t give a clear explanation of the gospel. While they can probably describe some parts of the message, their understanding isn’t clear enough to explain and defend Bible truth to others. Giving people a simple definition of the gospel that they can learn and memorize will dramatically increase the likelihood that they will share the message.
Here is a working definition: The gospel is the good news that God became man in Jesus Christ. He lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died — in our place. Three days later, He rose from the dead, proving He is the Son of God and offering the gift of salvation and forgiveness of sins to everyone who repents and believes in Him.
God became man in Christ – in Jesus, we have the Creator of the universe in human form. Christianity isn’t about us reaching God, but God first reaching us. Christ is indeed “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).
He lived the life we should have lived – Christ perfectly obeyed God’s commands. This is what God ultimately expects of us.
Jesus died the death we should have died – through His death on a cross, He took our punishment for breaking God’s law.
His resurrection from the dead validated His identity as the Son of God.
The gospel offers salvation and forgiveness to everyone who repents and believes in Jesus Christ – this simply means we turn from a sinful life of going our own way and put our trust in the resurrected Jesus Christ.
Many Christians do not feel confident enough to defend their faith. They are hesitant to share the gospel, fearing people will confront them with questions they cannot answer. Churches can easily overcome this hurdle by offering basic training in apologetics. This simply means giving the evidence for God’s existence and the truth of Christianity.
It’s important to address several key areas. First, many falsely believe that science is in conflict with faith. In contrast, science provides some of the best evidence for God as our Creator. Astronomers recognize that the universe had a beginning. Christians may differ on when the universe began, but we all agree that God created everything out of nothing.
Sir Fred Hoyle, an atheist, presumably coined the phrase “big bang” as a derogatory term. He warned that the notion of a starting point for the universe allowed a “divine foot in the door.”
Indeed, many scientists recognize that the laws of physics and countless details of our planet point to a design, which further points to the God of the Bible.
Ultimately, believers need to understand the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are many facts that even skeptical historians admit are beyond dispute. Although skeptics in places such as Internet comment boards shout denials of these claims, their arguments are baseless. Their assertions are the equivalent of an intellectual drive-by shooting.
Among the undeniable historical facts are:
- Jesus was executed by Pontius Pilate
- His tomb was found empty by a group of His women followers
- The disciples of Jesus believed they saw Him alive
- The message of His resurrection was proclaimed very early, literally weeks later.
The best explanation of these facts is that Jesus rose from the dead. There is also compelling evidence that the Gospels are reliable accounts of these events. All of these topics, as well as others, are detailed in my two books and portrayed in the movies.
Identifying and training evangelists are among the most important components of any local church’s evangelism efforts. People often think of evangelists as ministers who conduct revival meetings. But according to Ephesians 4:11-12, evangelists also help equip believers to share and defend the gospel. A good definition of an evangelist, then, is someone who shares the gospel with unbelievers, while equipping believers to do the same.
Often, these people are already fruitful in evangelism. They have a desire to share the gospel and, if trained, would be even more effective. In many congregations, the leaders in evangelism are busy with many other duties in the church. When you give them direction, training and focus, they can train others and multiply their efforts. It is thrilling to see an evangelistic team emerge. And just as a worship team facilitates worship, evangelists can facilitate evangelism. In the same way the majority of Christians enter into worship, they can also begin evangelizing. After all, God calls all believers to share their faith and make disciples.
In this process of evangelism, there is the inevitable moment when you learn to approach someone with the gospel. This is what many people dread because of the potential awkwardness usually associated with personal evangelism. The word, approach, as a noun is defined as, “a way of dealing with something; an act of speaking to someone for the first time about something, typically a proposal or request.” As a verb, it means: “come near or nearer to [someone or something] in distance; speak to [someone] for the first time about something, typically with a proposal or request.” This word, approach, is an excellent description of the mindset in evangelism that we need. The big question is: How can we approach others with the gospel?
Unfortunately, church people sometimes use abrupt and rude methods to approach others with the gospel. Most of us cringe at such spectacles. While we should be prepared to give the reason for the hope that is in us, 1 Peter 3:15 also tells us to do this with gentleness and respect. Whatever approach we use to proclaim the gospel, we must maintain a gentle, respectful and gracious tone.
Let me introduce a second acronym: SALT. It stands for:
- Start a conversation
- Ask questions
- Tell the story.
This simple formula has helped thousands of people adopt the right approach to engaging others. It involves asking questions and listening first before telling the story of the gospel.
Another major challenge for Christians is that they do not know how to start a conversation about faith. And, even if they happen to start one, the conversation can move in countless directions without ever leading to the gospel. As such, churches need to aid Christians in guiding these encounters with effective tools.
I developed a tool to help with the SALT approach. TheGodTest (thegodtest.org) is an app that people in 143 countries have downloaded. It includes two sets of 10 questions. One set is for people who believe in God, and the other is for people who are atheists or agnostics (those who are not sure whether God exists). The first question asks whether they believe in God, and their answer determines the next nine questions. The questions help believers gain a deeper understanding of the nature and character of God, as well as the hope of salvation in Christ. The questions for atheists and agnostics probe their beliefs on the origin of the universe, life and morality. The last question asks whether they would like to hear the Christian perspective on the questions. This tool has been so effective at guiding meaningful conversations that many atheists have thanked the Christians for talking to them about God so respectfully.
I also had the privilege of assisting the Assemblies of God in developing a similar tool, The Human Right Survey. It follows the same approach, but the questions focus on the topic of human rights, while pointing to God as the author of justice and Christ’s death as the payment for injustice. I strongly encourage you to train your churches to use these tools.
Becoming an engaging church is not difficult, and it certainly is not beyond your reach. I pray that these principles will help you in your efforts to empower others to reach the lost. Never have people been more open to a clear message of truth and hope. Like an MRI, the gospel shows the real crisis plaguing the human race and offers the only true remedy and healing for the human soul. God’s truth addresses and answers the great questions of our times.