The early church in Acts 2 did a lot of things right and God blessed them for it. Acts 2 closes with the words, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” This is evangelism and it is something that should happen naturally when we do everything else right in the church. I have become convinced of this. When we’re loving and giving and worshipping and praying and studying the way we’re supposed to, people are just going to be naturally drawn to the church.
There are a few people who are naturally gifted evangelists. They are often the ones who write books on the subject and tell stories about how they led someone to the Lord during a flight from California to New York. Most people are not natural evangelists like this however. This doesn’t excuse any of us from sharing the gospel with others however.
Too often evangelism has been treated like a 7 or 12 step process – do these things and you’ll convert all of your friends and neighbors into wonderful Christians. The truth there have been some great points made about evangelism but the final process often only works in a particular setting. Some of the biggest churches in America have an average attendance much larger than a small town or even city, drawing in 20-30,000 people a weekend. Applying these ideas in a town of 5,000 won’t always translate.
There are three things wrong these processes as I see it. First, they are intimidating. We can read these books and get all fired up and reaching others for Christ until the first time we try to get out and follow the process. Then we can’t remember one of the steps or we get them out of order. We become frozen, afraid that doing evangelism improperly is worse than doing nothing at all. The next time the opportunity to share the gospel arises we keep quiet because the process is too hard.
The second problem with processes is that they are sold to us as the solution to all of our evangelistic problems. We are given numerous success stories about how well this process worked. When we try to go and do the same thing we fail and we get very discouraged. We believe that either we are poor evangelists or that we can’t follow a simple process. What isn’t factored into many of these processes and success stories is that what works in Chicago and Los Angeles might not, and probably doesn’t, work in a city of 50,000 let alone a town of 5,000 or a village of 500. A church with a $100,000 evangelism budget can obviously do more than a church whose entire budget is less than $100,000.
Finally, a lot of these processes aren’t biblically based. That doesn’t mean that they are bad or wrong, but I prefer to stick with principles that I know to be absolute truth. Instead of telling stories of how this process worked for me or someone I know, I would much sooner tell you the story from scripture of how this principle was used and how it worked.
All of this lead me to rethink evangelism. We need to unpack all of the processes that we’ve tried to make evangelism into. Evangelism comes down to showing people God’s love first and foremost. There are many ways to do this. We don’t need a program or a number of steps to just love somebody.
All over the world, there are Christians who are committed to the Great Commission. We find men and women in our churches who are dedicated to seeing people coming to Christ and growing the kingdom of God. Most people in our churches will agree that it is important for the church to be reaching people for Christ.
Unfortunately few people know how to do evangelism well. Christians are all in favor of an easy process that brings dozens if not hundreds of people to Christ if it doesn’t take much time or resources. Few Christians have been willing to really sacrifice to get it done. Despite a desire to reach people for Christ, we are lost when it comes to actually getting out and doing it. At best, we’ve reduced evangelism down to a process and a list of objectives to check off.
There are others in the church who believe that it is the pastor’s job to evangelize the lost. If the church isn’t growing it is the pastor’s fault. The pastor needs to do more visitation. The pastor needs to have more interesting sermons. The church needs to use contemporary music – then we’d be able to reach the lost.
It sounds kind of silly to believe that the pastor is solely responsible for reaching the lost in the church – after all, the Great Commission was for everyone, not just pastors. Nevertheless, many pastors have lost their jobs because the church wasn’t growing.
Ultimately, the responsibility falls upon us. Every Christian has been called to go and make disciples. This means the pastor, the choir members, Sunday school teachers, and the church janitor. Jesus didn’t place any sort of exception clause in his calling.
It would seem like it doesn’t need to be said, but the church needs to get out and reach the world. Only two of the major denominations in America are growing at all. These two still aren’t growing at the rate that people are being born and moving into the United States however. This means that the United States is becoming less and less Christian.
We have been given a great gift by God and it should only come naturally to us that we want to share that good news with everyone else. When a couple has a child, they call all of their family, all of their friends, and everyone they know. The proud father shows off pictures at work. Why do we do this? Is it because of any great accomplishment, something that was earned? No, we don’t tell others to brag about any accomplishment, we simply want to share the good news.
Our reaction should be the same when we become Christians. Sometimes it is – we are fired up and want to share the news with everyone. Some of you were probably saved at a young age and there was no dramatic transformation in your life. You weren’t as fired up because the event wasn’t quite as life changing as it may have been for a man in prison or someone going through a very difficult time in life.
Time tends to cause our passion for telling others about Christ to die down. It is unfortunate, but yet natural. Ideally, our love for Christ and his church should be renewed daily, but at some point we realize that the church does not follow the ideal and does not have the same passion as the early church of the New Testament. When we see that the rest of the church isn’t as energized about saving souls as we are, we don’t want to stick out or be a radical, so we lessen our own expectations.
Today we live in what has been termed a post modern society. A post modern society means that there are no absolutes, what you feel is right is simply your opinion but you can’t thrust that upon someone else. Of course as a society we only play this card when it’s convenient. We’re in pretty much universal agreement that murder is wrong and have laws against it. I can’t get away with murder by stating that I don’t find it morally wrong and that it isn’t right for other people to thrust their moral opinion upon me.
But on the other hand many people have no problem with abortion because that’s not really murder, it’s a woman’s right to choose. If you have a moral problem with it, that’s your problem because society should set the standards for morality, not some religion. That is the definition of a post modern society.
But despite the difficulties in our culture today, we also have a unique opportunity. I really believe that we have moved on past post modern but most people haven’t realized it yet and a name hasn’t been given to it. For lack of a better term, I’ll call it the spiritual society.
There’s been elements of this for a while but things probably really changed with September 11th. On that day we had Congress stand united singing God Bless America. The hypocrisy of some of the same people who are working to have God’s name removed from everything is society asking for God’s blessing isn’t lost on me. But with that event we had a greater openness for God, or at least spiritual matters.
Today people are open to being spiritual. As a matter of fact it is even encouraged for the most part. The problem comes when you try to thrust your spirituality upon other people. “Don’t tell me you’re a better person because you follow some religious practice that I don’t.”
In society today, we need to be like Paul in Acts 17:22-23
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
People are looking for God, I really believe that. They don’t know where to look though. They are turned off by organized religion as they perceive it to be a bunch of rules and worthless garbage. But we can show them what God is really about.
When the church operates the way it is supposed to, evangelism is going to take place naturally. When you experience genuine love and fellowship with other Christians, people are going to see it and realize that it is something that isn’t experienced outside of the church. When you worship the one true God, people are going to see that it’s something greater than they have. When you cry out to God in faith, expecting for him to hear you and answer your prayers – there’s nothing like that in the rest of the world!
When we are the church that God wants us to be, when people come through those doors they are going to realize that it is not a place of rules and demands for obedience. It is a place that they can experience God. That is something that is set in the hearts of every person in the world. That is when evangelism is really going to take place.