Pastors Knute Larson, Jeff Bogue, and Jim Brown talk about how their methods of evangelism have changed over the years, but how the message remains the same.
The Changing Face of Evangelism
Good chance you have read the story of the tour group in one of the gorgeous huge cathedrals in Europe—a crowd that got very quiet when one of the tourists asked the guide loudly, “Has anyone been saved here lately?”
It is a decent question, awkward though it might be.
But the cathedral and our own worship services and Sunday habits remind us all that a lot has changed. No question.
Change, schmange!—we must still grapple with how our churches “do the work of an evangelist” for sure.
And we must admit that the home answering machine would get all the gospel presentation if we tried “Here’s Life, America,” the phone crusade fifty years ago. And not too many can say today they are thinking about “walking the aisle” at a Billy Graham crusade or during our own “Sunday evening evangelistic service” (yes, many used to call them that).
So what shall we do?
Especially if “Nothing” is not a choice. And it is not.
See if these thoughts help some for your own cathedral work!
Knute, for Jeff and Jim
But the gospel never changes!
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The main way evangelism has changed in the last few years is in our methodology, and our methods need to change.
- Big events are generally no longer effective…at least in Akron, Ohio. J We have found that gathering people to come to church for a special speaker or special event no longer works.
- “Sales Techniques” no longer work. In Akron, we have found that things like “Evangelism Explosion” and door-to-door evangelism are generally no longer effective. In fact they tend to be detrimental because people are offended by them.
- Relationships are the key! We believe that all truth needs to be delivered relationally, and the closer the relationship the better.
- This is the point that must absolutely never be surrendered in our creative efforts for evangelism.
- Simply being kind, expressing mercy, or extending relationship is not evangelism.
While all of these are critical, and even directed in Scripture, evangelism cannot occur until:
The sinful conditions of humanity is clearly expressed. The forgiving substitutionary atonement of Christ is clearly expressed. Until someone agrees that he is a sinner and then agrees that Christ is the only Savior, he cannot come into a Savior-relationship without Jesus.
- So everything with evangelism must start with a clear understanding of the gospel.
- While it never changes, methods must be relevant to the audience we are speaking to. Methods and approaches change.
Understand and practice these:
- Any good evangelist is fully aware of the world he lives in and the needs of the people so he can meet them at their greatest need and offer Jesus.
- I always try to leave the person I am sharing with one seed of doubt in his or her own belief system.
- If there were no evidence of Gospel transformation in our own lives then why would anyone want to have what we have?
- Evangelism is not a presentation or sales pitch but a conversation.
- Never be afraid to make the ask.
- Every conversation is a win if it pushes that individual one step closer to Jesus!
- God draws them and saves them, not us!
- The gospel is for us, not about us!
- Pray daily for divine encounters and for God to speak through you.
- Got it. Do not forget. Truth abides. No question.
- But the way people receive it or hear it changes, and we best admit that. With sorrow maybe, but we must face that.
- And, by the way, the way we say the gospel or present it does change, so we need to constantly evaluate the way we preach and explain what the Good News is!
- It is more than a “raise-your-hand” decision or a repeat-after-me prayer or a mental assent that evens one up with the demons.
- It is the good news that Jesus Christ is our salvation, and that UNION WITH CHRIST is the best way to live.
- Salvation is the way of faith whereby we admit our sin and turn around to place our trust in the death of Jesus, that He took all our sins on His back, along with those of the Old Testament folks and the disciples too, and those who will think or commit tomorrow also; and in His resurrection as our victory also, that this substitution for us was received as valid by the holy God the Father.
- He takes our sins; we are covered by His righteousness–“accepted in the beloved.”
- This results in true UNION WITH CHRIST, making possible our new life, a combination life because Christ’s Spirit is united with ours.
- Salvation is all of this and heaven, too.
How do we help our people with this?
- Help them think through how to reach people on a personal level.
Give them ideas on how to interact with their neighbors. Create environments where their neighbors are welcome to participate (sports ministries, serving opportunities, etc.). The gospel is not delivered in the environment but later on through the relationship.
- Equip people for evangelism.
The equipping only needs to be a meeting or two. If someone knows John 3:16 and can communicate why they accepted Christ he or she is equipped. Everything else comes as relational questions are discovered—and they do need to be answered. Then you come back and answer the specific questions people have.
- Help people find and utilize their spiritual gifts.
A great training and equipping program is the S.H.A.P.E. process (helps identify your spiritual gifts, your heart, abilities, personality and life experiences).
- Lean into the priesthood of believers.
Evangelism is “our work” not “the pastor’s job.” We need to get away from the idea of a “specialist” and realize that God has brought people into our natural paths of life so we can be salt and light.
- Lastly, simply a challenge for our people to “do the work of an evangelist.”
Help them see this as a spiritual responsibility God has given them.
- Model evangelism daily in your life.
- Tell stories of your own opportunities for sharing Jesus with others.
- Encourage and celebrate people who share, not just those who close the deal.
- Show your people how their giving to an outreach or participating in one has brought salvation to someone.
- Don’t keep salvation stories to you and your staff only, but tell the stories through video or personal testimony.
- The length of time from your last testimony is often indicative of how important this area is at the church.
- Keep lost people at the forefront of your ministry.
- In your staff planning meetings, have someone speak for the lost. That way you are planning events and services with the lost in mind.
- Help new converts tell their story to the church right away.
- Pray for yourself, the church, and your people—that all will want to grow in their love relationship with the Lord, and want to share it.
- Repeat a good definition of the gospel regularly. Many of our people could not summarize what it means to believe, in two minutes or so. Ask some what the cross means for our daily or eternal lives!
And sometimes a pastor can call for commitment or define salvation in so many different ways in a year that some of the less serious never get it.
After we took a survey at The Chapel with one of the questions being, “How do you know you are a Christian?” I pledged to myself that I would never again preach without the sermon having the cross and a brief explanation in it.
And I always say it the same Romans 3:21-26 way, ending with the “combination life,” or union with Christ.
Repetition can help.
- Use personal stories of your own attempts to talk with others. At least once a month
- Be sure it is part of the discussion of true discipleship-accountability groups that staff and other leaders have.
(We can share a good set of discussion guides for such groups if you like.)
These and the Sunday and home community groups need to talk about loving people enough to share the gospel with them, and what are appropriate questions. And why we and they for sure need to have unchurched or unlearned friends! Too many have none!
How is the invite given from the pulpit?
- First, we give it consistently with gentleness and respect.
Lean into the fact that here is a loving God, not the idea that you are dangling on the edge of hell. We have found, especially for younger people, the message that is heard more clearly is the loving God principle. He wants to rescue you from your sins.
- Secondly, we want to give the message in a relational way.
We will often use thoughts like: we would love to talk with you; we would love to grab a cup of coffee; we would love to sit down with you.
We have really leaned away from encouraging them to make this decision at this moment and leaned more into allow us to have the right of this relationship and talk you through what you are looking at.
- Way before the invite, and the ask, there should be a season of prayer.
- We must show that we are broken and need to be fixed.
- Do everything you can to prepare for the moment and be prepared to look stupid if no one responds. That way you are totally dependent on God to do the saving and not you.
- Gently ask people, yet share with real conviction that what you are saying is about eternal life.
- Never underestimate the power of prayer before making the ask.
- Explain to them that the prayer or raising of hand does not save them, but that action is the indication that something has already happened in their hearts.
- Give them a chance to respond by offering a token gift as a reminder of their commitment so they can have it as a reference point down the road.
- Never be afraid to make the ask from the pulpit. Do not leave them trying to figure it out on their own.
- Keep it simple.
- Celebrate the decision made.
- Very regularly!
- See #2 in the last section.
- Very graciously, and with love, and without pressure, and at appropriate times, not forced into the end of every sermon (which takes away from the final application of that sermon’s clear subject).
- With a specific way to get more information and with careful guidance—perhaps in a class or up front or in a coffee room—often this invite is a hard one where people to talk with are down in the front of a room where everyone is walking back.
- With the urging of people to talk with friends who brought them—which is where we hope good salvation discussion frequently happens.
- When the text is salvific. And many are. When there is a verse about grace and life in Christ, salvation can be explained.
- Sometimes in a special “living church” moment in the worship part of the service, so the 2-3 minutes of gospel clarity stand alone and are emphatic.
- Sometimes at the start of the sermon: “I am going to meet you in Ephesians 5 today, about Christian and godly marriage, but may I say as I start that these are especially guidelines for the believer. And before we look at that, this reminder of what the Christian believer really is…..” (And there, a brief explanation of salvation, the life in Christ and Christ in us.)
- In our own hearts. “Preach the gospel to yourself every day.”
Vol. 3, Issue 6
October 2016 Issue
Produced by CE National
Pastorpedia is a ministry of CE National, a church effectiveness ministry. To receive an email when each Pastorpedia video is available, signup for ON MISSION Insights at cenational.org/omi_signup.
The three experienced pastors in these videos are: Jeff Bogue, of Grace Church, in several locations in the greater-Akron area of Ohio; Jim Brown, of Grace Community Church in Goshen, Indiana, a church known for its strong growth, family and men’s ministries, and community response teams; and Knute Larson, a coach of pastors, who previously led The Chapel in Akron for 26 years.
Ed Short, CE National church consultant, is available to help you launch your ministry into a more thriving atmosphere. Visit cenational.org/candc to find out more.