For a decade of my life I was privileged to lead a church that was very effective at reaching the lost. Through prayer, hard work and a relentless Gospel focus we experienced strong growth primarily due to new believers being added to our church roles. During that time God taught me many hard and valuable lessons that have stuck with me to this day.
In the fifteen years since being a pastor I've been blessed to lead a ministry called Dare 2 Share, a ministry that focuses on equipping teenagers to share the Gospel with their peers. In this time I've talked to thousands of youth leaders and preached at many churches, both big and small, across the nation. And I've noticed a pattern in these churches…most of them are not effectively reaching the lost with the Gospel in their own communities.
Sure, many of them are effective at other things…teaching God's Word, taking care of the poor, supporting overseas mission work, creating opportunities for believers to use their spiritual gifts, etc. But most are not truly effective at reaching the lost in their own backyards.
After countless conversations with church leaders and first hand observations of innumerable Sunday morning services I'm convinced there are 7 reasons why this is the case...
1. They've lost their "Gospel urgency."
In the average church there is not a "whatever it takes" mentality when it comes to reaching the lost with the hope of Jesus Christ. There is not a sense of urgency that flows from the reality of hell for those who don't hear and believe the message of the Gospel.
Sometimes this lack of urgency flows out of a theological construct that causes some church goers to conclude that "it's all up to God anyway." Sometimes it flows out of a lack of understanding of the mission and mandate Jesus left for us all in Matthew 28:19 when he commissioned his followers to "go and make disciples of all nations."
Whatever the reason for this lack of urgency church leaders need to help their congregations hear the call from above (the Great Commission), the whisper from within (compassion) and the scream from beneath (reality of hell) so that the Holy Spirit can re-ignite their peoples' passion to reach the lost.
2. The leadership doesn't model it.
As someone once said, "No tears in the eyes of the writer, no tears in the eyes of the reader." What's true of writing is true of evangelism in the local church. If the pastor, associate pastor, youth pastor and the rest of the church leadership don't have broken hearts for the lost and aren't engaging in Gospel conversations with family, friends, neighbors, baristas, etc. then neither will their congregations.
Jesus said in Luke 6:40, "The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher." Bible studying pastors have Bible studying congregations. Program driven pastors have program driven congregations. Evangelizing pastors have evangelizing congregations.
This begs the question that if someone does not lead people to Christ should they be a church leader at all? To follow Jesus, according to Jesus' own words in Matthew 4:19 will inevitably result in "fishing for people" (aka "evangelism"). So if we are not fishing for people through evangelism are we really following Jesus? Hmmm...
3. Intercessory prayer is not a true value.
"First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." 1 Timothy 2:1-4
The very first order of business in conducting a church service (according to Paul's instruction to Timothy anyway) is intercessory prayer for the lost. Why? Because God desires "all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."
Sadly, the average church spends more time in church announcements than intercessory prayer. In some churches the high task of intercessory prayer is relegated to a small group of prayer warriors. In this sense pastors delegate the duty of prayer so they can devote themselves to preaching. But when the church came together in Acts 2:42 "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." And in Acts 6:4 the apostles delegated other duties so that they could devote themselves to "prayer and the ministry of the Word."
Do you pray for the lost in church staff meetings, corporate meetings and small groups? If you want to increase your gospel urgency then crank up the intercession frequency on your prayer dial.
4. Evangelism training rarely happens (if at all.)
Most churches don't have a consistent way for church members to be equipped in effectively engaging Gospel conversations. Or better yet why not do an annual sermon series on how to share your faith? Why not make it part of the fabric of growing in one's faith just like giving, praying and Bible study? Or why not have ALL your small groups go through a series on evangelism?
To help Dare 2 Share has a brand new faith sharing app called "Life in 6 Words." It's free on the iTunes store and GooglePlay. We also have a brand new adult focused 40 day devotional called "6 Words that Will Change Your Life" that can be used in combination with our adult-focused small group curriculum to help adults gain a sense of Gospel Fluency.
5. The Gospel is not relentlessly given.
Recently my family and I have been visiting churches in our community. After visiting one church a pastor I knew texted me after the service and asked me to give him an honest evaluation of the church. My text response was this, "Great! Friendly people. Good sermon. Great worship. The only thing I'd say is that if I was lost when I came in I'd still be lost when I left (gospel not clearly given)."
When you give the gospel consistently in your church meetings then the church members know that any time they bring an unreached person they will hear the gospel. As a pastor I gave the gospel at the end of every sermon and we saw people come to faith weekly. Why? Because people invited friends, family and neighbors to church because they knew that the gospel would be given clearly and consistently.
This can also happen in small groups. As a matter of fact there are specific small group strategies like Alpha and Seeker Small Groups that have resources for churches to start small groups that reach out to the lost.
6. They've exchanged evangelism for "outreach."
In far too many churches outreach has been generalized to the point where the verbal articulation of the Gospel has been exchanged for collecting food for the poor, ministering to the marginalized and reaching out to the hurting. While it's good to do good it's better to do great. And what's great is when churches meet the physical AND spiritual needs of their communities by sharing the Gospel with their lives AND their lips.
Government agencies can take care of physical needs. But only the church can take care of physical and spiritual needs. At the end of the day we are not fully doing anyone true justice if we withhold from them the message that can save their souls and transform their lives both now and forever.
7. Evangelistic storytelling is not a part of the culture.
In churches that are effective at evangelism stories of changed lives and saved souls are told consistently. These stories inject Gospel urgency into the congregation. And it gives church members a sense that reaching the lost with the hope of Jesus Christ can truly change their church and their community. True stories of disciple multiplication help believers move all this talk about evangelism from the "fiction" shelf of their mental library to the "non fiction" section.
Think about why we love the book of Acts. It's the stories of changed lives! When we carry on the mission of the early church and share stories along the way then more and more believers get fired up about engaging co-workers, family and friends with the good news of Jesus. What about having a "Missions Moment" in the church service where a story of impact can be told about lives "across the street and around the world" are being changed through the Gospel?
My prayer for every church leader reading this is that he/she can glean some insights to practically apply right away. I'd strongly encourage you to start with prayer. As you pray for the lost in your community God will give you the urgency and strategy you need to make evangelism a true value in your life personally and in your ministry publicly.
It's time for your church to reach out. It's time for you to lead the way.