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 nineteen 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 a simple swipe through app where people can choose the six words that best describes their lives. Then the believer walking them through the app can swipe through the six words (that begin six sentences) that explain the GOSPEL message. It's a simple, interactive and fun app that can help kickstart faith sharing among your adults and teenagers.
Dare 2 Share also provides specific training for teenagers through apps, curriculum and events. On October 13th Dare 2 Share will be hosting Dare 2 Share Live, a live simulcast event in 97 cities across the nation. This one day event will inspire, equip and unleash your teenagers to share their faith. To find out where the closest satellite site is to you check out Dare2sharelive.org.
5. The Gospel is not relentlessly given.
After visiting a church in our community a few years ago, the pastor of the church (whom I have known for awhile) texted me after the service and asked me to give him an honest evaluation of the church. My text response was this, "Great service! 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 (because the gospel was 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. The people in our churches don't know their neighbors.
I've heard the average home in America described as a castle. The driveway is the moat. The garage door is the drawbridge. And most "kings and queens" of their castles come home every night and, when they pull into their garages, close the drawbridge.
What if we really equipped the people of our churches to reach out to the neighbors in their own backyards (literally!)...and next door and across the street! That's why I love what my buddy Dave Runyan is doing with The Art of Neighboring. He asks the hard-because-its-so-obvious question, "What if Jesus meant that we should love our actual neighbors?" This website has tools for your whole church to start getting to know their neighbors.
From neighborhood block parties to sponsored movie nights in our side yard my family have used some of The Art of Neighboring strategies to get to know our neighbors better. And it all has led to tons of very natural Gospel conversations.
If you want your church to reach the people in your own backyard then unleash the people of your church to get to know their neighbors first!
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.
To help you along the way download a digital version of my book, Gospelize your Youth Ministry, for free. Although it is written to youth leaders it could have just as easily been written to church leaders. The values and principles in it will help you "gospelize" your entire congregation based on seven powerful values from the book of Acts.
Also, go to Gospeladvancing.org and take a 12 question diagnostic to see what stage of gospelization you are in as a church. Then make use of the tools and training to help you accelerate to the next stage.
It's time for your church to reach out to the people in your own backyard. It's time to get fully gospelized. It's time for you to lead the way.