By Paul Petersen
Every day at 9:37 a.m., my phone vibrates and chimes, reminding me to pray Matthew 9:37-38. “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.”
I learned this habit from an evangelistic conference I attended in college, but it took several years before I realized God wanted me to be the answer to that prayer.
The 2019 Lifeway Research Discipleship Pathway Assessment study reveals a common experience among churchgoers—willingness to pray but hesitancy to proclaim the gospel to their friends, neighbors, and family. Fifty-five percent of monthly churchgoers had not shared how to become a Christian with anyone in the previous six months, yet 56% of churchgoers pray weekly for opportunities to share.55% of monthly churchgoers had not shared how to become a Christian with anyone in the previous six months, yet 56% of churchgoers pray weekly for opportunities to share. Click To Tweet
Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, said in that report, “The task of making disciples of all nations has not been fully embraced in the American church—especially by the majority culture.” We must pray in order to carry out the Great Commission, but we also must go.
The following four keys can aid the ignition of evangelism in your local church and can move a congregation from prayer to practice.
Train your congregation with simple tools to share the gospel
Imagine that someone asks you to plant a vineyard but puts only seeds in the palm of your hand. Would you feel equipped for the work? Pastors must prepare churchgoers to do more than pray. The obstacle, “I don’t know how to share the gospel,” often stands in the way of evangelistic opportunities.
Additionally, a subtle perception might exist that evangelists must be experts at defending the faith and answering tough questions. Jesus, however, instructed the disciples to pray for “workers,” who were common field hands, to go out into his harvest field. Pastors should equip Christians with simple, easy-to-learn tools that instill confidence and readiness.
Several resources exist to do just that. For example, The Navigators’ “Bridge To Life” illustration gives an easy, memorable framework to share the gospel using Romans 6:23. You can even draw it on a napkin in about five minutes. This tool effectively illustrates the consequences of sin and the promised life Christ offers. It also uses a conversational method that draws someone into the illustration instead of requiring an eloquent monologue.
The “Three Circles Gospel Presentation” from Life on Mission connects the shared experience and pervasiveness of brokenness in the world to understand sin and the need for a savior. A churchgoer can hand draw this illustration or use the straightforward free app. There’s also free, downloadable presentations and training videos aimed at pastors and leaders to equip their congregations.
The free “God Tools” app, designed by CRU, contains multiple gospel illustrations for effective evangelistic conversation. The app features tools such as “The Four Spiritual Laws,” as well as “Honor Restored,” which presents the gospel from an honor-shame perspective.Pairing simple resources with persistent prayer prepares the churchgoer to confidently and humbly share the gospel. — Paul Petersen Click To Tweet
Pairing simple resources with persistent prayer prepares the churchgoer to confidently and humbly share the gospel with their friends, family, and neighbors.
Feature the testimonies of ethnic minorities
The same assessment results revealed that Hispanics (36%) and African Americans (29%) pray daily for evangelistic opportunities. Additionally, 68% of Hispanics had spoken to someone about becoming a Christian in the last six months, and 71% had invited at least one person to church.
The stories heard on Sunday morning fuel the vision of a church, and the majority church has much to learn from our brothers and sisters of color. Give opportunities to these church members to give testimonies of sharing the gospel. Focus on “faithfulness” rather than “success” stories. An expectation that every evangelistic conversation should result in conversion might discourage outreach.Focus on “faithfulness” rather than “success” stories. An expectation that every evangelistic conversation should result in conversion might discourage outreach. — Paul Petersen Click To Tweet
When a church member shares a testimony of taking a risk to share the gospel, it provides an attainable example of what evangelism can look like regardless of how it went.
Empower evangelism outside the walls of the church
While only 45% of churchgoers indicated sharing how to become a Christian with someone in the past six months, 55% invited an unchurched person to church in the past six months. Invitations to church are good, but if only the pastor can win someone to Christ, little evangelism will happen outside of Sunday mornings.Invitations to church are good, but if only the pastor can win someone to Christ, little evangelism will happen outside of Sunday mornings. — Paul Petersen Click To Tweet
The church must remain a life-transforming community for Christians, but many churchgoers have little community or friendships outside of their faith community. Church programs effectively build the faith of its members. They have a side-effect, however, of filling calendars with Christian activities, which leave little margin for other friendships. To empower evangelism outside Sunday morning requires the cultivation of relationships in other communities.
Increasing skepticism toward the truth of the Bible and Christian ethics prevents many Americans from finding themselves in church on Sunday mornings. Yet, they probably know a Christian, whether in their family, workplace, or classes. A question while at work might ensure an uncomfortable spiritual conversation, but across a table over coffee or a meal, friendships can move to deeper levels of trust.
A safe space for questions, rabbit trails, and careful listening can build believability in the claims of Christianity as a friend or coworker sees the fruit of Christ firsthand in your life. An environment like this also creates opportunities to share gospel illustrations and tools without fear of interruption or time constraints.
Develop an evangelistic identity
Actions flow out of who we are. When leaders teach evangelism merely as an activity, churchgoers might feel their evangelistic efforts set them above (or below) the rest of their church community.In Christ, every Christian has moved from darkness to light. Evangelism proceeds out of our identity as saved people. — Paul Petersen Click To Tweet
When Peter encouraged churches experiencing persecution, he first reminded them of their identity. “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). In Christ, every Christian has moved from darkness to light. Evangelism proceeds out of our identity as saved people.
As more cities and regions in our country consider themselves to be post-Christian, the soil of American hearts will harden to seeds of faith. If evangelism remains something we do, hostility will cease the sowing of seeds. But when evangelism flows from our identity, the sowing, which requires patience and persistence, will endure.
Paul serves college students in Boulder Colorado with The Navigators and alongside his wife Aimee and two daughters. He is also pursuing a ThM at Dallas Theological Seminary.