Studies show that one in five Americans don’t believe in a deity. Many of you might look at those numbers somewhat optimistically… but when compared to the numbers the Hartford Institute of Religion Research have on church attendance the real issue begins to show it’s head. The numbers on church attendance show that more than 40 percent of Americans “say” they go to church weekly. As it turns out, however, less than 20 percent are actually in church. In other words, more than 80 percent of Americans are finding more fulfilling things to do on weekends and then answering differently on questionnaires or polls. Those same Americans “believe” in a deity… but their beliefs aren’t impacting their actions or decisions.
Psychologist Jean Twenge of San Diego State University has said,
The large declines in religious practice among young adults are also further evidence that millennials are the least religious generation in memory, and possibly in American history.
That’s a scary thought… but a harsh reality. How do we right this ship?
Matthew 28:19-20 is a passage referred to as the Great Commission that we are familiar with. It says,
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Evangelism was born with a simple command from the risen Jesus to “go.”
Our task is as Believers is well defined: outreach. Our territory is well laid out: the world. Our message is plain: Jesus. And fortunate enough for us all we need is made available: “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
No congregation, no pastor, and no Christian can afford to ignore the call of evangelism. 2 Timothy 4:5, says,
As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
In this passage we can see the apostle Paul writing to the young pastor Timothy, affirming that the work of the evangelist is inseparable from gospel ministry.
Christian missiologist Ed Stetzer has said,
It’s essential to understand that, regardless of our personal comfort level, we are called to share our faith because Christianity is a missionary faith. Despite the change in our culture and the way our faith is regarded, Christians are commanded to tell people about Jesus. In Matthew 4:19, Jesus called fishermen as his first disciples and told them he would make them “fishers of men.”
His disciples are still called to be fishers of men.
Even in our multi-faith environment, this calling should not be offensive to those of other faiths or no faith at all. Evangelism does not mean coercion. We can and should respect each other and strive for tolerance across varying beliefs, but that does not require pretending those differences do not exist. One of the core beliefs of Christianity is that Christianity should be propagated.
It isn’t necessary for every Christian to rent a stadium to proclaim the gospel to thousands. Most Christians can gain a hearing for the gospel while exchanging life stories at the coffee shop, taking a meal to a hurting family or standing for justice in an unjust world.
What evangelism requires is that when we care for a friend or speak out for a cause, we tell others that our faith is the reason. We tell them the good news that was told to us.
Evangelism can be defined as the person-to-person outreach of believers to nonbelievers with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the act of leading those who do not believe to repentance and to acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. All too common is the notion that this work belongs to the pastor alone, but the fact that the pastor is called to lead does not relegate the work of evangelism exclusively to them. So… you might be asking, “How can I be a successful evangelist?” Let’s think together!
Having traveled playing music and been around musicians off all ages and genres I always find it interesting to see what an artist is like when they are off the stage. Many of them aren’t at all like they appear to be on stage. Sometimes in the hours leading up to the show you can watch them physically and mentally prepare and morph into what their fans expect. If you were to catch them “off guard” and throw them up on stage early they might not be able to perform to the best of their ability and give the people what they want.
The first key to successful evangelism is to always be ready to evangelize! 2 Timothy 4:2 says,
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season.
Successful evangelism is not seasonal. Nowhere in Scripture is there even a hint that evangelism should be a seasonal endeavor. On the contrary, Acts 2:46-47 indicates that accessions to the truth occurred daily. That passage says,
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
The church must remain true to the Great Commission and rescue evangelism from the realm of the “occasional” and anchor it where it belongs: in the down-to-earth, ongoing, daily life of the congregation. Evangelism is not something that may be turned on and off like a light switch. It is a year-round way of life mandated by God to invite “whosoever will” to come into God’s kingdom.
If we are to be ready “in and out of season” then we are going to have to have the Word of God “dwelling in us richly” because we know that Romans 10:17 says,
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Being prepared for successful evangelism is rooting ourselves in a healthy biblical theology. God is passionate in His desire to save. No matter how much we may “psych” ourselves up for evangelism, unless our understanding is rooted in the reality of God’s unquenchable desire to save, His ability to save, and His purpose to employ us in the saving mission, we run the risk of leaving many of the vast resources God has provided to His people unused, which will leave us disheartened or dissatisfied.
A healthy biblical theology will guide us to a complete dependence on God for the mysterious work of conversion that He alone can accomplish.
We must be always ready by being always dependent on God, his Word, and the resources that He provides.
In Colossians 4:5-6 Paul tells the church to,
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Paul isn’t just saying evangelism is our responsibility; he’s telling us to do it “in person” and wisely, “making the best use of the time.” Unfortunately, to a lot of us evangelism can seem like an out of body experience because we aren’t comfortable with or “present” in the moment.
I’m reminded of the more passive Christian who “checks” evangelism off their list by wearing a “trendy” Jesus t-shirt, hat, or WWJD bracelet while secretly hoping that nobody acknowledges it, or that it doesn’t create an evangelistic opportunity (although I never have seen that happen). Or, on the alternative side I think of the zealous Facebook Christian who posts Bible verses, Christian memes, or might troll statuses and pages in order to start conversations to defeat arguments, while losing people in the process.
Don’t allow the comment section to become the new street corner.
Matthew 6:5 says,
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
There are only 3 ways of viewing time: past, present, and future. We must evangelize in the present. The above approaches are foolish and not “present” because they treat people like projects to be completed, or arguments to be won and not persons to be loved. It is looking at what they could be in the future instead of what they are now.
Have you ever been on the other end of an evangelistic project? Perhaps from a Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon at your door. You don’t feel loved; you feel used, like a customer being pressured into a sale. Go to any restaurant around with a wad of cash for tip money and you will find someone willing to be your “friend,” go empty handed and see the difference.
In the above passage out of Colossians 4 Paul says, “know how you ought to answer each person.” This means that most of our Gospel explanations will be different, not canned. It also implies that we are present and listening in our evangelism. How can we know how to respond to each person, if we don’t truly know each person? This advocates a present and relational evangelism strategy fueled by the love for people with “no strings attached.”
When Francis Schaeffer was asked how he would spend an hour with a non-Christian, he said,
I would listen for fifty-five minutes, and then, in the last five minutes I would have something to say.
Evangelism is not a program but a way of life. For each of us it is an opportunity each day to witness to others about the power of the crucified, risen, and soon-coming Lord.
What’s the difference between wisdom and knowledge? Wisdom comes with a requirement of gray hair!
In Colossians 4 Paul isn’t just telling us evangelism is personal; he’s telling us to do it with wisdom. Wisdom possesses more than knowledge; it expresses knowledge through understanding. In evangelism another word for this is love.
By many peoples standards love is inefficient. It slows down long enough to understand people and their objections to the gospel, and views them as more than projects. Love recognizes people are complex, and meets them in their need: suffering, despair, indifference, confusion, etc…
A successful evangelist is committed for the long haul.
Unfortunately the “fast facts” way of evangelism that many of us have been “trained” in for a long time is ineffective and almost seen as an insult anymore. Rehearsing a memorized fact, “Jesus died on the cross for your sins,” isn’t walking in wisdom even though the whole statement is truth.
We need to explain and display these important truths not simply assert them, and that takes commitment and relationships. It takes a love for people.
We need to see evangelism as a long-term endeavor. Stop “checking the list” and defeating others with your knowledge of the Gospel and your machine gun mouth. Slow down and practice listening, and most importantly… love them for who they are and not for who they could be! Most conversions are not the result of a single, point-in-time conversation, but the culmination of a personal process that includes doubt, reflection, gospel witness, love, and the work of the Holy Spirit, and those things take time!
Don’t feel pressured by numbers. Successful evangelism is measured by faithfulness to the task. If faithfulness is measured by numbers, then Noah would probably be considered a failure. Noah started building the ark when he was 480-years old. The Bible tells us in Hebrews 11:7 that Noah moved with fear,
By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.
Prior to the Great Flood the earth had never flooded in that manner (some would even argue that it had never rained, see Genesis 2:5-6 and Hebrews 11:7, but I do not wish to enter into that conversation); yet God told Noah He was going to flood the earth with rain. Now when God gives Noah the command to do this, it is 120 years until the Flood. This is what you would call a long-term project. Noah preached the Word of God, gave warnings to the people, and was ignored and ridiculed. Only his family boarded that Ark.
We learn from the experience of Noah that faithful evangelism doesn’t so much have to do with the numbers and response as it has to do with proclaiming God’s message boldly out of obedience and love.
In sum, if you evangelize apart from love you will be holistically unsuccessful. With love comes patience, and that means we are evangelists for the long term.
In conclusion, we are all called to be evangelists. We will all be presented with differing opportunities and platforms. Many of us will see different “measurable” successes. The parable of the seed falling in different kinds of soil puts things in-perspective for us. Inevitably, the word that we proclaim or teach falls, like the sower’s seed, on a variety of surfaces. That is why successful evangelism cannot be linked exclusively to numbers. A great part of the success is that we have simply delivered the message faithfully. Our task is especially to care for those who are represented by the good ground, and to continue to pursue the others in the hope that the ground of their hearts will soon be receptive to the seed.
Successful evangelism is well within the reach of every person. Paul’s admonition to young Timothy to do the work of an evangelist is framed in a context of a call to faithfulness, consistency, and longsuffering. The evangelist who has these qualities will succeed.
And remember, don’t put pressure on yourself; conversion is in God’s hands. We just get to share the incomparable news of Jesus!