Evangelism and the local church (1) Keep it simple

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I’m sometimes asked about my approach to evangelism. I’ve particularly been asked this question a lot recently as we’ve been in conversations with churches about future ministry and I remember it coming up when I was interviewed at Bearwood.  My answer to the question is:

“We live in an area and get to  know people and we go and knock on some doors.”

“Is that it?” I hear you ask? There must be more to evangelism than that.  So  often we are looking for that magic silver bullet and we hope that someone will come along with the answer that will lead to mass conversions and a great revival.  But I don’t think that such a silver bullet exists.  In fact, it never has done.

At different stages, we’ve seen things that seem to have offered the solution. Back through the 19th and 20th Century it was all about the well-known evangelist turning up in a city and running a series of large meetings. This peaked with Billy Graham who could draw crowds to fill sports stadiums with many others watching on at live relay events. Others in smaller ways copied this with tent missions and town hall events.  Yet, I suspect that if you look back, the impact of these occasional events was probably not as large as assumed. Yes, you might get several thousand decisions from a Billy Graham crusade but remember that this was a once in  a decade event and remember too that not all who went forward and signed a card stuck with the decision of that night.

Over the past 20-30 years, it has all been about the 7-10 week course.  Alpha was the trend setter and then Conservative Evangelicals followed up with Christianity Explored.  I think these courses have been beneficial, a lot of people have found this a helpful context in which to engage with the Gospel.  However, I suspect that they are now seeing decreasing returns. The courses may have run their course.  It’s not that they won’t still have their place. In fact, I continue to make First Look available for people to use one to one and in small groups. It’s just that they are unlikely to provide the primary means for evangelism and I suspect that even at their height they didn’t.

So, what do we replace the Alpha and Christianity Explored courses with?  Well, what about nothing? What if we don’t go looking for the next big thing?  You see, what I suspect the courses did at their best was structured and put a label on what we should have been doing anyway.  The real secret to such things was not the brand, not the number of weeks, not Rico Tice or Nicky Gumbel. Instead, it was that people were sitting, eating a meal together, opening up the Bible and talking about Jesus.

And that’s what we need to be doing. If Alpha and Christianity Explored have done anything, hopefully, it’s trained us in the habits of being hospitable, opening up the Bible and pointing people to Jesus.  So, my desire is that a local church will equip all of its members to do that.    

This means that my primary method for encouraging evangelism in the church is the faithful teaching of God’s Word.  This is so that those attending will

  1. Hear the Gospel for themselves if they are not yet believers and put their trust in Jesus.
  2. Allow God’s Word to work in their lives so that they will be conformed to Christlikeness. This will enable them to be hospitable, kind, generous, patient, faithful with friends, family, neighbours and colleagues.
  3. Give them confidence to open up God’s Word with others in order to point them to Christ.
  4. Happy to invite others to come with them to church in order to hear more about Christ through his word.

So, there it is, part one of an evangelism strategy, nothing flash, nothing gimmicky. Simply living among people opening up God’s Word and pointing them to Christ. That in fact is what the Church have been doing since Pentecost.

In part two we’ll look a bit more at the “cold contact” stuff.

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