It is true that people’s attitudes inevitably shape the culture of a church. This is especially true about people’s attitudes toward evangelism. How Christians feel about evangelism will inevitably shape their understanding of the mission of the Church. It will affect how their church spends money and time. It will affect the events they hold, the programs they run and the resources they buy. It will affect what they talk about and how they use their building. It will affect the relationships they build in their neighbourhood. Churches in which evangelism and disciple-making are central will structure and conduct themselves very differently than churches focused elsewhere.
Churches are typically made up of people with a variety of attitudes toward sharing their faith.
Often these attitudes have been formed by unexamined assumptions, images and experiences. And many of these are not positive. When they hear the word ‘evangelism’ many people first think of discredited televangelists, strangers handing out tracts, street preachers, or the ring of a doorbell interrupting their dinner.
How can we cultivate churches full of people with a healthier view of evangelism?
Wouldn’t it be amazing if all the people that are a part of your church felt quietly confident about sharing their faith with their unchurched or de-churched friends, family, colleagues and neighbours? How can we help Christians embrace their apostolic calling? These are great questions for leaders of churches across North America to consider.
I’d like to suggest that to grapple with these questions churches must take a ruthless inventory of their attitude toward sharing their faith. Is it terrifying? Is it simply a nice concept? Is it an important value (among a number of values)? Or is it at the core of who they are?
Begin with truth-telling
Honesty about present attitudes towards evangelism is the first step towards growing your ability to share the faith, both individually and as a community. Below is a numerical spectrum. What percentage of the members of your church do you think would define themselves in the following ways?
Where do you find yourself on this spectrum?
- “I want to believe in God but I’m not sure exactly what that looks like or entails.”
- “I was taught that faith in God is a private matter. I don’t talk about my beliefs to anyone else.”
- “I believe talking about faith is primarily the pastor/priest/preacher’s job.”
- “I know the church is supposed to share the faith but I’m just not an evangelist!”
- “I know we’re all supposed to share our faith but I don’t feel I know the basics well enough to do that.”
- “I’d like to be able to share my faith but I don’t know how to do that without offending people.”
- “I’m beginning to feel comfortable talking about my faith with others in my church.”
- “I feel confident sharing the story of my faith journey with people who ask about it.”
- “I’m excited to share with people in my life about what my faith means to me.”
- “I’ve now had the experience of sharing my faith with someone in my life.”
- “I love building relationships with my non-Christian friends, neighbours and colleagues, and am finding they are often curious to hear about why I am a person of Christian faith.”
- “God seems to be opening up more and more opportunities for me to share about the Christian faith with others, who often respond with curiosity and then take steps towards faith themselves.”
Why not invite your whole congregation into a conversation about their attitude toward evangelism?
Next, help people move along the spectrum
Preach, teach, study and pray for your congregation to move along this spectrum; growing in their love and ability to share Christ. If faith has become privatized, teach about the apostolic calling of the Church. Jesus said ‘As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” If they have a professionalized view of evangelism, help them tell their own story of what their faith means to them. If they lack confidence in the basic tenets of the faith, teach them an overview of the gospel message and ground them in the biblical story. If they lack a passion to share the gospel explore with them stories of how lives, families and communities are changed by people coming to know Jesus.
Raise the profile of evangelism
Churches that place evangelism and disciple-making at their center are also communities in which stories of changed lives abound. Make time during your regular worship services to have someone share for a few minutes about a time when their faith made a real difference in their lives. When have people found God’s comfort, reassurance, direction, challenge or correction? Find ways throughout the life of your church (i.e. website, annual report, special events, blogs) to share these stories. Christians who cannot share with other Christians about how God has been at work are very unlikely to share that with non-Christians.
Everyone loves a good celebration so plan ahead for a celebration focused on evangelism and disciple-making. Celebrate stories of people coming to faith. Yes, it’s great to celebrate the harvest. Services of baptism are a natural time for this. But don’t forget to also celebrate stories of people growing in their ability to share their faith with others. Even stories of people planting the first seeds of faith can be a real encouragement to others.
In the history of North America there has never been a time of greater potential for sharing the Christian faith. But this will only happen if churches again place their apostolic calling at their very core.