Over the last few weeks there’s been a lot of angst in my denomination’s local circles about evangelism. A visiting friend told us we’re no longer keen on it, and the statistics show that over the last ten years we’ve lost people just as fast as we’ve converted them.
There’s been hand-wringing, and calls for sackcloth and ashes (from me). Articles have been written and interviews done. And we’ve made a great list of excuses! It’s because we don’t have a love for Jesus. Our hearts aren’t right. We spend too much time trying to get people to like us and not enough time talking about hell. It’s the fault of conferences focused on church growth, or working as a team, or leadership, or it’s because we’ve all gone pragmatic, or it’s because some of us are concerned with fruitfulness. The list goes on and on.
In the midst of this I thought I’d share what our church is doing. We’re a small, struggling church in the part of Sydney where Anglican churches go to die. We’re not big. We’re not successful. Our senior minister is a bit of an idiot. We haven’t found the evangelism silver bullet.
But we do want a culture where people love to evangelize. That means training people to evangelize. But then there are extra steps: How do we make evangelism easy? How do we help people step up? How can we make evangelism achievable? How can we make it less of a burden? How can we help Bible study groups work together as a team towards evangelism? How can we get different people using their various gifts? How do we make evangelism part of what we do?
So this year we’ve been giving something a go. Each Bible study group has given up eight weeks to focus specifically on evangelism. This has been broken into two parts. The first part is training. The second is doing. The training is a four-week course to help them think about having good gospel-centred conversations with their friends. For the doing, the Bible study group hosts a four-week evangelistic course aimed at helping non-Christians meet Jesus (hence the name: Meeting Jesus). The course is held at church, over dinner, on the night the group normally meets.
The group take responsibility for the course. They pray for it. Organize it. MC it. Cook dinner. Set up. Pack up. Follow up. They invite, welcome, and follow the guests up. Everyone in our church are encouraged to bring friends, but the group takes particular responsibility to invite people. The group also gives feedback and helps work out how to make the course better.
This has done a range of things for us. It’s put evangelism on the agenda, not as a one-off but as something that we do. The Bible study groups have been working together as a team to reach their friends. They get to exercise their gifts for the building of God’s kingdom. This means the group has an ownership of evangelism and are personally invested in its success. It gives a platform for them not only to invite their friends along to meet Jesus but to talk about Jesus in as natural a way as possible. It’s meant that evangelism is now an integral part of our Bible study groups. Having the course regularly means we now have a next step for all the contacts we make personally or as a church.
As the course is not an extra thing separate from and over and above the normal Bible study—and because it’s only for four weeks—it seems to be very achievable and not a burden. For those in the group, it’s something ‘we’ do rather than something the ‘church’ (or worse, the minister!) does. My effort? Virtually nothing. I turn up each week and give the short talk (and eat a delicious dinner). Most importantly, I think our church has taken the next step in making evangelism reachable, achievable, and part of our culture.
Now, how did I come up with this brilliant idea? I stole it! I’ve never had an original idea in my life—and since I’m pushing 40, I’m not likely to. I’m a plagiarist.
The course itself is a total rip-off from Explaining Christianity, the course MBM use (Thanks Ray Galea! Thanks Dave Jensen!). The idea of not filling up people’s lives with extra programs came from people like Stephen McAlpine and books like Simple Church. The deep desire to see evangelism in our church culture comes from the 2016 Geneva conference, The Vine Project, and some of Raj Gupta’s work. Discipleship groups working as a team came from the 2018 Team Pastoring conference. The hope of everyone using their different gifts to evangelize came from places like Promoting the Gospel (John Dickson) and the Natural Church Development stuff by Mark Leach. The need for a regular evangelism course came from my New Zealand mate Rowan Hilsden. The ability to make, plan and implement strategy, as well as my capability as a leader, came from sources such as the Incubator course by Andrew Katay and City to City. There’s been a whole lot of books, conferences and conversations about pragmatics, church growth, and fruitful evangelism. I’ve even read up on secular leadership, strategic planning, and executing plans.
I said earlier that our senior minister is a bit of an idiot. And it’s true—I am. Which is why I’m so thankful to have so many brothers and sisters around who are endeavouring to proclaim Christ and see people come to him. I particularly like the fact that they have been working hard to think through the how of making fruitful evangelism happen—as a minister, as a leader, as a church, as a community and as an individual. And I love that they have been generous enough to share their wisdom with me at conferences, in conversations and in courses.
There’s a whole lot of angst about evangelism at the moment. And I think that’s a good thing. We need to do better. But I wonder if the solution is not better Bible teaching, purer hearts, or big preaching names. I wonder if we just need to start talking. Start listening. Start working out what people are trying to do, and how they are doing it. Find out what people are trying. What has worked? What hasn’t?
Find the best of the best—and then steal it. Rip it off. Plagiarize the life out of it. Take it and bring it into your context and work out: How can we be sharing Jesus in our area? How can we make evangelism part of our church culture? How can we be using what we’ve learned off everyone else to see God’s kingdom grow?
To do this, we will need to be brave. It may mean learning from those we disagree with. But it’s worth it. Our King and Saviour is worth trying new things for. Seeing people turn to Christ is worth swallowing our pride for. He shed his blood to bring us together into one body—his body—to work together, with one purpose, for his glory. It would be foolish to think we can solve our evangelism problems with our ideas alone.