Ed Stetzer broke the news to Southern Baptists recently that the Southern Baptist Convention is contracting faster than the United Methodist Church. Baptisms have fallen in 8 of the last 10 years. Membership is down, average weekly attendance is down, and the SBC is spiraling faster and faster away from the Great Commission activity that is supposed to be one of her defining characteristics.
There are a few glimmers of hope. Church planting continues to be a priority and our seminaries continue to pursue conservative biblical principles and produce students, pastors, and missionaries who honor the Bible as God’s inerrant and inspired Word. Southern Baptists also see hope in increased Lottie Moon support and a continued emphasis on reaching the nations.
Yet, even with more churches and more money to international missions, baptisms are down and SBC attendance is shrinking. The stark reality is that the Southern Baptist Convention is not pushing back the darkness in North America. With much talk about church planting, missional movements, and engaging the lost, there seems to be little emphasis on personal evangelism and evangelism training.
Pastor, if you would have a church that pushes back the darkness in your community, you must have people who will share the good news of Christ. If you want your people to share the gospel, then you must train them. Pastor, you must do more than talk about the need to reach the nations and your neighbors, you must train your people up. Even if you are uncomfortable with some evangelism methods, you are not released from the responsibility to train your people to do some kind of evangelism. By training them, you remove some of the fear factors that handcuff people from sharing the gospel.
If evangelism matters (and it does), then the church and her leaders had better get serious about training Christians up to proclaim the good news. Here are a few tips to do a better job at evangelism training in your church.
- Do Something. When it comes to evangelism training, something is almost always better than nothing. Maybe you haven’t started because you don’t know where to start. Just do something. Buy a tract rack, purchase outreach Bibles (We use the HSCB Outreach Bible), have a testimony time, or begin a sermon series on evangelism. Start somewhere and do something.
Be Consistent. Most of your people will not get it the first time, so offer evangelism training often.
- Mix It Up. There are many different ways to share the gospel. Recognize that not everyone will be comfortable with every method, so mix it up. Train people to us a tract, use the Romans road, teach them to use a storying method, show your people how to practice both relational and cold-call evangelism and incorporate apologetics. Part of mixing it up may mean offering evangelism training at different times and in different ways. Consider an evangelism conference or small group curriculum, or even a video driven method that people can use at home.
- Bring In Help. Pastor, there is no shame in admitting that your people will listen to someone else better than they listen to you sometimes. Bring in someone else to train your people. Examples might include Don Sunshine or a Alvin Reid or one of your seminary professors or a pastor from another church.
- Model Evangelism. Do your people know that you share your faith? Do you share your faith when you are at lunch with church members? Organizations reflect their leadership and churches reflect their pastors. If you make evangelism a priority in your life, there is a greater hope for your people to do the same
- Pray for Revival. Your efforts are pointless without the work of the Holy Spirit. Pray that he would give your church a zeal for evangelism and that the people of your community would have open hearts to receive the good news.
- Budget for Evangelism. If something matters, it tends to find a way into your budget. Set aside money each year to train your people to share the gospel.
I recently sat in a meeting with about 150 pastors, all of whom gathered to strategize and pray for the spread of the gospel in our state. In that meeting, many spoke of the need for the gospel to work in our state, but less than 10 percent of those in the room said that they had done any specific evangelism training in their church in the previous 12 months. This must change.
I celebrate the renewed emphasis within the American church to be more missional. I am thankful for the witness of men like Tony Merida and his latest book, Ordinary. Unfortunately, in our move toward missional engagement and relational evangelism, we seem to have lost gospel intentionality and evangelistic fervor. Pastor, encourage your church to love on the hurting and the oppressed, but as they love on their community, equip them to share the gospel with the lost. There are many reasons that evangelism training may seem “uncool” and outdated, but those reasons pale in comparison to the great need for the spread of the gospel.