Mike McKinley is the senior pastor of Sterling Park Baptist Church in Sterling, Virginia, and is the author, most recently, of The Devil Made Me Do It (Good Book Company, 2013). This post originally appeared on the 9Marks website.
Three Ingredients for an Evangelistic Church Culture
I’m convinced it’s better for your church to have an evangelistic culture than just a series of evangelistic programs. In a church with a program-driven approach to evangelism, sharing the gospel can become something mostly for certain people at certain times, like when the evangelism team goes out visiting. But in a church with an evangelistic culture, each member is encouraged to play a role within the larger church’s effort to reach the people around them with the message of salvation in Jesus. It becomes a part of every believer’s life. THREE INGREDIENTS OF AN EVANGELISTIC CULTURE If you are looking to create an evangelistic culture in your local church, here are three ingredients that may help. 1. The Gospel: the Fuel for an Evangelistic Culture The gospel message is the fuel that feeds an evangelistic culture in a church. We all naturally share the things that excite our hearts. If the Philadelphia Eagles ever won the Super Bowl (I know…), you wouldn’t have much luck shutting me up about it. In the same way, if we want to create cultures in our churches where it’s natural for members to talk to about the gospel message with non-Christians, then we need to help our members fall deeply in love with the gospel. That means they must understand the gospel message. It also means that the beauty of the gospel message must be put on display week in and week out in our churches. When Christians truly grasp the depth of their sin, the wonderful holiness of God, the perfection of Christ and the depth of his suffering for them, the power of his resurrection and the gift of eternal life for all who repent and believe, our affections for Christ will grow. The gospel message also frees Christians from motivations that might lead them to dislike evangelism. The gospel says that we don’t have to evangelize in order to earn God’s love. Our position in God’s family isn’t dependent on how often or how well we share the gospel. Instead we can be certain of God’s love, which frees us from the overwhelming concern for the opinions of people around us that makes us afraid to speak up about Jesus. 2. Prayer: the Power of an Evangelistic Culture Second, a church that is sharing the gospel must be committed to prayer. Evangelism seems a hopeless task. We are calling spiritually dead people to embrace life. How are we going to equip and encourage people for that work? It seems utterly futile. That’s why an evangelistic culture must begin with a culture of prayer. In prayer, Christians go to the Lord with a confession of their insufficiency for the task of evangelism and his sufficient strength. God alone can make the seeds that we sow spring up to eternal life in our hearers, and so we must begin with prayer. In our church, this particularly happens on Sunday evenings. We gather together as a congregation to pray that the Lord would spread his gospel through us. People share gospel conversations that they’ve had during the previous week, or opportunities that they hope to have in the coming week. This prayer time serves a few purposes. First, it commits these things to the Lord, who normally has us ask before we receive in these matters (James 4:2). Second, it involves the whole church in the work of sharing the gospel. It’s not a burden or a project that we undertake alone, but we have brothers and sisters to pray and encourage us. Third, this sharing makes it clear that evangelism is the work of “normal” Christians. The people asking for prayer aren’t usually pastors or elders or gifted evangelists. They are just believers who have embraced their calling to share the good news with the people around them. Finally, this prayer time gives people a good place to begin reaching out to their neighbors and co-workers. If people are nervous or uncertain about sharing the good news, we encourage them to begin with prayer. They can pray that the Lord would give them opportunities, and that he would bring people who need the gospel to their attention. That’s a much less intimidating first step than rushing out with a tract in hand. 3. Training: the Blueprint for an Evangelistic Culture. A third ingredient is training, the blueprint for an evangelistic culture. Remember that the goal is for our churches to have evangelistic cultures rather than merely evangelistic programs. But that doesn’t mean that there is no place for church leaders to organize and equip people to share the gospel. In fact, a love for the gospel and prayer may not be enough to motivate Christians to a lifestyle of evangelism. While evangelism will come naturally to some people in your congregation, there will be many people who love the gospel and pray faithfully but still need to be equipped to share the gospel. Here are a few ways church leaders can equip the congregation: Recommend good books on the topic. J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God and Mack Stiles’ Speaking of Jesus are two of my favorites. Read these books with the people you are discipling, give them away to people who will read them, or make them available through you church library. Bring people with you when you have a chance to share the gospel. When I am invited to give an evangelistic talk, I bring a younger person from the church with me. It’s a good opportunity to model for them how to share the good news. Address unbelievers in your sermons. Your people will grow from listening to you engage people who don’t know Jesus with the claims of the gospel. Take time to thoughtfully consider the questions or objections that an unbeliever might have to your sermon’s message, and then speak to those issues. Run evangelistic meetings where people can bring friends and get help sharing the gospel. If your church can host an evangelistic coffee house meeting or a program like Christianity Explored, you will give opportunities for your people to invite their friends and observe how they can share the gospel as well. BETTER THAN THE BEST PROGRAM There is no program that can create an evangelistic culture in your church. Instead, it will require church leaders to teach, model, and pray until members of the church realize that sharing the gospel is their privilege and responsibility. A church with such a culture will be far more fruitful and effective than a church with even the most effective programs and strategies. By Michael McKinley