Five aspects of evangelism common to our churches that need to change if we are to make a gospel impact in our communities:
a. The individualistic nature of evangelism. People commonly view Sunday worship as their expression of church, while the rest of the week is lived without church involvement. For example, I have seen written over the exit in some churches: “You are entering the mission field.” While the focus on missions is laudable, the understanding for many is that while we are in the building we are part of a congregation, but when we leave, we are on our own! The common assumption is that those who “do evangelism” with their acquaintances, do it by themselves. This perception is inadvertently advanced by the testimony of those who are gifted evangelists because the interaction is often presented as a private affair. But this approach ignores the great potential for developing a support network with other believers.
b. Defining ministry as church based activity. The ministries of the church are usually understood as the activities that are on the ledger (teacher, usher, maintenance, etc.), and the personal spiritual interaction that people have in their every day relationships are not viewed as church ministry. This perspective needs to be reversed. Each person’s primary church ministry should be the way they reflect Christ in their daily lives, while the tasks associated with church programs are support ministries.
Each person’s primary church ministry should be the way they reflect Christ in their daily lives
c. Evangelism as the task of the church. At one level this is true, but the emphasis often results in downplaying the reality that it is God who has a mission to the world and it is his Spirit that changes hearts. Salvation does not depend on our ability to convict and convince. Rather we need to discover what God is up to in people’s lives and have a conversation. We look for where God is working and explore the significance of that spiritual interest with them.
d. The guilt aspect. In light of people on their way to hell, we feel enormous pressure to give people a gospel message – like medical staff in the emergency room. However, in my experience this perspective actually works against the effectiveness of motivating people to the task. We need to trust that God will do what is right with each individual and not put more responsibility for a person’s eternal destiny on ourselves than is warranted by Scripture. A more appealing and less intimidating paradigm is the view that we are on a spiritual journey and want to walk with others who are also on a journey.
e. The program approach to evangelism. Very often the plea is “bring your friends to church or to our evangelistic outreach” with the implication that “the expert” is best equipped to tell the gospel. However, any one who is a true follower of Christ has a gospel message inside them that their friends are more than likely willing to hear and which would make a greater impact. In the long run, a more productive focus will be to develop a support network so that believers can explore the spiritual joys and challenges of engaging the significant people in their lives.
I would like to suggest a simple grassroots approach to evangelism that relieves the pressure on believers to “present a gospel message” and replaces that with a freedom to enjoy significant conversations with people. This approach creates a conversational space where there are no winners or losers, just people who are able to express what is significant to them. For the true believer, this is opportunity for Jesus to shine.
The SISI system is designed to mitigate the weaknesses noted above.
You are also invited to read the CCI article entitled “Why I don’t do ‘Evangelism’” which chronicles my own spiritual journey in coming to this position of seeking significant conversations.