John MacArthur on Outreach

I believe that the Church has never made a greater effort at evangelism, but our current weakness is the absence of a strong theological undercurrent. Often style becomes the substance, and that’s unfortunate because the Church’s biggest problem is a lack of discernment. The Church sort of has “spiritual age” –it has a deficient immune system, so it can die of a thousand diseases because it’s not discerning enough to protect itself.


In the medical field, the bar of medical qualification is set extremely high in order to protect patients from malpractice. That doesn’t happen in today’s Church because anybody can go down the street and start one. An NBC interviewer said to me once, “As an outsider looking at Christianity, I’d like to know who polices your movement.”

“Well, nobody,” I said.

In a denomination there’s a certain amount of policing going on, and there are certain standards in place. But in the continuing explosion of independence that defines evangelicalism we have lots of ill-prepared or ill-qualified people with an awful lot of passion and zeal, but who maybe aren’t as careful as they need to be in protecting the content of the message. What matters is that we get the Truth–the way God revealed the Truth–out to people. I’m not nearly as concerned with methods as I am with the protection of the essential message. I think there’s plenty of room for communicating it in a myriad of ways, but we better make sure that it’s intact when it come out of the other end of the creative pipeline.


Unconverted people flow into our church like crazy! And church attenders who’ve experienced a life change are the ones bringing the unbelievers.

The credibility of what a newcomer hears is either confirmed or denied by somebody they know whose life has been transformed. That’s why changed lives are the key to evangelism.  It’s one thing to be converted, but it’s something else to be mature and to live a godly life. The depth, breadth, length and height of a person’s spiritual devotion to Christ is what’s so compelling about the Christians faith–not a clever message or a cleave method. That’s why, in the end, it’s the sanctified congregation that has the greatest impact.


In building an atmosphere of evangelism, you first have to create a church environment that is so powerful and life-changing from top to bottom that you don’t have to tell your people to bring their friends. They’re going to bring them and they’re going to come because the congregation is so thrilled and excited about their church. I have people outside out church tell me all the time, “I don’t feel like bringing anybody I know to my church because the music is pretty bad and the preaching is not that great.” That’s a sad thing.

Second, it’s important to reiterate to a congregation that they’re only here for one reason, and that ‘s to bring people to Christ.  Everything else that a salvation produces–for example, fellowship, worship and obedience–would be better in heaven.  But there’s only one thing you can’t do in heaven, and that’s evangelize the lost! That’s the only reason for Christ to leave us here once we’re saved. Therefore, the end product of everything the Church does–the end product of everything we do as Christians–should be to reach people with the Gospel. Our goal is to focus on teaching and maturing our people in Christ so that they are a force of evangelism. That way it’s not necessarily “bring them to church, and I, as the pastor, will evangelize them.” Instead, it’s about maturing the congregation and allowing them to do the work.

Third, we have a baptism during every Sunday night service, and that works dynamically for us. When people step into the water, we ask them to tell everyone how they came to Christ and how their life has changed. This is compelling stuff because people are reminded every Sunday that while there might be resistance to evangelism, there are some prepared hearts out there. They’re a reminder that we just need to be faithful, and God will take us across the path of somebody who needs to hear His message.  That’s a strong stimulant to evangelism.


My fear is that there’s so much superficial success in church marketing. As the Church, we’ve learned the cultural hot buttons. If we put Starbucks in the lobby, set boxes of Krispy Kremes outside the front door, and host fifteen different “12-step” groups, we know that we can attract people from the community. In other words, we know how to get a crowd, which is a head-trip.

Although these things aren’t bad in and of themselves, my concern is that we’re going to become enamored with that ability to draw a crowd and start pouring more and more energy into that. And that means that doctrine and the faithful proclamation of Scripture will get pushed further down the priority line.


Make your ministry the shaping of lives over the long haul. Take the long-range view that if your people really come to know the Lord, as He’s revealed in Scripture, you’re going to make a lifelong evangelist. You won’t have to prop people up with “half-time pep talks” about outreach. You won’t have to depend upon the methodology. We won’t have to “whip up” our people who are mature in the Lord to do evangelism. It will be just natural overflow.   

John MacArthur is the pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA and is the author of numerous books.

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