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WANTED: More Outreach-Minded Churches

Our friend, Will Browning, has a vision. One might even say it’s a grand vision. And inherent in every great vision is an element of risk and adventure. Will has never shied away from either. He’s an associate pastor of a large church in Kentucky, but he’s also a bit of an adrenaline junkie. He hikes the Grand Canyon, skis the Black Diamonds, and adopted two children from Ukraine this past fall. Will’s wife, Tarah, also just gave birth to their first child. With encouragement from his current congregation, Will’s next big adventure will begin in January when he plans to move to South Carolina to plant a church.

Will is following his passion to reach a younger generation for Christ. He knows it will be risky, but he foresees an even greater risk: allowing the downward trend of evangelistic churches to continue.


For most of you, this trend doesn’t come as a surprise. You’ve seen the stats and read the research indicating that many of our churches in America today are not healthy, particularly in the area of evangelism. Indeed, it’s a trend that should concern all of us, even if your church is adding new Christians each week.


Defining the Evangelistic Church


So how do we determine if a church is evangelistically healthy? One way is to look at a church’s conversion ratio—the number of people in the church that it takes to win one person to Christ in a given year. For example, if a church has a conversion ratio of 3:1, then it takes three people within that church one year to win one person to Christ. While it’s obviously not an exact science, our research team has concluded that evangelistically healthy churches maintain an annual ratio of at least 20:1.


Indeed, a variety of factors can affect a church’s success in seeing people won to Christ. But our research reveals a disturbing national trend. Of the estimated 400,000 U.S. churches, only 3.5% are effective evangelistically, meaning that fewer than four churches out of 100 maintain a conversion ratio of 20:1 or better. When you consider that the nation’s population is now 300 million, if only 3.5% of churches are healthy in the area of evangelism, then there’s only one healthy evangelistic church for every 21,400 persons in the United States!


Planting Evangelistic Churches


With so few healthy evangelistic churches, the need to plant healthy churches is clear. The Church thirsts for people like Will Browning, who are willing to take a risk to see that the Gospel is heard. Even in areas considered to be saturated with churches, scores of people have yet to hear the Gospel. And entire regions within the country are largely unchurched. Now, more than ever, we have a pressing need for more evangelistic churches.


Improving existing churches


As a church leader, you have a responsibility to honestly assess your current effectiveness in evangelism. Does your church have intentional ministries focused on spreading the good news of Jesus Christ? What training programs are in place to ensure that your members are equipped to confidently share their faith? And, perhaps most importantly, what are you doing to demonstrate your commitment to personal evangelism?


Sadly, the lack of evangelism within the local Church is reaching a crisis stage. But we do see people like the Brownings intent on reversing the trend. And some churches are succeeding year after year in seeing more people won to Christ. While these evangelistically healthy churches may be the exception now, it’s our prayer they’ll become the norm in the near future.   


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Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources (LifeWay.com). Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and six grandchildren. He was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His many books include Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, The Unexpected Journey, and Breakout Churches.