At the Luis Palau Association, we’ve spent the last 55 years talking about evangelism. In the last year, we’ve decided to stop talking about evangelism.
Why? Because positioning ourselves as learners enables us to discover some of the best ways people are evangelizing today.
Through ongoing research interviews, we’re doing the listening while Christian leaders from across the USA are doing the talking. Most of these individuals are leaders of local pastors’ networks. We’re asking them to share what’s working in evangelism and what obstacles they’re facing. We’re also wanting to hear what they envision their city looking like if evangelism flourishes in the next three years.
We’re still in the process of this research but key themes are emerging we want to share with you. Consider this your invitation to join us on the journey of elevating the conversation on evangelism in cities everywhere!
Here are five themes surfacing from our research:
1. A theology of evangelism is needed for evangelism programs to be successful. In other words, a paradigm for evangelism is needed, not just programs. Evangelism is both a joy and a command; an exhilarating adventure and spiritual warfare; nuanced and simple; an art to be honed and an expression of total dependence. Leaders we’re interviewing recognize evangelism will not flourish without teaching a robust theology of evangelism that undergirds all activity.
Programs can be incredibly helpful if the environment in which they are implemented has been prepared. Most of us also know that implementing a program before your team personally owns the underlying principles of the program may do more harm than good. Christian leaders recognize the need for a strong theology of evangelism to be taught which is holistic, relevant, and multi-faceted—far beyond modern media’s narrow illustrations of passing out tracts and street preaching.
2. Ongoing inspiration in evangelism is just as important as ongoing training. Just because someone is trained in evangelism (or has a strong theological framework—see point #1), does not mean they will share their faith. Greg Stier challenges leaders by asking: “Is relying on trainings alone working to get the adults in your church to share their faith?”
People need to be trained and inspired. Head knowledge will not withstand the fear most feel when encouraged to evangelize. It is only by (1) remembering the power of the gospel through hearing real, current testimonies, (2) experiencing the love of Christ in a personal way so fear is overwhelmed, and (3) and practicing sharing faith with others that individuals and churches began to create a sustainable culture of evangelization. As Josh White, a pastor in Portland, Oregon says, “The fear never goes away. It is the love of God that must surpass the fear which enables a believer to share the gospel.”
3. Leaders want cultural commentary training.
One of the main requests we hear from leaders is to receive training not in evangelism, but in cultural commentary. There are topics—personal identity, the existence of God, etc.—that every human seems to wrestle with throughout the centuries. Yet, each era of history asks and answers these questions differently. Current Christian leaders want cultural commentators to help them learn the questions society is asking so they can frame the gospel to speak to those questions. The apostle Paul was adept at this process. In Athens, Paul leveraged the Athenians curiosity with religion and the latest ideas to introduce them to an unknown God by the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 17:22-23).
4. Identifying, equipping, and empowering the evangelistically passionate lay leader could be a missing link. In an in-depth study on a prominent city in the Pacific Northwest, we asked pastors if they know how to identify evangelistically passionate lay leaders in their congregation just as they have a framework to identify those with other giftings (e.g. teaching, hospitality, leadership). In other words: “Do you have a framework to identify those with the gift of evangelism in your church?”
We were encouraged to learn that 50 percent of the pastors agreed or strongly agreed that they know how to identify these individuals. Yet only 23 percent of these pastors provide evangelistically passionate lay leaders opportunities to share their passion with the congregation.
We hypothesize that should this group of evangelistically passionate people be identified and activated, the trajectory of the church in a city would shift. There are handfuls—even dozens—of people in your church who are gifted in evangelism…and they may not even know it. We need these individuals to be activated so that the entire body grows to maturity (Ephesians 4:10-12). One of our main goals in response to this research is to help pastors discover and galvanize these lay leaders in congregations.
5. Evangelistic organizations operate in an evangelism bubble. Okay, this one’s on us. We’ve learned through interviewing Christian leaders across the USA that we take for granted the awareness of readily available evangelism resources. Because we’re immersed in this world of identifying and talking with organizations that focus on evangelism, we assume the pastors we support are aware of the same tools and programs. This simply is not true. Most of the time pastors are busy running other programs, preparing for this week’s sermon, or putting out fires in the lives of congregants that they don’t have time to research new evangelism resources. Because of this realization, we’re brainstorming ways to get the word out about the best resources available for churches and individuals regardless of where they are at in their journey with evangelism.
If you’re interested in your city participating in this national research, contact [email protected].
Some of these findings get us pretty excited. Sure, there’s a lot of room for growth, but there’s also a lot of reason to hope. These ongoing research interviews are causing us to consider new strategies for evangelism that fit this current time.
This article originally appeared on CityGospelMovements.org.