Is evangelism a thing of the past for the American church? It makes one wonder when 51% of churchgoers are unfamiliar with the term “The Great Commission,” according to a new study from Barna. But according to Outreach Magazine’s “100 Fastest Growing Churches” report, evangelism is alive and well!
To be crystal clear: The Great Commission is in Matthew 28:18-20 where Jesus gave His last directions to His followers before ascending to heaven:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
That is the Great Commission! And the churches who have oriented everything they do around Jesus’ command are experiencing phenomenal growth.
Every year, Outreach Magazine conducts its “100 Fastest Growing Churches in America” report in conjunction with The LifeWay Research team. To discover the state of evangelism in growing churches, ChurchLeaders studied the top-10 fastest growing churches. What we learned will inspire and equip you to focus on evangelism in your church as your #1 priority–for church growth and the kingdom of God!
Just a note: This is not a how-to article but rather an in-depth look at how church leaders develop a church evangelism strategy to effectively create a church culture for evangelism and how that culture for evangelism in partnership with the Holy Spirit results in the kind of dramatic life change that Senior Pastor Gene Appel from Eastside Christian Church in Anaheim, California, describes: “I love seeing the power of the gospel to change the lives of people from all walks of life, ethnicities, circumstances and backgrounds—who in turn become change-makers that God uses to transform more lives. It never gets old.”
Evangelism: 12 Things We Learned From the Fastest Growing Churches
- For a culture of evangelism, focus on JESUS. “Early on, we discovered in our post-Christian, heavily Catholic city that if we pointed to Jesus, not to religion, Jesus would draw all unto him as he promises in the Bible,” says Sonny Hennessy, executive pastor and marketing director at Life Church Green Bay in De Pere, Wisconsin. “Everything we do is filtered through the Great Commission of living out the life-giving message of Jesus, being ‘Jesus with skin on’ to all around us.
“We even call ourselves ‘Jesus-people on this Jesus journey together,’ just to remind ourselves to be more like Jesus every day. Jesus is attractive even to people who have been hurt by the church or who reject religion. Jesus and Jesus-people bridge a gap that pastors can’t. We point people to Jesus and realize the church is a tool but not their source. This is new to people in a post-Christian or liturgical culture.”
- For a culture of evangelism, celebrate lives transformed by the gospel. When people encounter Jesus, their lives are changed and that creates more fervor around the gospel.
“Our people have been awakened afresh to the beauty of Jesus and the real-life significance of what Jesus has done for us,” says Wes Feltner, Lead Pastor at Berean Baptist Church in Burnsville, Minnesota. “Because of this renewal, we have a culture at our church where it is OK to not be OK. People come with real struggles, ready for real hope that can only be found in the gospel of Jesus.”
Senior Pastor Dudley Rutherford from Shepherd Church in Porter Ranch, California, emphasizes: “We follow three principles in sharing the gospel. Finding people who are hurting and directing them to help. Finding people who feel hopeless and giving them the gift of hope. Finding men and women, teens and children who have never heard of Jesus Christ and introducing them to the Savior and Lord, so they may then find people and do the same.”
- For a culture of evangelism, focus on the simplicity of the Gospel. The only time I heard Billy Graham speak in person I thought, “That’s it?” I didn’t realize at the time that I was experiencing Billy Graham’s dogged devotion to the simplicity of the gospel:
Churches that are growing understand that the power is in the simplicity of the Gospel! “The thing that excites me the most at Cornerstone Chapel is seeing lives transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit,” says Gary Hamrick, Senior Pastor at Cornerstone Chapel in Leesburg, Virginia. “I am continually amazed at how the simplicity of the gospel can be life-changing. We have witnessed people coming to Christ, marriages being healed, addicts being delivered and people growing deeper in their knowledge of Scripture and their relationship with Jesus.”
- For a culture of evangelism, create an environment of humility and authenticity. According to Senior Pastor Brian Tome, “The 11 friends who started Crossroads Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, wanted a great environment to meet with friends and explore questions about God without having to pretend they had it all together or wade through a bunch of religious lingo. The 11 turned into thousands of people seeking truth and authentic community. The goal was never size; the goal always was, and continues to be, based upon the ideas of authentic community, honest conversation and exploring the question: Where is God taking us next?”
- For a culture of evangelism, nurture an environment of grace. Tome says, “Remember that everyone is broken…It’s calling people into freedom. The New Testament says where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. Freedom. Not religion. Not rules. Not bigger numbers. Not cooler services. The church needs to be all about leading people into freedom—freedom from strongholds and religious obligation and freedom to take risks to stumble and fail on the path to becoming the new creatures God intends.”
- For a culture of evangelism, create an environment of diversity. “We launched an initiative called ‘Undivided,’ which puts white and nonwhite people together in a learning and discussion process that spans several weeks. The church needs to step into this serious issue in our country and view it as an element of spiritual formation,” says Tome.
- For a culture of evangelism, have “Catalytic Events.” Gene Appel tells the story of a fruitful Christmas season. “By the time Christmas hit, we ended up having the largest event in Eastside’s history: 6,200 people attended our Christmas services. We did eight services and had to turn people away at five of them. That was a catalytic turning point for the church. We saw an immediate effect—a burst of energy and attendance. A lot of people came to faith as a result of a follow-up series to our Christmas event…There were new people, new energy and brand-new Christians joining the church. The whole congregation recognized this as the beginning of a new day.”
Need ideas for creative catalytic events for churches of any size? Check out these 12 church outreach ideas.
- For a culture of evangelism, make evangelism EVERYONE’S job. “We work hard at developing the kind of culture that is informed and inspired by the Great Commission and Great Commandment. We want to stay close to the heart of God and continue to grow in our relationship with Jesus. There is so much we simply cannot take credit for and would be foolish to do so. People in our community who are not yet convinced should see something tangibly different about us because of Jesus. When this happens consistently, I believe it’s contagious. People are looking for that,” says Aaron Brockett, Lead Pastor at Traders Point Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.