With the second decade of the twenty-first century being engulfed in crises, a key question is, what do people want or need from the church? Recently I wrote about “the evangelism diamond.”1 In this model, the church first must pray for the Holy Spirit to lead in the lives of those who do not know God. Second, people desire practical help on their behalf. Third, people want friends from the church. And last, people need the Lord—to know Him and follow Him—something usually accomplished through personal Bible study and participation in a full series of evangelistic meetings.
KPI 1.1Increased number of church members participating in both personal and public evangelistic outreach initiatives with a goal of Total Member Involvement (TMI).
That is what people in the world must have to become people in the church. The big question now is, what do people in the church require in order to effectively offer these four things to the world? The answer to this question is just as crucial as that to the first question.
The church needs spiritual revival
I have spent years teaching pastors at undergraduate and graduate levels in different continents, and the first thing I tell them about evangelism is that the greatest challenge we face is not the condition of the world, the availability of resources, or the priorities of the church at large—it has to do with the spirituality of the members.2
We find the greatest secret in evangelism in Jesus’ own maxim: “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17, NKJV). When one sincerely analyzes the state of some Seventh-day Adventist local congregations today and the reason they win so few converts every year, it usually falls back on the members’ lack of spiritual commitment. They are too busy, too preoccupied with living, and not interested enough in leading strangers to Jesus. If witnessing is sharing what we have seen and heard firsthand, the lack of Christian witnessing results from the fact that many may have not experienced much of Jesus firsthand recently. A casual relationship with God will yield only occasional opportunities for successful outreach. In that case, God will work mostly in spite of us. But a true, abiding relationship with Jesus will bring others to Jesus.
Ellen White asks: “Have you so deep an appreciation of the sacrifice made on Calvary that you are willing to make every other interest subordinate to the work of saving souls? The same intensity of desire to save sinners that marked the life of the Saviour marks the life of His true follower.”3 When members genuinely experience the love of God, they cannot contain it, and it will surely spill out to others. Didn’t the Lord Himself say: “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38, NKJV)?
The apostle Paul once gave a long recitation of the incredible sacrifices he and his associates were willing to make so that the Corinthians could come to know Jesus (see 2 Cor. 6:1–11). He also revealed the key to accomplishing such sacrifices: “For the love of Christ compels us” (2 Cor. 5:14). That word translated “compel” means “to drive, to power on to a course of action.” The love of Christ is the engine that powers the Christian. It is what makes him or her willing to sacrifice whatever is necessary for the salvation of the lost. Our number one need to reach others is to know Christ as it is our privilege to behold Him—to experience His great love for us on a day-to-day basis. Then, it will be most natural for us to be soul winners for Jesus.
And from a practical perspective, how does that happen? By prioritizing a daily devotional time with the Lord, time that leads to the assurance of His love and power. By participating in fellowship and small groups that help members come closer to Jesus. By belonging to an active intercessory prayer group and other ministries on behalf of others. And by enjoying clear pastoral spiritual leadership. While space prevents us from expanding on each of those points, I will say one thing about pastoral leadership. The Adventist Church participated in a research project, the largest study ever done on the spiritual and numeral health of Christian churches.4 Interestingly, it discovered that the single most important factor influencing the well-being of an Adventist congregation was the spirituality of the pastor.5 If the pastor is truly in love with Jesus, that fact will help the church significantly in its capacity to love outsiders.6 But the church must experience three other factors to be successful in offering the world what it lacks. They are subsets of the one we just talked about. If the first one becomes a true priority and reality in the church, the next three factors will naturally fall into place.
The church needs an outreach mindset
In speaking of an outreach mindset, we are talking about having a strategic plan, a blueprint of action. For example, I once pastored a congregation in California that offered about a dozen community events every year, such as stop-
smoking clinics or stress-reduction seminars. By the previous December, they had published the dates, cost (if any), and how to prepare for each program. That required the organization of ministry teams to conduct each service: presenters, materials, media, advertising, resource development, helpers, and others. The church understood itself to be in the community primarily for the sake of outsiders, not for the sake of the faithful. It took time, prayer, and careful thought to reach that point, but when the congregation understood and accepted its missionary purpose, such planning to reach others effectively became much more of a natural process.
The church understood itself to be in the community primarily for the sake of outsiders, not for the sake of the faithful.
The key person in the process is the senior pastor or, in a small church, a lay director. Such leaders must be unequivocally evangelistic, otherwise the missional nature of the congregation will sputter along instead of running efficiently. Clearly portrayed in its vision and mission statements, mission must be foundational in the goals and objectives that the congregation sets out to accomplish every year. It must be the theme of the church board meetings and the primary conversation topic of the elders. As the focus of the church’s prayer warriors, it must be present in every Sabbath School class and it must be front and center every Sabbath from the pulpit.
The church needs evangelistic training
What else does the church need to successfully evangelize the lost? In many Adventist churches, evangelism simply does not take place and, if it does, it is mostly done by a visiting evangelist, who soon leaves. However, every church should offer a string of training events on a continual and consistent basis. For example, training on how to lead missional small groups. Many congregations have groups that consist of people with similar interests: painting, studying the book of Romans, or mothers of toddlers. What is lacking in many of them is the missional component. How does that group interest nonmembers to join it? Training to accomplish that goal is necessary and worthwhile.
Another example is training members how to make friends with nonmembers at community seminars. If a church offers a stop-smoking clinic for the community, often you will see a medical professional or another person leading the seminar with resources made available by the conference or an Adventist hospital. Members set up the sessions, promote them, and provide assistance. What they are often not trained to do is to make friends with the people who attend—and that is key to soul winning! How do you organize seating so that members can mingle with nonmembers? How do you start a conversation with a nonmember? What should you avoid saying that may create uncertainty or troublesome questions in the minds of the nonmember? How do you start a genuine friendship in just five short sessions?
You may say, “That’s pretty sophisticated evangelistic training! Who does that?” Good question. But that kind of training is necessary. An option is to contact the conference or mission’s personal evangelism department or check out Adventist resources on the topic.7 If all else fails, why not do it yourself? Reading, praying, checking what Ellen White may say about these topics, testing ideas with others, and using a good dose of common sense can become the foundation for a good class on how to train others. Someone has to start somewhere. God will be with the person with the right motivation to reach others.
Of course, other tried-and-true evangelistic training topics include how to give Bible studies, how to reach missing members, how to pray for unbelievers, how to do evangelistic visitation, or how to mentor new converts. The key here is always the word how. Such training must involve theory and principles and must also lead to practical, doable steps.
The church needs resources and volunteers
In one of our churches, several hundred cards were sent by mail to the neighbors around the church, offering them the opportunity to study the Bible. Within a week, we received 54 requests. Dozens more came later. Unfortunately, we had not anticipated our next move, for we were still learning the art and science of outreach.
So, knowing that it is critical to follow up Bible study requests immediately, on Sabbath morning I held up all the requests. After making a simple appeal for members to follow up with those cards that week, I offered prayer. Then, I started reading the name and address of each card and said, “Who would like to give Bible studies to this soul for whom Jesus died?” Little by little, one here, another there, a couple from the back, people rose from the pews and came forward to take the cards. The members took all 54 cards in just a few minutes. Each soul winner pledged to follow up the people’s request that very week. We then prayed again, a prayer of thanksgiving.
The fourth and last requirement for church members to do effective evangelism in their community is adequate resources and volunteers. While that is rather obvious, note that it is not the first essential element, but the last. If the previously mentioned imperatives are met, this one will become automatic. People will give generously to fund the evangelistic ministry of the church and, perhaps surprisingly, will find the time for the personal effort fundamental for outreach. In one evangelistic church I pastored, the evangelism budget rose more than 5,000 percent in only two years because the first three factors already existed in the congregation. By the time we left to serve elsewhere, members were annually giving very substantial amounts. Spiritual renewal thus affected the members’ pocketbooks. In addition, nearly 80 percent of the book membership—not the Sabbath attendance average—became involved in some type of ministry. The Spirit of God surely was at work in that place.
The world needs four things from the church. But the church also requires four things—four different things—to reach to the world effectively. Our most valuable resource to accomplish God’s mission is people. Members who are consecrated to Jesus and who have experienced the love of God will be powerful tools in the hands of the Holy Spirit to lead others to Christ.
This is God’s way.
- Ron E. M. Clouzet, “The Evangelism Diamond: A Model for Successful Evangelism,” Ministry, August 2020, 10–13.
- “The Lord does not now work to bring many souls into the truth, because of the church members who have never been converted and those who were once converted but who have backslidden. What influence would these unconsecrated members have on new converts? Would they not make of no effect the God-given message which His people are to bear?” Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 6:370.
- Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1948), 7:10.
- Begun in the 1990s, the initial study was massive, involving more than 1,000 churches in 32 countries, leading to the analysis of over 4.2 billion member responses. It surveyed many Christian denominations, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church. See Christian A. Schwarz, Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches, 3rd ed. (Bloomington, MN: ChurchSmart Resources, 1996), and Christian A. Schwarz, Implementation Guide to Natural Church Development (Bloomington, MN: ChurchSmart Resources, 1998).
- See Russell Burrill and Tom L. Evans, Creating Healthy Adventist Churches Through Natural Church Development (Berrien Springs, MI: NADEI, 2003).
- I choose here the term outsiders as used in the works of David Kinnaman, such as in UnChristian: What a New Generation Thinks About Christianity . . . And Why It Matters (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007). The word is more significant than the milder term nonmembers. Implying much more than simply not belonging to a particular Christian denomination, it underscores the considerable gap between what Christians regard as “the lost” and those who have accepted the redeeming work of Jesus Christ.
- One consistently good source of materials for training is AdventSource (see adventsource.org). Another, of course, is the Adventist Book Center (see adventistbookcenter.com). A third one is contacting a ministry director from your local conference or mission. That person should be able to help with recommended materials, referrals, or even with leading the training intended.