My mentoring pastor is from the South Bronx, New York City. He once told me, “If you have Bible studies, you will have baptisms.” So, we began sending out the simple “Something Wonderful” cards from Seminars Unlimited that can be mailed to any specific community. When an interest card returns to us, we respond immediately. As a result, we have baptisms every quarter.
I believe that the well-worn adage “evangelism does not work in today’s postmodern society” is incorrect and unproductive. I would like to share seven criteria that help make evangelism effective.
1. The harvest is plentiful
When I first started pastoring, the conference sent me to a district on its distant edges. Every pastor I spoke to made it clear that I was going into an extremely difficult area. But having always loved a challenge, I accepted the new assignment. When I arrived, it was obvious that the local churches were in decline. I started prayer walking, and it became obvious that the town itself was in a depression cycle.
As I pleaded with our Lord for guidance, I felt impressed to pick up the phone book and start making calls. That’s right, phone-book ministry. “Hello, this is the new pastor of the church on the corner of Main Street, next to the Community Hospital,” I said. “I have three Bible study series to offer that are incredible. One on how to create a vibrant and happy home following the principles of Scripture—a six-part series. Another on what the Bible says about the end times, a twelve-part series on the book of Revelation. And one on how to manage your finances and get out of debt following biblical principles.”
The next day I added this line: “Also, if you just need prayers for yourself, your children, or your relatives and friends or have someone who needs a hospital visit, we are here to serve. May God bless you.” Most of the time, I just left messages on the answering machine. After 200 calls, within the first week, we had 11 Bible studies, 14 home visits for prayer, and 1 hospital visit. The harvest was plentiful.
When you look at your community, what do you see? Do you recognize its potential? The precious individuals who need to come into a relationship with Christ? What you observe makes a big difference. Jesus saw the harvest. As pastors, we need to have the eyes of Jesus.
2. The role of the Holy Spirit
Along with having the eyes of Jesus, we need to recognize the role of the Holy Spirit. We can preach our hearts out, but if the Spirit of the Living God is not part of our evangelistic activities, our efforts will not succeed. Why? Without the Holy Spirit, there can be no real increase. The Bible is clear: “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6, 7).1
Notice that the Holy Spirit worked alongside Paul and Apollos. As ministers of the gospel, we have a role to play with the Holy Spirit. God labors along with His servants.
While we should pray and fast, there always comes a time when we need to walk by faith and move forward with the Holy Spirit to bring people into a loving relationship with our Savior. I remember when a fellow student at seminary objected to a statement made by a professor that all pastors need to be involved in bringing people to Christ. “That’s not my spiritual gift!” my friend protested. Looking at him, I asked one simple question: “Where in the Bible has Jesus told any disciple, any apostle, or any pastor that they are not to be involved in leading people to Christ because it may not be their spiritual gift?” The Holy Ghost can turn a simple gospel presentation by a reluctant apostle into a Holy Ghost revival.
3. Sowing the field
The next principle of evangelism is to sow the harvest field, which is your local community. My grandparents were farmers. If they went into their fields and started their harvesting equipment only to find nothing to harvest, the first question my grandfather would ask would be, “Did anyone plant the seeds?” Too often, many people try various methods of evangelism and come up short because there was no preharvest work. It’s a simple principle: you can water the soil, but nothing will grow unless you place a seed in it. How do we plant a seed? Pre-evangelism work is key.
Many ways exist to plant seeds in the community. I remember when I first arrived at the Yonkers church after I graduated from seminary. Although I wanted to present a Revelation Seminar, the church board recommended that we first do a Computer for Dummies class. While I felt disappointed, they knew the community far better than I did. The computer class was so successful that we had to run two sessions with 30 people each. We then invited those same students to the Revelation Seminar and had great results. The Computer for Dummies class was the seed necessary to address the needs of the community.
4. A personal touch
Adopting the old adage about never putting all your eggs into one basket, I focus on several areas. The first is the simplest. Every time we have visitors to our congregation, we greet them with a warm handshake or a warm hug. Then we escort them to one of the various Sabbath School classes, which operate as small groups. Our belief is simple: if they come to our church of their own accord, they are searching for not only a congregation to worship with but also a deeper relationship with Christ. Asking the visitor for their name, email address, and cell phone number, we explain that having that information will enable us to alert them to the various activities coming up.
Too often, many people try various methods of evangelism and come up short because there was no preharvest work.
Every ministry of the church is actually a form of evangelism, including the church greeters, the Sabbath School classes, the club ministries (Adventurers, Pathfinders, Master Guides), the VBX (Vacation Bible Experience), AMM (Adventist Motorcycle Ministry), and the health ministry. All ministries are avenues that will attract people with different interests. One of the dangers, though, is to begin too many ministries at one time. Start with just one or two and develop them well before going on to the next. The quality of each ministry is vital because they are all essential parts of the overall success of growth.
We have evangelistic meetings every year in September with great success. Why? Those involved in each ministry bring their friends to the meetings. Furthermore, each ministry appeals to different people groups in the local community, creating friends and relationships. Thus, each ministry is true evangelism.
5. Role of leadership
Every congregation is unique, as is each community. In addition, each leadership team is distinctive. That is why it concerns me when some churches try to duplicate specific programs rather than just following the basic principles that govern successful plans. The Bible explains how each congregation has a diversity of gifts. “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues” (1 Cor. 12:27, 28). Every church has its own leadership mix. As each congregation discovers what that is, they will be able to maximize their strengths to advance the gospel.
One of the tasks of leadership is to have a God-inspired vision that we can share with the entire leadership and congregation. Throughout the Bible, we find that leadership makes or breaks the people’s advance. As the senior pastor, I have a vision for the church, one that I first discuss with my associates and gather their input and insights. After we develop a vision for the congregation as a whole, we take it to our elders and, finally, to the church board.
One of our visions includes setting baptismal dates by faith. Only twice have I ever been disappointed; the following week, though, the individual took the step and was baptized. If you have not tried vision casting in general or setting baptismal dates in particular, take the step of faith.
As already stated, during our evangelism cycle, we schedule public evangelism every year in September. During the series, each church ministry has charge of a different day. Each ministry understands that every year, their particular group will aid on some of the nights because their purpose is evangelism. The various ministries collaborate with each other synergistically. When all the ministries labor for the same goal, it enhances the overall health of the congregation. “That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:25, 26).
7. Appeals help people make decisions for Christ
Every Sabbath, we try to make the service a safe environment for our guests. But with that comes an appeal for them to grow closer to the Lord. Every worship, every gospel presentation, every sermon has an appeal as part of its closing. I remember preaching a weekend series in a congregation that I had been invited to. As I made an appeal and several individuals came forward, I noticed that the church members seemed puzzled that many so people responded. After the service, I asked the pastor about their reaction. It appeared that those who came forward were not baptized. He said, “We thought they were college students coming to our church from other Adventist congregations.” During the fellowship meal, I spoke to some of them, as did the pastor, who commented, “We thought you were baptized members. Why did you come forth today?”
“Well, it’s simple, Pastor,” someone said. “No one asked us before! So, when the appeal was made, we gladly came forward.” I have discovered that many don’t make decisions simply because they were not asked. Every year, we have new baptisms just because we invite people to accept Christ.2
Part of having a growing church is accepting the Bible for what it clearly states. Jesus, when He looked at the multitude, saw countless people from many different statuses in life, education, and cultures accepting the gospel. He recognized the potential of His district. For every new district you have the privilege of pastoring, walk the community, visit the various stores, eat in its restaurants, and immerse yourself in its uniqueness. Then pray and look for ways to impact that district for Christ. You are the pastor not just of your church but of your community. As you visit the various segments of the community, pray and ask God how you can reach them.
God has been wonderful to our congregation. In the last four years, we have experienced kingdom growth in our congregation from 468 to 715 members. We have been blessed with 289 baptisms and have helped start three new church plants. I believe in my heart that evangelism does work—especially in a postmodern society.
Strong visions from leadership, dedication from church members, connection with the community, and detailed execution are the keys to successful evangelism. Prepare the field for the seed of God’s Word, and be in constant connection with the Lord, begging Him to guide you and your church in the best ways to lead the community to the feet of Jesus.
- Unless otherwise noted, Scripture is from the King James Version.
- See Robert E. Costa, “Evangelism, Sabbath-Morning Style,” Ministry, August 2019, 20, 21.