Every pastor knows the Great Commission, but not every pastor or church has had a great experience partaking in it. Some churches do evangelism because it is expected, but either their heart is not in it, their planning is inadequate, or the sermons are so bland and uninteresting that church members do not wish to do evangelism again, at least for a while. They might have a few converts despite the church’s efforts—but not because of them.
In contrast, prayerfully thought-through plans for evangelism in the local church can bring good results: a respectable harvest of souls (baptisms), an energized membership, and a desire by the pastor(s) and key leaders to do it again, and better, next time.
So, how do you organize your church for evangelism? Here are four steps.
1. Prepare members spiritually
Soul winning is an art and a science learned and practiced by the converted. Not everyone in our churches is converted. Sometimes even lay leaders may make a pretense of holiness, but the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–24) is lacking. Nor is every lifelong church member in love with the everlasting gospel (Rev. 14:6), so any effort a pastor puts forth to revive members spiritually and help them catch a vision for soul winning will be worthwhile.
This effort can be made in several ways. One way is for the pastor to give a series of four to seven sermons on loving the lost and fulfilling the Great Commission. The aim is to come to the point of loving our neighbor as ourselves, possible only by falling in love with Jesus.
Another way would be to plan a week of prayer at the church. If a critical mass of church members would come (especially all the leaders), holding these meetings at the church is better than through Zoom. Singing, testimonies, and praying together are best in person. If few are likely to come, consider doing it through Zoom. One key objective is to have as many of the church members involved as possible. As they grow together spiritually, they will develop a greater desire to reach out to others.
An important follow-up would be to set up regular times for corporate prayer after the week of prayer or the sermon series is over. In my current church, we did the week of prayer in January, and ever since, we pray together, via Zoom, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at six in the morning. Twenty percent of our active membership participates, and this is keeping the revival embers alive.
2. Design an evangelistic countdown
Next, focus on the actual evangelistic plan. First, choose the dates for the evangelistic meetings. Spring and fall are good seasons in many parts of the world. Decide how many important Bible topics you will share. Do not confuse a series on parenting or on health with evangelistic meetings. The unfolding of Bible teachings is what the Lord will clearly bless. Parenting or health topics are good for preparing the soil but not for reaping a harvest.
My preference has been to cover 28 to 32 topics in a full-message evangelistic series. That may sound like a lot. A series of 10 or so topics may be sufficient only when you have interests who have already been coming to church for some time and are already fairly convicted of a number of Bible truths. In that case, focus on sermons that will lead people to surrender and to decisions for baptism and joining your church.
Once you set the dates for the harvest meetings, plan the work backward from the beginning of the event. What must you do a few weeks before these meetings? Are all the advertising and the public-meeting volunteers in place? What about two months before? Promoting the series to church interests? And so on.
You may also need to include some evangelistic training to help your members engage with persons outside the church. My church is currently in the midst of this process. We trained them in successful friendship evangelism and then in how to pray for lost people. A month later, we trained them for missional small groups, then about how to reach missing members. A month after that, we gave training on how to give Bible studies and arranged with our conference to send a mailout offering our neighbors Bible studies. All of this took place between January and April, and more training is coming in the fall, just before our public evangelistic meetings in October. You may not have the human resources for all these training events, but you should do some. You can contact the local conference and ask for help with training. Many reliable sources are available online as well.
The other thing you should include in your countdown is community events. Plan at least three relevant and beneficial seminars, such as a stop-smoking clinic, a vegetarian cooking school, a finance or stress-reduction seminar, or a Vacation Bible School. We plan to do eight seminars in our church this year, and at each seminar we will invite participants to the next. This creates momentum for the fall evangelistic meetings.
More people make decisions for baptism and membership during evangelistic meetings than due to friendship evangelism or one-on-one Bible studies.
Be sure to keep one thing in mind: pacing. Know your church’s limitations. An evangelistic pastor may be tempted to push members harder than they can take. They may still lack the broad and clear vision for evangelism that the pastor has, so be gentle. If the church can do only two community events well instead of three, or if they can only handle three training plans instead of five, go with the smaller commitment and bathe it with prayer.
3. Set up for public meetings
The weeks before the harvest meetings begin are critical. You should have a full slate of interested people from Bible studies, community events, small groups, and other outreach plans on a spreadsheet that includes names, contact information, and other information. The church must earnestly pray for each of these people now. I like to call the church to 40 days of special prayer, ending on the first night of the meetings. This prayer focuses on three areas: (1) uplifting each name on the interest list and the upcoming evangelistic meetings, (2) asking the Holy Spirit to impress the hearts of additional people from the community who should attend these meetings, and (3) calling on God to limit the devil’s work of discouragement over members as well as interests. These daily prayer gatherings are critical to the success or failure of the harvest meetings.
I have found that having a short preharvest series two or three weeks before the main series can also be very helpful. I have done a five-night series on archaeology and the Bible, Christian apologetics, the debate between Creation and evolution, and even on more obscure prophecies in Revelation, such as the seals and the trumpets. The series on archaeology helps draw more educated yet secular people. The one on apologetics (which should be held in a public conference room, not in the church) is best for areas with no Christian or a post-Christian background.
These miniseries can accomplish three important goals: (1) lend credibility to the speaker, help the guests to want to come again, and provide a longer series on prophecy (which they may not normally consider attending); (2) allow good practice for members to learn what to do for public meetings (registration, greeting, refreshments, row hosting, attendance incentives, etc.); and (3) create excitement and anticipation among members as they see guests attend whom they did not know before.
4. Harvest the souls
No evangelistic plan should be made without climaxing it with public evangelistic meetings. More people make decisions for baptism and membership during evangelistic meetings than due to friendship evangelism or one-on-one Bible studies. That is why sufficient exposure to God’s Word during evangelistic meetings is important. We want guests to choose Jesus and His truth, and for that to happen, we must prioritize God’s Word over music, fellowship, attendance incentives, children’s meetings, and other important items.
There is a trend in some countries to hold evangelistic meetings only on weekends due to the resistance of busy members to taking time during the week. But the exposure to Scripture that the guests need must be sustained, not sporadic. If they hear God’s Word Friday through Sunday only, what they have gained spiritually over the weekend easily may be lost during the five-day gap. Evangelistic meetings should be held, therefore, at least four times a week—five is better—over multiple weeks. This surely is an intense time for the members volunteering to help; however, we are not doing this for ourselves but for those in need of Christ.
As people decide to be baptized and join the church, do not wait to baptize them (Acts 9:17, 18; 22:16). Baptism is the initiation of the Christian life, not the graduation of the new Christian. It is better to have four baptisms of two or three people each than to wait until the last night of the meetings. True, the optics are better when we baptize 10 people at once than over four baptisms. But in each baptism, the Holy Spirit is at work to impress upon others their need for surrender.
When the meetings are over
When the evangelistic meetings are over, evangelism is not. In every series of evangelistic meetings, some make decisions while others are not yet ready. Therefore, follow-up plans should be made for the new believers as well as those still uncommitted. Keep in mind that people came because they learned the Bible. So, make follow-up plans to continue studying God’s Word. Also, those newly baptized will need mentoring. I have trained churches for years on how to mentor new believers, leading those churches to have a retention rate of 90 percent or better a year after their baptism. Make sure you choose good, seasoned, happy believers to mentor those newly baptized.
There are many important things we do as pastors, but none are as important as being faithful to the Great Commission. For this objective, we should spend time praying, planning, and doing what angels would long to do in our place.