One day, a pastor had a startling vision that changed the trajectory of his ministry. He saw a multitude of drowning victims struggling in a frigid ocean while another group of rescued people sat securely on a giant rock. Most of the safe ones seemed oblivious to those perishing. The vision propelled William Booth to launch the Salvation Army.1
One of the challenges of pastoral ministry is to engage members in evangelism. Here is a simple plan for implementing a culture of evangelism in the local church so that members will actively reach their neighbors for Christ. It involves seven simple steps.
1. Fuel passionate spirituality through a daily personal encounter with Jesus Christ.
During the evening of the resurrection, Jesus met with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. As He later broke bread in their home, their “eyes were opened,” and they recognized the living Christ. With burning hearts and uncontainable joy, they burst from the table to tell the disciples that Jesus was alive (Luke 24:13–35).
Likewise, only as we experience fresh encounters with the living Christ at the table of grace can we, too, burst forth and tell others the good news. Otherwise, all the coaxing and cajoling by church leadership will do no good in awakening a sleeping church and inspiring members to witness. As pastors, our first order of business is to encourage a living experience with Jesus through the keys to revitalization found in Ezekiel 37: Bible study (verse 4), prayer (verse 9), and witnessing (verse 10—the bones became an exceedingly great gospel army). Especially encourage members to pray for the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
2. Appoint an outreach leadership team (OLT) that will champion evangelism in the local church.
When I served as the ministerial director and evangelism coordinator for the Kentucky-Tennessee Conference, I worked with a dedicated task force of pastors, laypeople, and administrators to grow evangelism in our conference. We met every six to eight weeks to plan creative initiatives, such as the master plan of discipleship, an evangelism funding policy, a church revitalization process, and a vision for church planting.
It would have been a daunting task to advance such causes by myself, but a team of leaders created synergy and momentum. The pastor can use a similar approach in the local church. Utilize the OLT to brainstorm evangelistic strategies and then make recommendations to the church board. Such a team should also oversee the remaining action steps (steps 3 to 7).
3. Involve church members in a mission action plan.
Conduct an annual vision-planning weekend during which the church body breaks into table groups and brainstorms evangelistic objectives and goals for the coming year. Then prioritize those goals and appoint a ministry leader/team to champion each one. Also, create concrete action steps, a target date, and a budget for each objective. When I pastored the Highland Church in Portland, Tennessee, we held a “Shoot for the Stars” vision-planning weekend every year. I noticed that a higher percentage of members afterward got involved in ministry because they had helped formulate the outreach plans.
4. Address community needs.
First, assess real needs in the community by interviewing community officials, surveying local neighborhoods, or using a demographic tool such as MissionInsite.2 The MissionInsite tool identifies the top 15 life concerns in your community in prioritized order so that you know how to focus your church’s outreach efforts. Based on this information, you can plan monthly community service projects as well as quarterly church-sponsored seminars that meet those needs.
The North American Division encourages each church to designate the second weekend of every month as a “compassion weekend”3 for intentional community outreach. Several years ago, the Adventist pastors from three adjoining conferences in Memphis, Tennessee, visited with then-mayor A. C. Wharton and inquired, “How can we help you fulfill your dreams for this city?” After the mayor recovered from his initial shock, he responded, “I would like for local churches to adopt a hundred homeless families.”
In addition, churches should plan an annual prophecy series so that members can invite their friends and neighbors to hear the proclamation of God’s end-time truths.
5. Recruit volunteers for service.
Once you have established steps 1 through 4, then market those ministry opportunities and solicit volunteers for them through the following actions: post community service projects and seminars on an attractive display table in the church foyer, on bulletin boards and websites, and in the church newsletter. At the Highland Church, we conducted a “parade of ministries Sabbath,” during which I preached on the joy of service and highlighted the church’s top ministry goals for the coming year. After the service, members had an opportunity to browse ministry booths in the foyer, talk with ministry leaders, and sign up for volunteer positions.
6. Become an Evangelism Training Center.
Author Ellen White admonishes, “Every church should be a training school for Christian workers. . . . There should not only be teaching, but actual work under experienced instructors. . . . One example is worth more than many precepts.”4 Convert your church into an evangelism training center that shows members how to share their faith. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Emphasize that evangelism is not just something we “do” but is also something we “are.” People often view witnessing as part of a pie diagram with work, family, friends, domestic chores, recreation, and material possessions wedged into the circle. In reality, we should view evangelism more as a wheel with all the busy activities like spokes and evangelism as the hub (see diagram 1). This means that evangelism should be at the heart and core of everything we do. Hence, while working out at the fitness center or checking out at the grocery store, one can positively influence others for Christ.
- Show members how to exercise their witnessing styles and engage in intercessory prayer, friendship evangelism, and service-oriented evangelism; share their personal testimony; invite people to church outreach events; and strike up a spiritual conversation. Teach them how to be “digital missionaries” by utilizing social media to advance God’s cause.5
- Train those 10 percent in the congregation who have the gift of proclamation evangelism to give Bible studies to interests, friends, and relatives of church members. Use training resources, such as Gary Gibbs’s, Winsome Witnessing,6 Kurt Johnson’s, How to Give a Bible Study,7 or my own book, Winning Ways to Witness.8 Launch a Discover Bible School (or something similar) in the local church that facilitates members giving Bible studies. Mail out Bible-study interest cards and show members how to follow up with those interested.
- Stock the church foyer with GLOW tracts,9 literature, and Bible-study guides so that members can share these resources with their friends and work associates.
- Establish a discipling-mentoring system in which seasoned lay evangelists apprentice other individuals.
- Sponsor individuals to evangelism training centers (such as Amazing Facts Center of Evangelism, Southern Adventist University’s SALT program, or Mark Finley’s Living Hope Training Center) so that they can use their newly acquired skills to reach people and disciple others to do the same.
- Take members on a mission trip that combines humanitarian and evangelism components.
7. Transition to an evangelism-centered church.
Focus every phase of church life on evangelism through the following actions:
- Pass out the evangelism-centered church diagram10 (see diagram 2) to all department heads and ministry leaders and ask them to generate ways that their department or ministry can contribute to the evangelistic goals of the church.
- Encourage each Sabbath School class, small group, ministry, and church department to have an evangelism coordinator who will keep the group outwardly focused. Such coordinators can serve on the outreach leadership team.
- Increase the church budget allocation for evangelism to at least 10 percent.
- Implement biblical hospitality and a guest-
retention process so that the church is ready to warmly receive and hold the guests that God is drawing each week. Maintain the church facilities, grounds, and signage to attract guests.
- Create an inspiring worship setting in which participants encounter God’s presence and respond with heartfelt acknowledgment of His goodness. Authentic worship will result in transformed lives, which will lead even the unbelieving guests to exclaim, “God is truly among you!” (1 Cor. 14:25, NKJV).
- Emphasize some aspect of evangelism once a month during the sermon. Feature testimonies during the worship service of people who are finding joy in sharing their faith. Also, create a weekly “faith in action” period between Sabbath School and church to highlight evangelism.
- Evaluate every church-board decision in light of the Engel Scale,11 the spiritual pathway from -5 to +5 (see diagram 3). Ask, “Will this board action assist individuals in progressing to the next faith stage on the continuum?” If not, then scrap the proposed action or idea.
- Authorize members to launch outreach events and activities without getting permission from the church board, as long as such activities are in harmony with the vision, mission, and goals of the church. In lieu of church-board approval, they should secure a member of the church board to sponsor their project (offer support and advice). This way, the various sponsors can inform the church board of the various outreach activities through reports at the monthly board meetings.12
- The pastor and church leaders should constantly model an evangelism-centered life, in which they personally engage in the witnessing styles and share testimonies of how God is working through them to reach others. A pastoral example of “evangeliving” is worth far more than a thousand sermons.
- Simplify the schedules of the church. We keep our most mature and faithful church members so busy in programs, committee meetings, and church work that they have no time to minister and witness outside the building.13
Will McRaney Jr. said, “Ron Hutchcraft reminded us that ‘people are drowning while we have lifeguard meetings, sing lifeguard songs, and go to lifeguard committee meetings.’ His exhortation is ‘to get off the beach and into the water and there are more in the water than there are on the beach by far.’ ”14 May God’s church not be oblivious to the hurts and needs in the community but be a source of hope and light.
- William Booth, “A Vision of the Lost,” What Saith the Scripture?, accessed April 22, 2022, https://www.whatsaiththescripture.com/Stories/A.Vision.of.the.Lost.html.
- For more information, visit the MissionInsite website at https://www.missioninsite.com.
- You can learn more about compassion weekends, compassion tips, and how to join the compassion movement at http://compassionmovement.org.
- Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1942), 149.
- An excellent resource for digital evangelism is Jamie Domm, Digital Discipleship & Evangelism (Lincoln, NE: AdventSource, 2020).
- Gary D. Gibbs, Winsome Witnessing: Dynamic Ways to Share Your Faith, rev. ed. (self-pub., 2011).
- Kurt Johnson, How to Give a Bible Study: Suggestions for Finding Bible Study Interests and Effective Tips for Leading Them to Christ (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2007).
- David L. Hartman, Winning Ways to Witness: Seven Witnessing Styles That Attract People to Christ (Collegedale, TN: College Press, 2018).
- To order GLOW tracts for your members to share, visit the Giving Light to Our World website at https://buyglow.org/glow-tracts.
- I am indebted to Bill McClendon, vice president for administration at North Pacific Union Conference, for the original concept of this diagram.
- See revised scale at Thom S. Rainer, The Unchurched Next Door: Understanding Faith Stages as Keys to Sharing Your Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 20, 21.
- I got this idea from Dan Serns, president of the Central California Conference.
- For more on the topic, see David L. Hartman, Winning Ways to Witness: Seven Witnessing Styles That Attract People to Christ (Collegedale, TN: College Press, 2018).
- Will McRaney Jr., The Art of Personal Evangelism: Sharing Jesus in a Changing Culture (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2003), 199.