Back in the 1970s and 1980s many churches had explicit evangelism training programs – many of which were Evangelism Explosion training – but it’s not too much to say that many of them have since been discontinued. I’ve heard that most professedly evangelical churches in the United States do not teach people how to witness for Christ much any more. Here are some ideas to get back some of the evangelistic spark:
Regularly present in the gospel in the preaching ministry of the church. Do this even in sermons that deal with issue that would primarily concern those who have already received Christ. This does not have to be an explicit altar call but rather regularly pray for and seek a fresh way to share the gospel in the course of the sermon. Include also answers to common objections to the gospel in the sermon, such as, “What about someone who has never heard of Christ?” Most pastors would be surprised how much what they say which can be used in an evangelistic conversation might find its way into the hearts and later the conversations of their congregations.
Note how Jesus and the apostles engaged in presenting the gospel during the course of preaching and teaching. During this process it will become clear that they used a variety of openings to deal with people about their most pressing spiritual need, had memorized scriptures and knew the gospel thoroughly, depended on the power of the Holy Spirit and sought and prayed for his working (Acts 4:29-30), would move from human needs and gospel promises to tell people about their most pressing spiritual needs of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, and would concentrate on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the center of the gospel (I Corinthians 15:1-11).
Encourage anyone in the congregation over the age of six to memorize John 3:16. This one verse summarizes the gospel, and can be used as the start to many, many witnessing conversations. Many who may have a church background may know the verse, and treasure it for its emotional association with a family and church attendance, but never have understood its real message. Then move to have them include other verses such as Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 6:23.
Regularly include a witnessing testimony in the church services. Have someone share his or her testimony in the church services once a month or so. Start with the currently serving board of elders and other church leaders. Encourage testimonies from a variety of backgrounds.
Encourage the people of your congregation to write down their own witnessing testimony for their own personal use. Even if they do not share it in a church service, they could share it with friends, children, or their grandchildren.
Occasionally include a dramatization of an evangelistic conversation in a church service. Once I participated in a demonstration in a Sunday evening service of an Evangelism Explosion home visit with the pastor and a couple from the church. Avoid making this too humorous. Again, include some variety and some answers to common objections and evasions that people may bring up during an evangelistic conversation.
Regularly pray for the salvation of anyone in attendance at church services and the family members, friends and neighbors who do not know Christ as Savior. The more that the people in the congregation hear this prayer request from the pulpit, the more that they will understand how much they need to be consistently, faithfully and passionately need to be praying for the salvation of those that they know.
Encourage people regularly to pray for the salvation of their family members, friends and neighbors who do not have an explicit Christian testimony. Show them how, and then continue to tell them how. Encourage each prayer meeting, church choir and musical group practice and Bible study to make this a regular part of their praying, much more than any physical needs and ailments (the ‘organ recital’ that has often been a regular part of traditional midweek prayer meetings).
Encourage all ministries of a church to have an evangelistic component, and everyone in public ministry and in the Sunday School to know how to share the gospel. Could the worship leader in your church share the gospel with someone else? Or the piano player? Or one of the ushers? If someone had a spiritual need, would they need to hunt down a pastor to turn over that person to the pastor to handle?
Guide adults – parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, teachers and neighbors – on how to share the gospel with children. Children can come to know Christ at an early age, but too many just take them to church but never discuss the gospel with them. Tragically, it seems also that many who attend churches succumb to the idea in some parts of the culture that they’ll wait until their children grow up and let them choose for themselves. This would be a good example of an evangelistic conversation to model before a congregation yearly, and you could even have an adult stand in for a child for this example. These kinds of evangelistic conversations require the adult to be extremely gentle and loving and to explain everything simply and thoroughly without the use of Christianese. Moreover, experience with these kinds of evangelistic conversations can help believers to be extremely loving and gentle and explain everything simply and thoroughly without the use of Christianese when they are sharing the gospel with adults.
Aim to reach adults with the gospel as well as children. Don’t fall for the statistic that a person is not going to come to Christ if he or she hasn’t come to Christ by a certain age. Who did Jesus reach primarily? Adults. Who did the apostles reach primarily? Adults. The statistic is misleading; it is not scripture. Rather, it may indicate that the adults in our churches generally do not know how to share the gospel with another adult, rarely do so or do not pray for others that they know to come to faith in Christ as a regular part of their prayer time.
Make sure that everyone in every paid ministry and staff position is a believer, adheres to the scriptural teaching that those who do not trust in Christ are lost eternally, and knows how to share the gospel – even support people. I think that churches and denominations lose their evangelistic spark and missionary drive when people come to positions of leadership who do not hold to scriptural convictions about the lostness of mankind and the need of everyone for the salvation in Christ. I don’t think that churches and denominations ask enough about a person’s convictions in these areas during interviews – such common sense questions as, “How would you share the gospel with me if I indicated to you that I was not born again?” or “Have you ever led someone to Christ?” or “How would you lead this congregation to be a witnessing church?” or simply, “Do you believe that someone who has not come to faith in Christ is lost?”