The words of Jesus are clear: Christians are to make disciples of all the people groups of the world (Matt. 28:18-20). This process begins with evangelism, when we tell others about Jesus. God alone draws people to Himself and makes them His followers, but we have the unique opportunity first to tell others the Good News.
I’ve studied North American churches for years, and few churches do well at emphasizing evangelism. Here are some general conclusions I’ve reached about evangelistic churches:
- The pastor must take the lead in evangelism. In almost twenty years of studies, I have never found a strongly evangelistic church led by a pastor who is unconcerned about evangelism. Rather, pastors whose hearts beat for evangelism produce congregations that share his passion. The transition may take some time (thus, pastoral patience is important), but even a non-evangelistic church can become evangelistic when their primary spiritual leader moves them in that direction.
- Evangelism does not just happen. I have seldom seen a church that is evangelistic without a plan to be that kind of church. Evangelistic churches plan to address issues that keep them from being outwardly focused. They recognize that the same believers who will tell everybody about Jesus when first converted can lose that passion. They understand that believers get increasingly separated from non-believers the longer they are in church. They know that a church without a plan to evangelize will be a church that does not evangelize, and they plan not to be that kind of congregation.
- Evangelistic strategies include both intentionality and accountability among leaders. The pastors we know who best lead evangelistic churches model two strong characteristics: intentionality and accountability. Intentionality is not a surprise, as noted in the finding above. Accountability, though, is often a challenge for most pastors. Which pastors are willing to admit how long it has been since they shared Christ with someone? Who is willing to be accountable to church members or to another pastor? Pastors who are most committed to evangelism are willing to take these risks.
- Evangelism is dependent on a strong belief in the Word. There is no other way to state this finding: pastors and church leaders who question whether Jesus is the only way to God, or whether a personal relationship with Christ is necessary for salvation, do not focus on evangelism. Churches that evangelize believe that men and women are lost without a relationship with Christ (Rom. 3:23, 6:23), that there is no other name that saves (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), that hell is real (Rev. 20:13-15), and that God is still saving people (Rev. 7:9-10). Moreover, they intentionally and systematically teach members these essential doctrines so they, too, might do evangelism.
- Churches that evangelize are unafraid to count numbers. There is little question that churches can idolize numbers. And, too many churches are willing to compromise essentials in order to increase numbers. On the other hand, churches that evangelize are willing to ask questions based on numbers. If the numbers show they are reaching few non-believers, they ask “why” without compromising the gospel message. The famous English pastor Charles Spurgeon – himself a committed evangelist – spoke to this issue in a way that makes sense to me:
I am not among those who decry statistics, nor do I consider that they are productive of all manner of evil; for they do much good if they are accurate, and if men use them lawfully. It is a good thing for people to see the nakedness of the land through statistics of decrease, that they may be driven on their knees before the Lord to seek prosperity; and, on the other hand, it is by no means an evil thing for workers to be encouraged by having some account of results set before them. I should be very sorry if the practice of adding up, and deducting, and giving in the net result were to be abandoned, for it must be right to know our numerical condition. It has been noticed that those who object to the process are often brethren whose unsatisfactory reports should somewhat humiliate them …. The fact is, you can reckon very correctly if the figures are honest, and if all circumstances are taken into consideration if there is no increase, you may calculate with considerable accuracy that there is not much being done; and if there is a clear decrease among a growing population, you may reckon that the prayers of the people and the preaching of the minister are not of the most powerful kind.
What other conclusions about evangelistic churches would you add?
 Charles Spurgeon, The Soul Winner (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963), 17-18.