8 Reasons Churches Don’t Do Evangelism Well

Last week, I wrote a post on “Why Churches Don’t Disciple Well.” I’ve more recently been thinking about evangelism in the local church. Though I’ve written a lot about evangelism on this blog (just do a search for “evangelism”), I’ve not written specifically about why I believe churches don’t do evangelism well. Here are my thoughts:

  1. Many church members don’t really believe people are lost. For years, I’ve had students do anonymous surveys of their churches—and it’s common that many regular attenders believe all good people will go to heaven. You don’t have to do much evangelism when that’s your theology.
  2. Many pastors don’t do evangelism beyond the pulpit. To be clear, I believe the pulpit ought to be a primary place from which we preach the gospel. Pastors who never share the gospel outside the pulpit, though, won’t lead their churches to be evangelistic.
  3. Churches don’t provide much evangelism training. Many churches offer no training. Others provide some, but they’re seldom successful at enlisting a high percentage of church members to participate. Often, only folks already doing evangelism show up for more training.
  4. Many believers have lost their wonder over Jesus. The fascination and zeal that led us to evangelize as new believers long ago burned out. Nothing compels us to talk about Jesus.
  5. We’ve made the church a place to retreat from the world—not a place to be renewed to reach the world. Our churches have become our hiding places, and it’s from our safety there that we too often only condemn the world. If evangelism happens, it happens only because someone visited our church and heard the gospel.
  6. Many church members have no real relationships with non-believers. I often ask believers—beginning with church leaders—to name 10 non-believers with whom they’re close enough they could share the gospel with them today—and it’s very common that church folks cannot name 10 people. 
  7. In fact, many believers seem to be afraid of non-believers. That is, we worry about their influencing us wrongly or harming our witness. And, to be fair, I fully affirm that we must be wise in how we reach out to non-believers. The problem, though, is not lost people; it’s that we haven’t discipled people wisely enough to help them navigate these waters well.
  8. Some of us, if we’re honest, just don’t care enough. We would stand strongly on biblical teachings about the lostness of humanity and salvation through Christ alone. In fact, we’d fight to protect those teachings—but we still do nothing with them. That’s a lack of concern.

What would you add to this list? 


  • Robin G Jordan says:

    Christians have bought into the belief that religion is a private matter and we are not respecting an individual’s privacy when we inquire about their religious beliefs or tell them about our own. We have committed a major breach of contemporary etiquette.

    I have also found that we have lost our sense of urgency. Or we may have never acquired one in the first place. Intellectually we may grasp that those who have not accepted Jesus as their Savior and Lord face a Godless eternity but viscerally we do not feel it. That thought does not stir strong emotions within us.

    I sometimes attend a local Methodist church because a friend of mine sings in the choir and the choir is quite good. Since I wanted to learn more about the church, I signed up for what was described as the adult confirmation class—the Methodist equivalent of a membership class. During the class session on salvation the subject of the fate of unbelievers came up. It was surprising the number of people who believed that they would be saved even though they never believed in Jesus. The thing is I was not surprised. Members of the small group in which I was involved at a Baptist church held the same view.

    In my small group we discussed this development at length. One of the most common reasons that the participants gave for changing their views was their experiences as teenagers. They had attended a church where the pastor had used the fear of hell to scare youngsters into making a decision for Jesus. Several churches in a local association would sponsor an annual dramatization of the fate of non-believers which the young people in the church were required to attend.

    My own experience as a teenager was quite different. Jesus was presented as someone who could make a difference in your life in the here and now. Indeed he was someone whom knowing would provide the major missing ingredient in your life, the ingredient that you did not suspect that you were missing. You were encouraged to follow Jesus as much as you understood him with the expectation that the more you followed him, the more you would come to understand who he was. Knowing Jesus in this life was the first step in eternal life with God. It was a blessing that you did not want to miss out on. The Word, the Holy Spirit, and the fellowship of believers were all seen as playing a role in converting and forming the new Christian.

  • Charles Kile says:

    In our society 18% are born again Christians that are disconnected from the church and are looking for two factors: conversation and connection. First teach people to have conversations with total strangers. Let’s say you have 5 couples in their 30’s with children that go to the same Sunday school class. Then advertise in local newspapers, free radio calendars or meetup.com the directions to the church, directions once inside the church to the Sunday school class. If a visitor does come, take them out to eat as a group. Let us first practice on non-members who want to come to our church before trying to get our congregations to talk to non-believers.

  • Robin G Jordan says:

    Chuck, you did a good job of identifying the major reasons that we do not do evangelism well. You touched on several reasons on which I would like to further comment. One is that churchgoers do not see any need for evangelism. I am using the term “churchgoer” to distinguish between someone who attends a church and may have a formal relationship with that church, i.e., church membership, and a follower of Jesus Christ. They are not synonymous. We are tempted to assume that they are but they are not. These individuals may have never been taught that Christianity is an evangelistic faith, a faith in which its adherents are expected to spread its message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ to non-adherents, much less bought into that proposition.
    You also assume that believers have lost their wonder over Jesus Christ. But I would ask, “How can you lose something that you never had in the first place.” I have known a number of people who, when they were at what might be described as the new believer stage in their spiritual journey as a Christian did not experience any such wonder. Why? They were offered an incomplete picture of Jesus. It was not a picture that would engender, to cite the words of the hymn, “wonder, love, and praise.” While many preachers do a great job of explaining the different passages of the Bible and their implications for us today, they do a terrible job of presenting Jesus in his fullness. They reinforce the stereotypical view that many non-Christians have about Christianity: “It’s all about rules. Don’t do this. Don’t do that.”
    When I attend university for the first time in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many of the young people that I knew discovered J. R. R. Tolkein’s books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. They became really excited about the books and told everyone that they knew about them. The excitement was infectious. I became an avid reader of Tolkein myself. A friend of mine and I even made elf rings. I designed them and he crafted them from silver. While I have lost some of my original excitement, Tolkein’s books are book that I can read over and over again. They have held my interest for more 50 years. I still tell other people about them. I am a Tolkein fan. I am also a fan of C. S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles. I have been reading them since they were published in the late 1950s. A fan is someone who is enthusiastically devoted to something or somebody. Their devotion may wax and wane but it never goes away. They stay enthusiastic about that something or somebody for the rest of their lives. My point is that while people may become believers, they may not become Jesus fans, not the kind of fan that is so enthusiastic about the something or somebody that he or she wants to share the something or somebody with others.
    There is also more than a little of the Pharisee in us. The Pharisees objected to the way Jesus treated sinners. He did not shun them as they did. He welcomed them and ate with them. On the other hand, the Pharisees may have welcomed a sinner if he cleaned up his act and adopted their beliefs and practices. A lot of churches are the same way. Even then they may not fully accept someone. Here again they reinforce the stereotypical view that non-Christians have about Christianity.
    We read a lot about tribalism today—how Americans are becoming tribalized, divided into different tribes with different worldviews and perceptions of reality. Tribalism is not new. It existed in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The Jews hated the Samaritans and the Samaritans hated the Jews. The Jews despised the Gentiles and the Gentiles despised the Jews. There was intense rivalry between the Sadducees and the Pharisees and the Essenes withdrew into the desert where they prepared for the great conflict between the forces of good and evil, a conflict which reflected the religious, ethnic, and political divisions of the day. Tribe is now the filter through which a growing number of churchgoers see those who are not a part of the fellowship of the local church that they attend. They embrace the wrong social and political values. They support the wrong social and political causes. They take different view of the world and do not accept the myths of these churchgoers or share their biases. COVID-19 has made the tribal divisions in the United States more visible. We have become a country in which one tribe dismisses the seriousness of the pandemic, does not observe social distancing, does not wear face masks, and so on. This tribe is found in America’s churches as well as outside them.
    While these factors make evangelism more difficult, they are obstacles that Jesus in commissioning us to spread the good news to the four corners of the earth and to make disciples of ALL people groups expects us to overcome. He has sent the Holy Spirit to help us and he has promised to be with us to the end of the age. In sending us the Holy Spirit Jesus keeps that promise. It is the Holy Spirit that united us to Jesus and to each other in the Body of Christ, not just the local church but the great cloud of witnesses, those who followed Jesus in the past, those who are following him now, and those who will follow him the future. The invisible church exists outside of time and space unlike the visible church.
    In each of us is a child, a child whose imagination, if it is caught, can do incredible things in the power of the Holy Spirit. We need to recapture or capture for the first time that child’s imagination. Remember what Jesus said, we must become like little children. A child’s imagination is open to tremendous possibilities. We need to tap into that imagination in each of us. It is the child in us that becomes lost in “wonder, love, and praise.”

  • Chuck, i see each one of these. In the church I attend, we work hard at always stirring the pot for evangelism, celebrating wins, dropping stories of evangelistic influence, reminding small group leaders to be aware of these moments. It takes more than the pastor to do evangelism, and more than a single champion. It’s really a culture buildling role of leaders to shape the passion for evangelism

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