Thom Rainer published a very timely article discussing an issue that I’ve been highlighting for years: a lack of evangelism among local churches. In his article he outlines seven factors that “hinder” evangelism. Rainer states that,
- There is no priority of evangelism. . . .
- Many laypersons believe that evangelism is what we pay the 98pastors and staff to do. . . .
- Many churches have an excuse mentality. . . .
- Too many church members do not connect prayer with evangelism. . . .
- Too many Christians fail to be compassionate and Christ-like to others. . . .
- Most church ministries are not intentionally evangelistic. . . .
- Some church members are concerned that new Christians will change their church too much.
Sadly, Rainer is correct that many—and I would speculate most—churches suffer with least one of these factors. As a result, LifeWay Research discovered that 61% of Christians fail to share the gospel at all in their lives, including those within the Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination supposedly so dedicated to evangelism that it formally adopted the name “Great Commission Baptists.”
While the list is clearly not comprehensive, there are two additional factors that I believe should be included in Rainer’s list:
8. Many pastors and laity are ignorant about evangelism
Commonly accepted lies about evangelism are that we evangelize with how we live, and meeting physical needs is evangelism. Biblically, as Rainer rightly points out, “Evangelism always ultimately includes a clear articulation of the gospel.” Living moral, ethical lives and serving the needs of others do not constitute evangelism. Many religions advocate or even require such behaviors, and there are multitudinous philanthropic and moral atheists. How we live and meeting social needs do not share the gospel, they affirm the gospel we share.
In addition to the two lies is a common misconception of evangelism. Many Christians believe that personal testimony and evangelism are synonymous. While a testimony can be evangelistic or can lead to evangelism, not all testimonies are evangelism. In order for a testimony to be evangelism it must discuss the core aspects of the gospel presentation: we are sinners, Jesus died to pay for sin, he rose again, all who put their faith in him alone are saved.
9. Many churches suffer from “evangelism delusion disease” (EDD)
This is a bridge between Rainer’s sixth factor and the eighth one outlined above. Churches often engage in non-evangelistic ministries (social needs ministries are probably some of the most popular). However, many also falsely believe that what they do is evangelistic despite the lack of any intentional gospel presentation, and as such, they suffer from EDD.
A former professor of mine often reminded his students, “Not all outreach is evangelistic, but all evangelism is outreach.” It is possible for a church to do non-evangelistic outreach or ministry. Bellies can be filled, pantries stocked, lives restored, and mourners comforted all without sharing the gospel. Churches often put great effort and resources into promoting the church and its subsequent activities, or in discovering ways to fill the pews and improve attendance (cf. “Churches are Midways, Pastors are Barkers“).
Not only are needs-based ministries and church-promotion mistaken as evangelism, I’ve encountered Southern Baptists who told me that to promote the SBC is to promote Jesus. It is reasoned that if people promote SBC doctrine and values, then Jesus will necessarily be proclaimed. However, while there may be a logic to the argument, there is a flaw in its application. When one promotes a denomination, regardless of what else is said, the audience’s received message is “look at our denomination.” As a result, Jesus and the gospel drown in the sea of denominational pride. Furthermore, one can easily promote a denomination and fail to share Christ with the lost. To think otherwise is a symptom of EDD.
I’m sure there are other factors that could be listed, but these nine cover the gamut of issues that hinder evangelism in churches. Does your church suffer from one or more of these? If so, there is an atidote! However, the solution is not to fix the church, but for individual believers to fix their own hearts with God; as Rainer says, we must be willing to “look in the mirror.”