Churches want to be evangelistic. Churches need to be evangelistic. Not every church is evangelistic. Even worse, some churches have false perceptions of what it means to be evangelistic.
Herein I will outline four lies churches often believe when it comes to evangelism.
Lie #1: We have programs and/or training, so we are evangelistic
Many churches offer outreach programs (Tuesday night visitation is a popular classic) and evangelism training courses. Also, the preacher likely mentions the gospel in sermons (albeit only indirectly at times), and small groups are talking about Jesus (or at least they are supposed to). Thus, many church leaders suffer from the evangelism delusion: the false belief that a church is evangelistic.
The idea behind the evangelism delusion is that a church leader believes that because the church has a few characteristics of being evangelistic, it therefore must be evangelistic. The logic is flawed, however. Let’s look at an example from nature:
- A duck has web-toed feet. A duck has a bill. A duck swims in water. A duck lays eggs.
- A platypus has web-toed feet. A platypus has a bill. A platypus swims in water. A platypus lays eggs.
- A platypus, therefore, is a duck.
Right? Not even close. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, sometimes it’s just a duck impersonator.
A church can have a few characteristics of evangelism such as outreach programs and evangelism training, but that does not make it evangelistic.
What makes a church evangelistic isn’t programs or training; it isn’t even how many baptisms occur each week or year. Rather, what makes a church evangelistic is when the membership is engaged in regular personal evangelism.
Lie #2: It worked before, so it’ll work again
Many leaders believe that because something worked in the past, it will work in the present. However, this is not always true. I’m reminded of that standard caveat when it comes to investing: past performance does not guarantee future results. The same goes for evangelism: past achievements do not guarantee future success.
Cultural, technological, and sociological changes greatly affect which strategies will and will not work. Sometimes the change is very obvious, such as new gated communities and the influx of smart phones. Other shifts, however, are less obvious, such as how people view the world, themselves, and religion. Nevertheless, the fact that these things change means strategies must also change.
There are two extremes when it comes to making changes. One can obstinately hold on to traditional views and traditional approaches, allowing only those new things that can be molded into the old ways. This approach is often expressed in the mindset, “It was good enough back then, so it’s good enough now.” However, like putting new wine in old wine skins, this will lead to failure (Matt 9:17).
The other extreme is to reject all that came before, and instead seek new ways of doing things. Just like one cannot refuse the new, one cannot ignore the past. There must be a middle ground, one that respects and learns from the old, yet seeks to adapt to meet new challenges and respond to cultural changes.
Lie #3: It worked for them, so it’ll work for us
This is what I call “church cloning” and it’s all the rage. Here’s how it works:
Big Love Church in Pickatown, USA, does something that results in major growth. Maybe it’s an outreach strategy, worship style, or some other thing. Regardless, other churches take notice, and hoping to see similar growth, copy Big Love Church. Sometimes the pastor writes a book about how the church grew, outlining the approach they followed, and encouraging others to follow suit. Basically, “do what we did and you can grow, too.”
Call it what you will, this is merely church cloning: making one church look like another church.
Some of the more recent models churches attempted to follow have been the seeker service, purpose driven, emergent, and missional. Like all fads, each of these approaches came and went (or will go). That’s not to say that they have nothing to offer; there’s something to learn from each of these. However, one cannot simply duplicate another church’s methods and expect the same results.
Multiple factors contribute to a church’s evangelistic outreach success: spiritual mindset of the leaders, community demographics, social makeup, church personality, resource allocation, etc. No two communities are identical. No two churches are identical. Thus, what works for one may not work for another. Fad evangelism may be fashionable, but it’s not fitting.
Churches should not simply copy what another church does, nor should they follow the latest fads. Rather, it’s better to discover universal principles and basic concepts, then develop a strategy based on each church’s unique setting and situation.
Lie #4: Outreach is evangelism
Having written on the difference between outreach versus evangelism before, I won’t spend a lot of time on it here. It suffices to say that there are many who think promoting the church is evangelism. I once had a professor of evangelism say that by promoting his denomination he is promoting Jesus.
The local church is not the gospel. The denomination is not Jesus.
A wise man, Dr. Malcom McDow, always told his students, “not all outreach is evangelism, but all evangelism is outreach.” This means that one can do outreach without doing evangelism, but every time one evangelizes, one is doing outreach.
A church can do visitation and hold community events without sharing the gospel. In fact, many churches do just that: promote themselves. Instead, all outreach events should be gospel-centered; outreach should always be focused on sharing Jesus, not the church or a manmade denomination.
I’m sure there are many other misconceptions, or lies, churches believe when it comes to evangelism. What do you think? Share your thoughts below. Also, don’t forget to share the article on social media.