Q. Tim, if you could suggest just a few things our church could do to improve our outreach, what would they be?
A. Sure, there are a few things I’d suggest. The Philip Center does not like to hand out “evangelism in a box” solutions that fit all churches. Each church is different and will have its own set of barriers to evangelism. But having said that, there are factors common to healthy church outreach.
First, examine the preaching of the Word from the pulpit. Is it rich, Christ-centered preaching. This isn’t a sermon that tacks on a gospel invitation, but preaching that points to the human predicament of sin, our inability to overcome our sin, the cross, repentance, forgiveness. Showing the relationship of a biblical text to the gospel and to the disease of our hearts — and doing that year after year — makes our churches the salutary soul hospitals they are designed to be. One good resource for this is Brian Chappel’s Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. A steady diet of gospel-rich preaching of the Word, when it connects to the heart of the non-Christian is one of the best things a church can do toward fruitful evangelism. The same preaching will likewise shape the contours of the Christian’s heart as well — helping him to better understand the transformation taking place in his life and enabling him to communicate that to others.
Second, pay attention to individuals. Keep an eye out for the people in your church and outside of your church (usually those in relationships with people in your church). Each one is loved by God and precious. I choose the word “individual” to reflect the language of Henry Trumbull’s book, Individual Work for Individuals (an out-of-print gem from 1901). It’s easy to overlook individuals in our great desire to reach many. Slow down and take the time to observe who is spiritually open. Given our culture’s distaste for church, the fact that a non-Christian is in a church is likely an indication of some degree of openness. But look beyond who is in the church building and see who is in relationships with your people. Inspire and equip the Christians to pay attention to their friends, family, co-workers, neighbors — one at a time. So many of our outreach initiatives are designed to reach people, but when those individuals express interest, we move on to the next initiative. Look, listen, listen more, love and respond to who they are and what they are thinking and feeling. Care for them as individuals patiently. The story of the lost sheep is a poignant reminder of Jesus’ love for individuals.
Third, evaluate your outreach leadership. There are two crucial issues here. One has to do with the pastor. Is he a champion for evangelism and is he doing it himself? These are crucial. If not, humbly begin to pray for him, that God would move his heart for the lost. While I’m not a big fan of the solo pastor model of church leadership, it is nevertheless crucial for the lead pastor or elder to actively model and champion evangelism. Mark Dever’s book, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism is a great resource for this. Second, a church that is eager to grow in outreach should seek to identify and train someone who is the Ephesians 4:11 equipping evangelist. This likely should not be the person who naturally and effortlessly leads many to Christ. Those in your church who do that are a wonderful gift, but they are rarely good equippers of the rest who are fearful and unequipped to share their faith. This leader is very important to the long-term outreach health of a church and his role in your church cannot be overlooked. I have heard church planting pastors say that they would make that the second or third hire the next time they plant.