I have trained church leaderson evangelism in many different churches, denominational gatherings, national conferences, and international settings for more than two decades. In almost every context, one question always comes up. At some point, as I am teaching, an exasperated and discouraged leader will ask me, “What will it take for our church to turn the corner? How can we engage in outreach that will actually change lives in our community?”
As they share their story, they often tell me about various efforts they have made, prayers they have offered, money they have spent, staff they have hired, and programs they have implemented. The result is often the same: very little kingdom fruit. They are passionate about the gospel, but something has gone wrong. They sense there is something in the culture of their church that is working against effective outreach.
I often respond to their question by sharing three critical pieces of the ministry puzzle, pieces that must be in place in a congregation for it to turn the corner and become an outreach oriented church. I assure them that if they can say an enthusiastic and honest yes to three questions, they are well on their way to witnessing an outreach explosion in their community. I also warn them that if they answer an honest no to any of these three questions, it will be difficult to develop a culture of organic, lifechanging outreach in their church.
At this point, I have their attention. People love it when you can give them steps to success, and most people think that is what I am about to offer them. I wish it were that simple. Sadly, there are not three simple steps to effective evangelism. Instead, I offer three building blocks that help cultivate a culture that invites evangelistic movement.
THE THREE CRITICAL QUESTIONS
Question 1- Does your church believe, honor, and follow the teaching of the Bible?
If a church has forsaken the Bible and does not believe what the Scriptures teach about sin, heaven, hell, and the saving power of Jesus alone, there is little chance they will ever have an effective, organic outreach.If they have forsaken the truth of the Bible, it’s unlikely that outreach will ever be a consuming passion.
A church might make an effort to keep from shutting their doors. They might want to grow. They might even be willing to implement tactics to engage new people. But only a desire to see people repent of sin, enter a life-giving relationship with Jesus, and be born again through his sacrificial death on the cross will lead to lasting evangelistic movement in a congregation.
The truth and authority of the Word of God are a church’s backbone. A congregation will follow what God says—even when it is hard — as long as its members know that God’s Word clearly calls them to reach out to the lost, to sacrifice their time and resources, and to winsomely share Jesus’ message with others.
Question 2- Does your church love people and long for them to know Jesus?
When a congregation is in love with itself and is consumed with self- preservation, it’s unlikely it will count the cost and take steps to reach out. But when the people in your church truly love others, that love drives them outward. When they love people so much that they hurt over their lost condition, they will do whatever it takes for those they love to taste the goodness of the gospel and to experience the love of God.
As the members of your church listen to the voice of Jesus saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” they will be compelled to look beyond the walls of the church and the circle of their church family. Love, inspired by the Spirit of God, propels us out of our comfort zones and into the world.
After I share these first two questions, most of those listening are nodding their heads in agreement. This is particularly true when I interact with believers from more traditional congregations that preach the Bible faithfully and have been committed to world missions for many years. Most of them are thinking, “Yes! We are two for two! Our church is committed to both of these.” I even get an occasional bold “amen!”
Then, I ask the third question.
Question 3- Are the people in your church willing to sacrifice to the point that they will joyfully embrace change?
After I ask this question, the atmosphere in the room usually changes. Many of the people who were excited shrink back. They shift in their chairs and look uncomfortable. I see concern on their faces. Some even groan out loud. It’s as if the oxygen has been sucked out of the room and people are gasping for air.
I’m not exaggerating.
I have met with leadership teams of churches all around the world and have asked these three questions over and over again. I find that many churches can confidently say, “We believe and hold to the Word of God, and we believe the gospel, love people, and want to reach out.” But when it comes to the idea of changing, people seem to hit a brick wall.
They want to reach out but fear the cost of even suggesting change to the congregation. They love people outside of the church, but not enough to risk incurring the wrath of members who like things just the way they are. They believe the Bible is true, but they are not willing to take up their crosses, deny themselves, and follow Jesus into a lost and broken world.
Cultivating a culture of organic outreach in your congregation requires making strategic changes to orient your vision and practice around the Great Commission. Outreach can’t be only the work of a committee or just a yearly weekend emphasis. It’s not enough to give money to missionaries and pray for others to reach the world.
Outreach must be woven into the culture of a church, into every aspect of its life and ministry. Only when a church grafts evangelistic passion onto every ministry will outreach become more than just another program. But this won’t happen if you want things to stay the same. Outreach demands change. Change requires sacrifice. Sacrifice means we must be more like Jesus!