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3 Arenas of Evangelism

I received some insight recently into evangelism in the local church from a conversation I had with one of our Oklahoma pastors. He shared with me that for that past two years, every baptism the church he led had come from either Vacation Bible School or youth camp. He and his church leadership were exploring ways to reach people with the Gospel who do not attend VBS or camp.

As a result of this conversation, I have done some exploring of my own…

Three Arenas of Evangelism in the Local Church

Program
For many churches, programming represents a large number of their church’s baptisms, often times well over half. A church I visited with last week baptized 18 people in the previous year; 14 of the baptisms were from either sports camp, VBS, and youth camp. In fact, Vacation Bible School typically produces about 25 per cent of the baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention (look here and here). In Oklahoma, over 2,500 students receive Christ as Savior at Falls Creek every summer.

Let me be clear: thank God for Vacation Bible School, youth camp, Disciple Now, or any other church program that is bringing people to Christ! Let’s continue to do these programs and let’s do them well. But as my friend Alvin Reid told me last week; a shrinking percentage of people in our culture are going to be reached through programmed strategies that require lost people to attend some type of event at the church’s facilities. Program-style evangelism is vital, but it must not be the only facet of a church’s evangelism strategy.

Pulpit
Traditionally, Southern Baptists (of which I am a proud member) have had strong evangelistic emphases from the pulpit. Pulpit evangelism has been a mainstay of evangelical churches; including Brush Arbor revivals, tent evangelism, Billy Graham crusades, and annual or even semi-annual church revivals. The invitation to receive Christ as Savior that is extended at the end of every worship service is an integral part of bringing people to Christ.

For an obvious reason, the success of pulpit evangelism primarily depends on the attendance of lost people. Pulpit evangelism is most effective when church members invite and actually bring their unsaved friends to attend worship. Pulpit evangelism is another critical piece of the church’s evangelism strategy, but it should not be the only piece.

Personal
The third and most under-utilized facet (in my opinion) is personal evangelism. According to Ed Stetzer and LifeWay Research, 80 per cent of church attenders believe in personal evangelism; but 61 per cent of church members do not share their faith. There is a massive chasm here between belief and action. Far too often, church members may believe that they are supposed to be a personal evangelist; most do not take action on their belief.

Locked away in our small groups and Sunday Schools is an untapped Gospel explosion just waiting to happen. Many churches lack an actual plan of mobilizing the people in their small groups to actually do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5). The small group or Sunday School is how the church is organized (supposedly) to do the mission of the church. If this mission statement is true, then many churches are not using their small group strategy to its fullest and most mission-vital objective… evangelizing a lost world “as we go” (Matthew 28:19).

Personal evangelism is the most missional of the three arenas of evangelism. In even the smallest of churches, our church members know hundreds of lost people. The challenge for the 21st century American church is to mobilize and unleash ordinary church members to become extraordinary evangelists who are able, willing, sharing their faith with friends, family and neighbors.

A Time to Grow

Effective leaders grow. There is never a point at which a true leader has arrived. Effective leaders take opportunities to soak up new information, explore new directions, and sharpen needed skills in their work and with people. Their constant desire to improve feeds consistent success.

Leaders also know how to follow. They seek knowledge, experience, and wisdom from others they can then pass on to those coming behind.

Leadership guru John Maxwell (everyone knows all leadership principles somehow originate from John Maxwell) talks about the “leadership lid,” the limit of a person’s leadership ability, and encourages those in leadership to push that limit and raise the lid of their leadership potential through personal and professional growth. This drive to mature, expand, and stretch is part of the DNA of one who leads.

If you want to be an effective leader, keep growing.

ReConnect training opportunities, like the numerous clinics available this August, are a great opportunity for Sunday School and small groups leaders to increase their leadership potential and effectiveness. They are an opportunity to grow.

These clinics offer Student ministry leaders a chance to explore student engagement in the small group and how to connect students in evangelism, Bible Study, community, and the mission of God in the world.

Leaders, take advantage of the opportunities coming this August. Come grow with us!

The More Things Change

You know what they say (whoever they are). The more things change the more they stay the same. Truth is, some things never change. I was recently thumbing through a copy of the church study course book Guiding Young People in Bible Study (W.L. Howse, 1955) and came across some things (a lot of things) that seemed wildly relevant and timely to working with students today. Now, we won’t get into the particulars of why I was perusing an old church study course book, but I wanted to take some time to share with you some of my findings. Who knows? Maybe I will share some more down the road, but for now, consider these:

Among the things listed as measures of successful teaching in a class (or group, my designation added) were:
Numerical Growth: “A teacher is succeeding if the members become concerned enough to join…in visiting (others).”

Attendance: “Normally, when a person is regular in attendance, (they) are interested in what (their class) is doing.”

Now, you may be thinking numbers don’t show us anything really. Although I would disagree with that assessment (we can get into that later), let’s look at other factors, non-numerical measurable, that were listed among the evidences of success for the teacher (leader, me again):

Biblical Knowledge
Attention, interest, and participation in the class (or group)
Evangelism (both with the lost and with believers)
Church membership/ affiliation with the body
Personal Spiritual Growth
The Growth of Religious Ideals/ Desire for Christian Living
The Development of Right Attitudes
The Achievement of Christian Character
The Expression of Right Conduct

Wow! This is great stuff! And it is a great reminder of how we might evaluate our effectiveness as we lead. It runs the gamut in covering the importance in connecting people with the community ad involvement in the church, the Truth of God’s word, in taking the Gospel to those in need, and seeing them come to faith in Christ and grow in Him. That is what we are to be about as we lead students in Bible study weekly.

So, next time you see an old book, I mean a really old book, don’t necessarily write it off as not relevant or outdated. It may still have something to say to you. Sometimes we think we were the first ones to think of these things, and that, somehow, we are God’s gift to teaching/ preaching and become reluctant to learn. It might just surprise you at how unchanging and constant the work we do with people is and challenge you to do the work you do well the more things change.

Engaging the Last 15%

worshipMany churches today average about 10-20% more people attending worship than they have in Sunday School or small group. A look at the attendance pattern of most churches indicates that this is an ongoing issue. Pastors and Sunday School leaders see people in worship every week that just will not make the commitment to go the next step and join a Sunday School or small group. We place ads in the worship bulletin and make announcements from the pulpit that almost beg these people to join a group… often to no avail.

I have discovered that there are three main reasons (barriers) why many people who attend worship are not willing to join one of the church’s small groups.

  • They do not know the group leader. Many of these folks are afraid the group leader will ask them to find the book of Habakkuk and read a bunch of names they can’t pronounce!
  • The social circles in the church’s small groups are already established. Breaking into an existing social circle is very difficult. Therefore, it is easier to skip the group meeting and go home.
  • An unwillingness to make a long-term commitment.

So how do you engage the 15 per cent (or 20 or 30) of worship attenders that are not participating in a small group? Instead of offering the usual ways to join a group (which they have already rejected), the church needs to offer some new ways to involve people in a new group that addresses the three barriers mentioned above. Here are two recommendations that may help you engage that final 15%:

First, begin a Connection Group. For this type of group to work, it needs to be led by the pastor or a staff member. A Connection Group is simply a short-term group (six to eight weeks) that is led by the pastor. During the course of the group, the pastor identifies and begins to train someone from within the group to become the group’s new leader. When the initial study is completed, the pastor hands the group over to the new leader and the group is moved from a short-term to an ongoing group. The people in the group have made new friends and established new relationships.

A second way to address this issue is to offer a Connection Event. A Connection Event can be done in several ways, but the basic idea is to start two or more new groups and invite people to stop by a booth or table in the church foyer immediately following the worship service so they can meet the group leader and receive information about the group. Some churches even offer a meal right after worship for people who are not connected to a group, and begin the new groups in this manner.

Regardless of which strategy you may use, realize that you need to address the three major issues mentioned earlier that prevent many people from belonging to a small group. By using the Connection strategy people can meet the group leader in advance; join a new group with no pre-existing social circles; and participate in a short-term group and establish relationships before it becomes an ongoing group.

Be sure to leave any comments or questions below and I will reply as soon as possible.

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Bob Mayfield is the Sunday School/Small Group specialist for the BGCO. Bob also writes for his own blog at www.bobmayfield.com.