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will you cultivate a culture of evangelism?

Some time ago, George Hunter III described the North American Church landscape in sobering terms. He stated that of the 400,000 churches in the USA, 80% were either stagnant or declining. For the remaining 20% most of their growth (95%) was either biological growth or transfer growth. In other words, congregations experiencing growth through conversions are a rare species. Hunter called this data “some brute facts about Old-line Christianity in the USA.” This should agitate us because the LORD Jesus declared, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Today, most twenty-first century Canadian churches are either plateaued or in decline.[1]

This calls for deep change, courageous leadership and pastors and planters who will pursue missional renewal and elevated evangelism mojo.

I had a conversation with George on the radio, about his book, The Celtic Way of Evangelism; it’s well worth a read.

George and I chatted off-air about his contributions to mission in North America and when talking about “apostolic congregations” he claimed that “Only 1% of North American churches embrace that paradigm.” These are externally focused congregations that see their primary vocation as following Jesus into the mission field.

Peter Wagner stated, “Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven.” To quote Cole Porter “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” This is not a missional inevitability. Both established churches and brand-new faith communities face the challenge of creating a culture of evangelism.

Will you commit to cultivating an evangelism culture?

1. Will you take stock of where you are?

Admiral James Stockdale was an American prisoner-of-war during the Vietnam

War. Deprived of his rights and with no release date in sight, Stockdale spent eight dark years in extreme conditions. He maintained an unwavering faith that he would prevail and claims the ones who did not survive were the optimists. Jim Collins cast the veteran’s wisdom into the Stockdale Paradox where the leader must hold together, in dynamic tension, two principles that seem to be mutually exclusive. “Retain faith that you will prevail, in the end, regardless of the difficulties. And at the same time, confront the most brutal facts of your own reality whatever they might be.”

You must have faith that the God who raises the dead can infuse an ailing, dead, plateaued, stagnant, or dysfunctional church with new life and missional potency. At the same time, you will not hide from the challenges and obstacles on the change pathway towards a culture of evangelism. Before getting out of the starting blocks, you must have a clear-eyed assessment of the current state of affairs.

How would you describe the evangelism temperature in your congregation? Are prodigals returning to the Father? Are people stepping out of darkness into spiritual light? Are there stories of God at work; transforming, healing , setting men and women free? Are you simply shuffling sheep or are you seeing brand new people put their trust and confidence in Jesus?

Are you content with low levels of evangelistic fruitfulness? Do you believe God has a new day in store? Do you believe the LORD of the harvest wants to give an abundant harvest of broken men and women who are upended by his transforming power and amazing grace?

2. How are you leading the way in evangelism?

Leadership has its thumb on the congregational thermostat when it comes to “evangelism heat.” John Maxwell was unhelpfully hyperbolic when he claimed,” Everything stands or falls on leadership. Everything.” It might look good on a coffee mug, but it is a grand overstatement. However, your leadership really does matter. You can lead the way into a new day of evangelism by living the way. How connected are you with lost people? How deeply enmeshed are you with pre-Christians in the rhythms and routines of your life? Are you following Paul’s exhortation to his mentee, Timothy, “Do the work of an evangelist”? Are you doing the work of an evangelist relationally? Is your preaching evangelistic and invitational?

Chris left the church he planted in Ottawa and relocated to answer God’s disruptive call to lead an almost 50-year-old congregation. In the run up to his first Easter as newly appointed lead pastor of this long-established church, Chris Stevens presided over a staff meeting with a prepared agenda. Knowing that Easter always creates an upsurge of guests and visitors and therefore unbelieving pre-Christians, he asked the seventeen staff in the room how many of them had ever led someone to Jesus. Three or four raised their hands.

He responded by uttering a mild profanity and asking the same question and getting the same response. Stevens then ditched the staff agenda and proceeded to conduct evangelistic training. He brought impromptu teaching on the gospel and much to the staff’s initial consternation had them role playing two activities: sharing the gospel and leading each other to Christ. The fruit of Stevens’s missional moxie is that subsequent to this, the staff have been empowered to share the gospel and some staff have enjoyed the privilege of baptizing the people they have personally led to Christ.

Creating a culture of evangelism requires Spirit dependent leadership. Chris’s story is a snapshot of leadership in action. Leadership that requires disrupting the status quo and causing discomfort for the sake of the gospel and the lost.

If you want to create a culture of hospitality, then you yourself need to practice generous hospitality. If you want to develop a congregation characterized by extravagant generosity, then you need to put fiscal skin in the game. If you want your fledgling church plant to become a “house of prayer” then you need to lead the way on your knees. And…if you want to cultivate a culture of evangelism you must exhibit evangelism mojo.

This involves having significant healthy relationships with pre-Christians. This means leading the way in gossiping the gospel and engaging in spiritual conversations. It also means you know and can show how to lead a searching soul to Jesus.

3. How is prayer fueling your personal life and congregational life?

I have had the privilege of ministering at Willow Park Church in beautiful Kelowna several times over the past couple of years. On a recent visit I brought the word and invited people to respond and to come and kneel at the altar. There was a huge response and Phil Collins, the lead pastor commented, “It’s soft soil here, brother.” People are coming to Christ, the Word of God is landing on soft soil because Willow Park, under Phil’s leadership, has created a prayer culture.

Phil Collins is a man of prayer and is actively leading his Board, staff, and congregation in a growing life of prayer. Phil recounts that as an evangelist with Youth for Christ, two decades ago, he “lost Jesus.” He had an epiphany in a strategic planning meeting that while he was in the thick of innovative outreach, and had a significant preaching platform, he was no longer functioning out of the overflow of deep affection for Jesus. He had lost the love affair with Jesus. He took the remedial step of blocking off the first Wednesday of each month as a “day with Jesus.” He developed the pattern of long prayer walks, extended Bible reading, journaling, and conversations with God.

Brooklyn Tabernacle’s gatherings are characterized by a potent sense of God’s manifest presence, heartfelt worship, clear preaching…and people encountering Jesus. It is no secret that prayer is Brooklyn Tab’s engine. You might not be Brooklyn Tab or Jim Cymbala, but you can lead the way on your knees by seeking the face and heart of God and pursuing heaven’s empowerment. Phil Collins’s journey reminds us of Jesus invitation in John 15 to abide in Him, and how fruitfulness follows an abiding life.

4. How is the gospel shaping your congregational culture?

Paul reminded the amnesiac Corinthians that the gospel is “of first importance.” It’s possible to have a gospel theology without a gospel culture. It’s possible, as Martin Lloyd Jones remarked to be “perfectly orthodox and perfectly useless.”

Ray Ortlund is an exponent of building gospel culture in the life of the church. He

defines this as: “The shared experience of grace for the undeserving: the corporate incarnation of the biblical message in the relationships, vibe, feel, tone, values, priorities, aroma, honesty, freedom, gentleness, humility, cheerfulness-indeed, the total human reality of a church defined and sweetened by the gospel.” This is the goal we must pursue, by God’s grace !

5. How are you identifying, encouraging, and releasing evangelists?

There is a pressing need to identify, encourage, equip, support and to raise up the next generation of Canadian evangelists. The World Wild Life Fund is committed to preserving endangered species across the planet. This group spends its resources and energies to this end. Today, in Canada we must address the issue of the endangered species of evangelist.

We need to identify a new generation of leaders who have the evangelist anointing and demonstrated fruitfulness in evangelism and turn them loose for the glory of God and the sake of the world!

Evangelists are recruiters who love the gospel, love sharing good news, and love lost people. Cole claims, “The evangelistic gifting is the recruiting engine of the church.” They embody “contagious compassion” especially for those “without hope and without God in the world.” Evangelists have a heart for those far from God. Evangelists are “story tellers” not simply because they are raconteurs, although evangelists are frequently great at storytelling, and painting vivid verbal pictures.

The heart of an evangelist is fixed on and stirred by the story of God and sharing it with broken people in a broken world. The evangelist has a unique Holy Spirit endowment to transmit God’s heart and passion for the lost.

Have you identified the evangelists around you? What are you doing to support and encourage them?

Evangelism is more caught than taught. Have you identified credible evangelists who can not only instruct but also inspire and impart evangelism fire? Are you deploying evangelists to equip the flock in expressing the good news?

6. What are you doing to equip people to tell their story and God’s Big Story?

A Lifeway Research project unearthed what Lifeway labelled "distressing results." They discovered that 61 percent of evangelical Christians do not share their faith regularly, although they actually believe it is their responsibility to do so. People who love and follow Jesus need helped and equipped to show and share the love of Jesus and to “give a reason for the hope that lies within them.”

When the survey was released Ed Stetzer, then President of Lifeway Research, commented: "If you are going to be intentional about sharing your faith, praying for others is a great way to start. We often acknowledge the importance of prayer in people coming to faith in Christ, but we also found it has an impact on the person praying.”

How are you encouraging people to listen to the Holy Spirit, pray and intercede for the lost. Are you equipping the leaders and people God has entrusted you with to engage in spiritual conversations? What kind of training are you offering to help people share good news, explain their faith and respond winsomely and confidently to questions that arise? [2]

Dr. Bill Hogg July 21, 2023

[1] Today 85% of Canadian congregations are stagnant, plateaued or in decline. In many cases, this has been accelerated the This is measured by attendance, membership, or adherence. Admittedly, not the most useful missional metric. It is an indicator that for most Canadian congregations their best years are in the past. [2] Checkout Advance Groups and the Advance Group Mentoring Guides as a strategy for peer cohorts to develop heightened evangelism intensity and intentionality See and Download the free guide and contact one of the Advance Ambassadors to explore how Advance Groups could encourage and support you and your ministry in evangelism.

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