This was originally posted at the North Carolina Baptist Convention’s website, and at the Biblical Recorder. I am leading a breakout session on this topic next week at the REVEAL: Disciple-making Conference.
As church leaders, we all desire to lead evangelistic churches. Proclaiming the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ is central to our ministry and our faithfulness to the mission of God. In my experience, there are two primary strategies for evangelism in the modern American Church. It would seem that local churches lean heavily toward event-based evangelism or a more individualistic approach to evangelism.
In event-based evangelism the idea is, “get the unbelievers to the church event so they will hear the gospel and prayerfully be saved.” The problem is, many church events like this tend to attract Christians from other churches rather than unbelievers. While people should hear the gospel at a church event, they shouldn’t have to come to a church event in order to hear the gospel. Simply put, we should not become dependent on an event to reach the lost.
The individualist approach tends to promote an evangelism that is primarily undertaken in isolation. In other words, individuals are sent out like lone rangers to share the gospel by themselves. Certainly, individuals should present the gospel when the opportunity arises. However, an evangelism strategy that primarily depends on individuals has the potential to crush our people under the burden of carrying out the mission of God on their own.
While there are benefits to both strategies, as we see, there are also a few drawbacks. Something seems missing if these are the only two ways we train our people for evangelism. What if we started to think of evangelism as something that is done in the context of community?
In my experience, it is becoming more and more the case that people are attracted to biblical, Christian community before they are open to the biblical, Christian message. Skeptics need to see the power of the gospel lived out in the context of a Kingdom community.
In other words, Christian proclamation makes the gospel audible, but we also need a corporate witness to make the implications of the gospel visible. The local church “examples” the power of the gospel to those around them. The world should look at the Church and see the gospel interpreted in every day.
Our loving commitment to one another despite our differences and our grace toward one another’s failures are a beautiful testimony to the gospel. True gospel fellowship within the local body transcends the barriers of race, sex, class and education, creating a community bound by the gospel alone.
With this in mind, introducing people into the Church community as a relational network becomes an important part of our being a faithful presence in the world around us.
Now, our love will not be perfect, but it must be substantial enough for the world to be able to observe. Isn’t this what Jesus said in John 13? “Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The ongoing witness of a church community is much more powerful than a one-time event. The collective witness of a church family is much more widespread than the impact of one individual.