Last week was the annual Church Planter Training Conference in St. Augustine. One of the sessions was an extended consideration of “Building a Culture of Evangelism.” John Shaw led this with contributions by Al Tricarico and host pastor Eric Watkins. John & Eric completed teaching their first MTI-OPC class on Evangelism this past August.
We want to give you some highlights from this session both to give you an idea of what our church planters are being taught and discussing, but also to potentially think through how you might further build a culture of evangelism in your church.
The Biblical Ground & Framework for a Culture of Evangelism
The first highlight of the teaching comes from considering Matthew 9 as the biblical grounds and framework for how we should think about building a culture of evangelism in our churches. You may choose to do your own study of the passage. You will notice the simple principle that God Himself is LORD of the harvest AND that the harvest is plentiful. A pointed moment for the conference attendees and for you as you read this is the comment that John made:
“The harvest is plentiful. We tend to think there is a plentiful harvest somewhere, but not where we live and labor. Sure, there’s a plentiful harvest in China or Africa right now, but not in Austin or Springfield, or Pasadena, or (fill in your town/city).”
Do we really believe and have expectation that the Lord of the harvest is speaking about our field? We may be prone to see ourselves as the Jeremiahs of our day, but that’s not the message of Matthew 9.
Building a Culture of Loving People
The heart of the consideration for building a culture of evangelism was thinking about the disposition of our hearts toward people—those created in the image of God.
Combining a number of the thoughts from the leaders, this sentence encapsulates it:
“Evangelism is knowing people and loving people and recognizing that they are worth knowing.”
As Eric Watkins expounded: Love Jesus. Love People. Be Kind. Ask the right questions.
A question was raised for attendees (and your) contemplation: “What is your church known for?”
This assumes, first, that you are known. Are you known for loving people? Or, are you known as the theological watchdog of the neighborhood?
We want a reputation of being nice to people! Too often our interaction looks too much like, “here’s the gospel and you’re an idiot for not believing it!” This is especially true on social media.
Love Jesus. Love People. Be Kind. Ask the right questions.
Practical Ideas to Get Started
1) Pray for the lost by name for God to save them. Have names in your prayer list. Build a culture of prayer in the public life of the church for God to save the lost.
2) Help people grow in their ability to “tell people a little bit about the God you love.” This isn’t street preaching or an apologetic lecture. This was coupled with one of the more insightful thoughts of the day, which was an idea from Eric Hausler relayed to the attendees (and to you):
“Most people don’t need more contacts. We need to see people as souls with everlasting destinies not as landscape or machines.”
Machines? Think of the barista at the coffee shop…I give her my order. She takes my money. She brings my coffee. I leave. She’s a machine….a dispenser of coffee.
Landscape? They simply blend into the background and backdrop of my day. I see many people each day but I see them like cars or trees, not as souls with eternal destinies, created in the image of God.
3) Invite people to church or to church events and gatherings
Chris Chelpka (OPC in Tucson) had written a blog post about a Thom Rainer survey. The survey asked many unchurched people about how likely they would be to visit a church if invited. How do you think they responded?… 82% said they were likely to come if invited to church. Counter that with the survey question to Christians about how many invited someone to church in the last year…what do you think? 21% said they had invited someone in the last year. Sounds like the new 80-20 rule, and this is the embarrassing one. As people grow more and more hesitant to visit a church without prior connection, let’s add the less “threatening” things we do as a church. Invite them to come to a bbq, game night, book study etc.
This gives some serious food for thought….not just for the church planters of 2018. For all of us reading this about all of our churches.
We want to expand on this in a couple more posts. In particular, we intend future posts to address two sections of this conference session—1) Preaching & Evangelism (obviously geared toward pastors) and 2) Asking the right questions and having helpful conversations with outsiders (geared toward members and attenders).
For now, consider what you can take away from this, as a pastor, elder, or member—what can you apply immediately to your life? What new habits can you start today? Take one day of your life and note the people you come in contact with (not landscape and machines) and think about what new habits and patterns you could start today.