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
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.
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.
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.