27 Jun, 2015 Chapter 12
HE CAME FOR THE LOST – A REMINDER OF OUR MISSION
I have written on this topic in other publications, however, in this succinct chapter, I will include some perspectives that I have come to believe are very important.
This area (evangelistic outreach) is very important because this is the mission of the Church.
Bible teacher Derek Prince said it well when he said,
“The supreme purpose of every true Christian church, the chief duty of every Christian minister, the main responsibility of every Christian layman, is to present to all who may be reached, in the clearest and most forceful way, the basic facts of the gospel of Christ, and to urge all who hear to make the definite personal response to these facts which God requires. To this, the supreme task, every other duty and activity of the church, must be secondary and subsidiary.”
(Derek Prince, Foundation Series, Volume 1. Sovereign World Books. 1986. P 134).
Our world is changing, and what worked in evangelism just twenty years ago does not work so well today.
Firstly, to facilitate outreach, we do well to work in ‘seasons’.
Usually we will have an outreach service or program at Christmas and Easter time with our members. Let’s imagine in this chapter that we are talking about a youth or young adults ministry (the same principles apply to adult congregations), we may also have an outreach program in the June or July school / University holiday. Looking at the diagram below, our content could be more ‘topical’ in the ‘outreach seasons’, addressing issues applicable to all youth so as to make our gatherings more comfortable and relatable for new friends to stay (i.e., where the curve is in the top axis / evangelistic focus in the diagram), however, in the months of February, mid April to May, and July to November we would not have outreach programs. Hence, our content could be ‘deeper’ and more Christian-specific (i.e., where the curve is in the lower axis / content centered focus in the diagram). These are the seasons of time to do our biblical series.
Secondly, having created an evangelistic season, we then consider the place of ‘bridging events’.
Our world is changing, and what worked in evangelism just twenty years ago does not work so well today. The Engle Scale of Evangelism is an easy way to understand what the journey toward faith is like for many people today. (Content from one rendition of this scale is shown below.) On this scale, the numbers represent the different levels of ‘receptivity’ a person might journey through on the path toward saving faith. Twenty years ago, an average person may have had an openness to Christian ideas that would, for example, place them at a negative five on this scale. However, today, in a changing and increasingly skeptical world, the average person might be a negative eight, or even negative eleven. Thus the journey to saving faith is recognised to be longer in our times than it once was. There is therefore a need for ‘pre-evangelism’, relationally and gently addressing hindrances that might be in people’s lives.
The concept of the ‘Engle Scale’ illustrated
-12 Born with a God-Vacuum
-11 Aware of higher Power or powers
-10 Senses personal spiritual emptiness
-9 Seeks to fill personal spiritual void
-8 Vulnerable to false religious beliefs
-7 Realises there is only one true God
-6 Exposed to other Christian concepts
-5 Interested in Jesus and the gospel
...the importance of continually training our members in the basic skills of evangelism, conversation and testimony sharing... is too often overlooked.
-4 Understands some gospel concepts
-3 Senses personal spiritual conviction
-2 Confronted with a faith response
-1 Counts cost of a faith response
-0 Repents and trusts Jesus
‘Bridging events’ are increasingly important, as people become more skeptical, and have further to journey before they may be ready to consider faith in Christ. Social and games events, BBQs, study venues, ‘drop in centres’, sports events, group holidays or camps… have an increasingly significant part to play. (For adults, consider, for example, marriage courses or parenting courses. For Young Adults, consider additional programs such as financial planning, dealing with work stresses, or pre-marriage courses). They provide the context where trusting relationships can be better established while doing or discussing something that is religiously ‘neutral’. In such an environment, new friends can come to feel more at ease in a ‘Christian’ environment, the Christian example of love can be observed and experienced by them, and open conversations on faith matters can then begin to take place more naturally, with them feeling at ease with the discussion.
Thus our bridging events lead strategically up to our evangelistic events in these ‘outreach seasons’.
The home group is thus the ‘home base’ of evangelism in the local Church.
For example, a Christmas school or university holidays might begin with a post-exam celebration in a small group (discussed soon in point four), followed by a large group sports event where someone shares a simple devotion or testimony, leading to invitations to a Christmas evangelistic service, followed by everyone going for lunch together with their small group friends. The ‘real’ conversations will most likely take place at the lunch, but this conversation stand on the platform of the trusting relationships developed by the small group members through the various bridging events (and other social times with those friends).
I have seen wonderful examples of people coming to faith, with such activities ‘paving’ the way from their initial reticence, to a concluding openness.
Thirdly, we need to equip our members to be able to share their faith clearly.
Programs don’t reach people. People reach people!
In fact, the only reason people will be at ‘our’ outreach programs is because our members have had the passion and faith to invite them. But importantly, there is a growing trend in which more and more people are making their decisions to follow Christ outside of the context of the Church’s large events. This maybe parallels a heightened cultural valuing of personal integrity and ‘genuineness’, along with an increased cultural skepticism of ‘hype’, motivational preachers and extreme truth claims (such as evangelists correctly make when preaching, but which are increasingly culturally offensive). The role of our members in evangelism has always been important, but it is culturally becoming even more important!
This leads us to a clear recognition of the importance of continually training our members in the basic skills of evangelism, conversation and testimony sharing. These are too often overlooked. If you survey an average congregation, asking how many could share a clear gospel with a friend were the opportunity to arise, the results might surprise you (they have surprised me)! It is as if we have somehow assumed that because people heard the gospel once, or attended a seminar held a few years ago, they will still remember. This is not the case. We forget skills and ‘leak’ passion!
Your greatest challenge is not your planning of the programs, but your leadership of the members hearts. If the gospel is alive in their hearts then there will be both new people and passion for the gospel at your programs.
In the Kick-start Resource CD is a folder titled ’12 – Evangelism Training’. This folder contains teacher and participant notes for some evangelism training seminars. Please note that these notes are raw, and are in seminar format. I recommend adapting (‘cutting and pasting’) the content for use in sermons, or for however best suits you.
Regarding this training of members, I would firstly encourage you to consider doing an annual outreach training with your members, plus an annual revision. In other words, to give this the intentional focus at least twice per year. Secondly, I would encourage doing this with ALL of your members, rather than through a separate ‘Christian Education Class’ which likely gains attendance from only a small percentage of your group.
Thus, your annual training could be done through your sermons, being creatively repackaged each time so that it does not become too boring after five years. The small groups can then be the place where members practise the skills taught in the main service, and also the place where they can revise them six months later.
The reason I suggest doing this through your sermons and small groups is because, this way, every member is equipped and ready to share at any time, any previous training being reinforced regularly. If evangelism training is only done through seminars, only a portion of our members will ever be equipped and ready to share when opportunities arise.
Skills could include what the gospel is and how to share it clearly and concisely; conversation skills (how to ask good questions); how to answer frequently asked questions; and how to share a clear and compelling (though also true!) testimony (these contents are all in the attached training).
All your members can be equipped to share at any time. An immediate benefit is that this gives you an increased confidence in your bridging and evangelistic programs, for the sharing of the gospel no longer depends just on the preacher or key few leaders. For example, imagine if you included into a program a time for small group discussion after an evangelistic message, where members discuss a simple question and maybe fill out response slips. You could now be confident that your members know how to make the most of such opportunities.
Fourthly, we need to mobilise our small groups to the same strategy.
The strategy I refer to is that of having both bridging and evangelistic outreach events.
While training every member in the skills of outreach is essential, and while corporate events are like the ‘hinges’ from which our outreach seasons hang, the true impetus for our outreach will always come from the momentum and faith of our small groups. I say this because it is in the small group context that our members are personally encouraged, challenged, and spurred on toward good deeds. While I may seek to motivate members through the large group meeting, I cannot follow up with them or keep them accountable. Also, in all reality, most will not sustain the motivation to be active in outreach all by themselves. The small group is thus the ‘home base’ of evangelism in the local Church. It is the most effective place to feed and channel that motivation. Small groups can combine their different strengths for a common purpose.
The nature of the small groups outreach activities could vary widely. There could be whole-group activities, for example you all go ten pin bowling. There could be ‘sub-group’ activities, like three friends all inviting a friend, and going for a game of golf together. Or the encouragement of individual bridging activities, such as in giving friendship to those they care for, or such as through serving friends, or going out of our way to meet practical needs they might have.
The obvious question is how to mobilise this. The answer is in setting aside some time in your small group meetings in the weeks leading up to an outreach season.
Here is an example of what they could do in that time in the six weeks leading up to a corporate outreach:
Week one: Identify friends you want to reach out to. List possible hindrances and pray for them (1 Corinthians 4:4). List possible interests and consider together possible bridging events or activities you could do together with them.
Week two: Promote the details of the upcoming outreaches, promoting their purpose at the same time (the importance of / reason for outreach). Go for the heart! Pray for your friends. Recall suggestions of possible bridging activities and, considering what your Church is doing corporately in this area, plan something that will compliment the existing programs, enabling you to spend even more social time with your new friends, getting to know them better.
Week three: Complete planning for your activity. Reinforce to your members the importance of intentionally befriending each other’s friends. This is the key purpose of small group ‘bridging’ events. This giving of relationship enables ‘Christ in us’ to be seen, softening the ‘soil’ of their hearts, and is vital to effective witness. Give out promotional material for the upcoming corporate events. Revise your evangelism training. Pray for those you are inviting.
Week four: Again revise your evangelism training, so members are ‘fresh’ and confident in their ability to share a clear gospel or testimony, should the opportunity arise. Encourage your members to invite those they are praying for, if they have not done so already. Pray!
Week five: Encourage your members faith. Pray earnestly.
Week six: Your outreach season starts, including your small group bridging activity(s), maybe corporate bridging events, and your ‘point’ (evangelistic) event.
These times as a Cell Group could take from ten to forty minutes – or more. It is really up to the leader, and what they feel is needed so as to give diligence to this most important purpose.
It only remains to be said that all the above strategies for outreach are but ‘pipes’. Your spirituality and faith put the living ‘water’ of God in them. While the pipes are important (we could not bath or flush toilets without pipes), it is the water that ultimately counts!
Your greatest challenge is not your planning of the programs, but your leadership of the members hearts. If the gospel is alive in their hearts then there will be both new people and passion for the gospel at your programs, but if the gospel is not alive in their hearts your programs will yield only minimal fruit!
As with pretty much everything in Christian discipleship, the ‘real stuff’ is more caught than taught.
Let’s give our best to facilitating wise and bold plans for outreach. But let’s give all our diligence, and all our hearts, to the stirring of faith, of love, and to prayer.
Something to reflect upon
1. Can you identify the natural ‘seasons’ in your annual calendar in which you could focus your outreach efforts? Can you see how you could plan your content so as to have ‘deeper’ content between the outreach seasons, and the more ‘friendly’ content in them?
2. What kind of events would be attractive to your members’ friends, thus becoming possible corporate bringing events? Could you plan some such events strategically in the period leading up to your outreaches?
3. Do your members all know how to share their faith, their testimony, and how to ask a few good questions that could help them discuss these things with their friends? If not, would it be possible to train them through a sermon series? Would it be possible for all small groups to do practical exercise at the same time so as to consolidate their learning? What content will you teach?
4. What could you do to feed the passion for outreach in your Cell Leaders? Could you achieve getting all Cell Groups to work through the ‘six week lead up plan’, as outlined under point four in this chapter?
5. How passionate about outreach are your members really? How many are involved in ‘outreach groups’ at their schools, campuses or work places? What else could you do to stir this passion?
6. Do you think it is possible that the above could become a ‘pattern of behaviour’ for you, such that every year you do the same sorts of things, thereby becoming a truly effective long-term mission mobiliser as a result of reading this chapter?