"Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent" (Revelation 2:5).
"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent" (Revelation 3:19).
What can a pastor do if he finds that his church has become lukewarm in the matter of soul winning? (We are focusing on the pastor's role because he alone has the authority and position necessary to bring church-wide changes. This is not to say that pastors alone are responsible for the evangelistic zeal of a church. That responsibility is upon the shoulder's of every born again Christian. After reviewing this article, one pastor offered this wise observation: "The pastor must have the cooperation of the people to do his job. If they realized they have a HUGE impact on how we [pastors] feel and act, more people would do a better job!")
The following are some suggestions for pastors who desire to help revive their congregations to evangelism:
1. The pastor must revive himself about evangelism and provide the leadership in word and example.
He cannot effectively demand that the people do something that he is not doing himself. He must provide the leadership in evangelism. It can also be helpful to repent publicly before the church if his own lack of zeal in this area has contributed to the overall decline.
2. The pastor needs to make the people understand that this is a serious matter.
He can do this in many ways. One is by preaching on evangelism and using it in his applications. If he focuses on this, the people will usually follow suit. Another way the pastor can make the church understand the seriousness of evangelism is by requiring that the workers be involved in evangelism. A general church member cannot necessarily be forced to participate in visitation or to dress properly during the week or to separate from worldly music or such things, but a church can certainly require that its workers be examples of what God requires of His people. The workers set the tone for the whole church. They set the tone for what new converts will eventually become. If the pastor does not require that the workers be examples of what he preaches from the Word of God, he is undercutting the preaching. Another way the pastor can impress the people with the importance of evangelism is by emphasizing it frequently, during announcements, etc. Another is by demonstrating before the congregation that evangelism is at least as important as the many other programs and activities the church pursues.
The Bethel Baptist Fellowship of Brooklyn, New York, goes out on the streets of New York every Sunday afternoon for evangelism. Steve Schneider wrote to describe this to us, and emphasized the leadership role played by the pastors as follows: "The pastors of the church always go out with us and thus set the tone for the importance of the outreach. The outreach, called the 'S.W.A.T. Team,' is always published FIRST in the church bulletin and announced by the pastor from the pulpit every Sunday morning."
3. The pastor should set up a training program to educate and challenge the people-young and old-in evangelism.
We have dealt with this in the book Ideas for Evangelism, available for Way of Life Literature.
4. The pastor should develop a program of evangelism that will encourage the largest number of people to get involved.
A good start would be to set up the "Visitation Stations" which are described under the section on "The Visitation Program" in Ideas for Evangelism. This allows for people to get involved in evangelism in a variety of ways and does not try to force everyone to do the same thing. This is only a start, though. The goal should be to get every church member, young and old, involved in fruitful evangelism.
5. The pastor should evaluate the existing evangelistic activities with the goal of making them more fruitful.
Even many churches that are not very aggressive about soul winning usually have some traditional evangelistic programs, such as Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and a youth ministry. These are good places to start in evaluating and reworking a church's ministry. The pastor needs to ask himself how these can be made more fruitful.
A Vacation Bible School, for example, can simply be a part of the church's traditional program, something that is carried out without much enthusiasm and without much fruit, or it can be a true soul winning endeavor that is carried out with great zeal and potentially much fruit. I recall one particular church that has a Vacation Bible School each year, but little or nothing is done to advertise it across the community, no special prayer proceeds it, no effort is made to train and challenge the people to fill their private automobiles with children and young people and adult visitors, no thought is given to possibly running the church bus each day to bring people to the VBS program, etc. All the pastor does is organize the actual VBS program and then put up a sign in front of the church, apparently hoping that some unsaved people will show up. Another example of this is summer camp. Many churches participate in these, and they can be extremely fruitful for evangelism if the church has the necessary vision and zeal. But again, too often the church invests a great deal of money and time into a summer camp with very little attention given to making it evangelistically fruitful. To do this, the church must seek out unsaved young people and make it possible for them to attend camp, even if that means paying their way. The church must stop thinking only about its own young people, meaning the young people who are members of the church, and have an outward vision toward the needs of the vast number of unsaved children and young people who are in the community and who will not have an opportunity to hear the gospel and grow in Christ unless the church somehow reaches out to them. Their parents are unsaved, and they certainly cannot be expected to care about the spiritual welfare of their children. Another example of this is with special evangelistic or revival services. It is not uncommon for churches to have these and yet to do little or nothing in preparation for them, apart from choosing the speaker and preparing for the meals. A revival service that is accompanied by much earnest prayer and by much visitation in the community to invite the unsaved will be much more fruitful than one that is simply conducted as a tradition.
6. The pastor should seek ideas and suggestions from the church members.
Toward the goal of getting everyone involved and creating effective evangelistic outreach, it is wise to find out what the church people think. I know of very few pastors who do this, but I do not understand why they don't. It is wise for pastors to get feedback and ideas from the people. Get together with the whole church or with various groups within the church and invite candid discussion of evangelism. Try to find out what hinders people from being involved. Find out what they think of the current evangelistic efforts. Ask them to analyze every part of the church's program and give feedback about how to make things more fruitful. Challenge them to think of new ideas or new ways of doing the old ideas. Encourage them that you are open to their ideas and suggestions-yea, and criticisms. The pastor should especially focus on any church members who are burdened to carry the gospel to lost souls. It is likely that they are already thinking about these things and have ideas. In fact, in many cases it is certain burdened church members who earnestly pray that the Lord will touch the pastor's heart that he might wake up and lead the congregation in evangelism. In such cases, some of the church members might be far ahead of the pastor, and if so, they can be a great help if the pastor is wise enough to use them.
7. The pastor needs to stir up much prayer support for the church's evangelism efforts.
Prayer is crucial for the spiritual revival of Christians, for removing demonic barriers that the Devil seeks to erect to hinder the preaching of the Gospel, and to break the stony hearts of the unsaved. Prayer is absolutely crucial. There are many ways a pastor can lead in the matter of prayer. He can work to make the mid-week prayer meeting more focused on evangelism. He can start new prayer meetings, such as before the preaching services, as Charles Spurgeon had. He can organize prayer meetings in the homes of the church members. He can perhaps start an evangelism prayer chain. Many churches have prayer chains for medical emergencies and other urgent requests. One member calls another member who calls another, and in this way the prayer request is quickly passed through the entire membership. Why not have an evangelistic prayer chain, so that urgent prayer requests about salvation are passed around the church? This type of thing helps focus the people's attention on evangelism.
The Baptist churches in Ireland in the 17th century established a special time of prayer and fasting on the first Wednesday of every month for the purpose of confessing their spiritual slothfulness and backsliding and seeking the power of God (Joseph Ivimey, History of the English Baptists, I, p. 248). If our churches today will take spiritual slothfulness and backsliding this seriously; if we will truly humble ourselves before God and confess our sins and earnestly seek His mercy, power, and blessing, the spiritual deadness will fall away. The problem is that we are not treating the sins of omission as the great sins that they are before God. Open and widespread disobedience to the plain commandments of God is treated casually. The average member of the average Bible-believing church does not seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and cares far more about the things of this world than fulfilling the Great Commission. This is a great evil and it should be treated as such.
8. The pastor needs to evaluate his own activities and the church's activities in light of the Great Commission.
It is a simple fact that many Christians are too busy with other church programs, which might be good in themselves, to have time for evangelism. And sadly this is often true of the pastors themselves. The suggestions we have made for reviving a church that has lost its evangelistic zeal all require time. It takes time to have effective prayer meetings. It takes time to seek the lost. All of the methods of evangelism discussed in our book Ideas for Evangelism require time. If a church is too busy with other things, it is impossible for it to do everything that should be done for evangelism.
A Christian School ministry, for example, can be a serious drain on a church. It is common for pastors who have Christian schools to be heavily involved in attending sports programs, music programs, awards ceremonies, lunches, etc., that are not directly part of his biblical calling and responsibilities before God. As a result, the true calling is hindered. Thom Rainer, who has done extensive research into churches and evangelism, warns that "weekday ministries" such as Christian schools and day care, can be an actual hindrance to evangelism.
"Our respondents indicated that evangelistic growth rarely occurred as a result of these ministries. What are the reasons for the disparity? Further questioning revealed some fascinating attitudes about weekday ministries. First, the church leaders indicated that such ministries can be effective for church growth but rarely for conversion growth. The programs tend to attract other Christians, but their evangelistic value is questionable. Some pastors, a sizable minority, told us that their churches' weekday ministries actually detracted from evangelistic emphases. One pastor lamented, 'We spend so much time putting out fires in two of these ministries that we take away valuable resources that could be used to reach the lost. They really drain our resources.' Another staff member, whose responsibility includes the coordination of the weekday ministries, commented, 'I don't doubt the value of what we do. Many Christians truly benefit from our ministries. But it is really time consuming. We struggle to know the right balance between ministering to Christians and evangelizing the lost'" (Effective Evangelistic Churches, pp. 40, 41).
Rainer adds that in a large survey of churches, only 11 percent of the respondents indicated that weekday ministries were a contributing factor in their evangelistic effectiveness.
Pastor Doug Hammett of Lehigh Valley Baptist Church in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, reviewed this article prior to its publication and observed: "I would suggest you consider camping a little more on the problem of putting out fires for other ministries as well as the drain that schools, etc., have on the overall ability to get the folks moving toward evangelism. I am convinced most pastors want evangelistic churches but are tied up in so many other ministries to keep people happy that the evangelism is left out in the cold."
We must not forget the example of the Lord Jesus Christ. He explained the priority of His earthly ministry in these words: "For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). Christ also urged the priority of evangelism in the repetition of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:44-48; John 20:21; Acts 1:8) and in the example He put before us in the ministries of the Apostles as recorded in the book of Acts. A church that doesn't have time for fruitful evangelism is sinning against the Lord of the Harvest and will doubtless give account at the Judgment Seat of Christ for becoming sidetracked.
9. The pastor must be consistent and persistent in pursuing evangelism with the church.
It frequently happens that the pastor will get a burden to start or restart something in the church and will emphasize it for a short time, but then will drop it before there has been time for the Lord to work in people's hearts. An example is a church in central Florida that had declined in membership for 20 consecutive years. In 1980 the church called a new pastor, and he immediately sought to revive an evangelistic fervor. It took years, though, for this to happen. Following is the testimony of a deacon: "Our pastor did not just tell us to be evangelistic. He lived it! It took his example and leadership over five years before the church caught on. But we eventually got excited about sharing Jesus." The church has grown consistently for over a decade, with a significant part of the growth from conversions (Effective Evangelistic Churches, p. 43).
I recall a kind and godly pastor who had allowed his church's visitation program to die. The reason he did so was lack of concern on the part of the people. Just prior to canceling the Thursday night visitation program, several weeks had passed with only he and his wife at visitation. No other church members cared enough to attend. He was torn between a fear of forcing the people to do things out of a mere sense of duty to him instead of a heart-love for their Savior, and his responsibility before God to command the people to obey the Great Commission. Caught in this difficult situation, he allowed the organized visitation to drop away. After a year or so of inactivity, though, he announced to the church that he was deeply concerned about the matter and was convicted that he had not done the right thing in stopping the visitation program. For several services he told the people that the organized visitation would start again and that he wanted large participation. In several sermons he preached boldly that it is wrong for deacons and Sunday School teachers or choir members, etc., never to visit the unsaved. He had meetings with his deacons and told them that he wanted all of them to participate in the organized visitation.
After a few weeks of this he started up the visitation program again on a Thursday night. Only a handful of people showed up. There were no deacons or Sunday School teachers there. After a few weeks of this, with little or no noticeable increase in the number of church members who came out for visitation, he let the subject drop almost back to its previous priority.
He kept up the visitation program in a low-key manner, but he did very little to push it and he almost completely stopped rebuking or challenging the people. In fact, even though most of the men refused to come out on visitation, he let them start up a new interchurch softball league for Saturday evenings just a few weeks after starting the new visitation program. He promoted the softball league with almost as much enthusiasm as he had devoted to evangelism and he spent even more time announcing this than he had for evangelism.
Through all of this the people received a loud message: "The pastor will preach about some things that might make you uncomfortable once in a while, but you don't have to take it seriously. If you simply ignore him he will eventually let it slide and things will be back to normal."
Would it not have been more glorifying to the Lord if this pastor had used the softball league suggestion to face the men plainly with their misplaced priorities? Would it not have made a strong impression on the people if he had stood before them and said, "It has been suggested that we start a men's softball league. I have considered this prayerfully, and I don't think we have time for such a thing when it is obvious that most of our church members are already too busy to give even two hours out of their weekly schedule for soul winning visitation. The Lord Jesus Christ does not command us to play softball, but He does command us to preach the Gospel to every creature. Until we obey His express commands to reach the unsaved, I believe it would be presumptuous for us to start another form of entertainment for the saints."
I have great sympathy for this pastor and for the countless others who are in similar situations. He is trying to lead the people in evangelism, but for the most part they refuse to follow. At the same time, there are many other things this pastor could do to bring a desired change in the heart of the congregation. If he has done all he can and they still refuse to obey the Lord, he can definitely impress them with their disobedience and not act like it is business as usual when the church is spiritually slothful.
IDEAS FOR EVANGELISM
Our book “Ideas for Evangelism,” which was first published in 2000, has recently been enlarged. It is packed with practical suggestions for evangelism.
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