Many pastors and church leaders are seeking earnestly for something that will turn their churches from plateau and decline to healthy church growth. Often they turn to outreach programs, emphases and events to get outreach going and turn things around. There’s nothing wrong with programs and events, per se, but they take a lot of work and resources and often do not solve the problem. Repeated failed attempts lead to discouragement, exhaustion, and burnout. Before trying the “next big thing”, here are three things your church can do that cost nothing but might make a tremendous difference in the life of your church.
- Engage in praying specifically for the lost.
One of the great needs in our churches is for Christians to see the people around them with spiritual eyes. Often, we just don’t think about the fact that our neighbor, our co-workers, our family members, and many of the people we interact with everyday are without Christ. To see with spiritual eyes means that we see people the way God sees them – as sinners in need of a savior. Prayer opens our eyes to the lostness around us. Prayer focuses us on people’s need for a savior. Prayer also brings us in line with God’s eternal purposes – to seek and to save. Further, prayer connects us to the one who draws people to himself. If we want to see a harvest, then prayer is the first work because the harvest belongs to him. Before you do anything else – in your worship service, your small groups, your personal prayer time – begin to pray earnestly and continually for lost people.
Does your church take time to pray specifically for unsaved people?
Do you personally have a list of people for whom you are praying regularly?
- Evaluate and reengage existing ministries.
Many times, our existing ministries have an outreach potential that is not being harnessed. Nearly every ministry is a potential entry point into the church. Recent studies have confirmed that the most effective means of outreach is personal invitation. Most every existing ministry in your church can be something you invite unchurched people to attend. Further, every ministry has the potential to engage believers in the missionary task.
Your church most likely has a Sunday School or small group ministry. Are your members encouraged to invite their unsaved neighbors and friends? Do your leaders teach with unchurched people in mind? Are members challenged to be personally involved in reaching the people in their spheres of relationship? Do your small groups take on the responsibility of following up with guests? When you pray together, do you pray for the lost, for opportunities, for boldness? What about your children’s and youth ministries? Are you reaching out to invite the unchurched children in your neighborhood? Do you challenge youth to invite their unsaved friends?
How might your existing ministries be used as outreach arms of your church?
- Expect church members to take personal responsibility in gospel ministry.
If you are an evangelical church, your mission statement likely is some version of the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20). You probably talk about outreach and evangelism on a regular basis. Your people probably believe in it. But somewhere along the way, we’ve made witness and evangelism an optional part of discipleship. Many Christians have excused themselves from personal witness because of their schedules, temperaments, or spiritual giftedness. Pastors encourage people to reach their unsaved friends and neighbors, but few answer the call.
What is needed, I believe, is a shift from suggesting to expecting personal evangelistic work. Jesus certainly expected it. He called his disciples to “fish” for people. He sent them out with his message. He commissioned them to go and make disciples. He declared that they would be his witnesses. We must cease merely suggesting that Christians be involved in outreach and start expecting them to do so.
Pastors and Bible teachers must return to teaching evangelism as a necessary part of discipleship and a vital part of our Christian walk. If you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, then telling others about Jesus is not an option. If you are to walk as Jesus walked, you will reach out to people. If you are to have the heart of Jesus, you will have a heart for the lost. If you are striving toward Christ-likeness, you will strive toward sharing Christ with others. Whatever your personality, whatever your temperament, whatever your ability, whatever your spiritual gifts, whatever your situation in life, Jesus calls every Christian to be involved in the missionary task. It’s not optional, it’s called following Jesus.
Are you teaching your people that telling others about Jesus is part of what it means to follow Christ?
Are you expecting that believers will be involved in personal work?