REINVIGORATING AN EVANGELISM TIRED CHURCH
By: John Parrish
In the United States, church planting is considered the most effective means of evangelism. I recently spoke with church planter John Montgomery who is near Orlando, FL. With delight, he mentioned that six people had come to Christ in the span of six weeks.
Recent studies revealed that while church planting is proving fruitful, the evangelistic life span of a newly planted church is only 12 years. By this time, organizational structures take over and the church’s energy shifts to maintaining itself. It succumbs to “institutionitis”.
What attributes in the early stages of church planting invigorate a church to be evangelistic? Can we identify these driving elements which the Evangelism Tired Church (ETC) must revitalize to become an Evangelism Energized Church (EEC) once again?
1) Pastor as Evangelist – The pastor must be out in the field. He can’t afford to wait in his office for people to come to him. He has contacts with non-Christians. He shares stories of these with the church publicly as well as informally with members.
There is a freshness in the church as he is on the cutting edge and others sense this, too. This factor is the greatest determinate to transforming the ETC into the EEC.
2) Networking – New people come into the church as a result of those who are witnessing. Networking begins through new Christians who have become members. The pastor often will accompany new Christians who introduce him to their non-Christian friends. He works through other’s networks of
relationship. At the same time, he equips these new believers to articulate their faith and they have a chance to see how to do it firsthand. The church continues to build as new members are equipped.
If the pastor cannot stir existing members in the ETC to witness in their network, then the best option is to focus on those he is leading to Christ and encourage these in their witness opportunities.
It is easier to get a fire started with dry leaves than with a damp log. Work with those who are primed and ready and have a network of non-Christian friends rather than the resistant, who have been largely “lifted away” from meaningful relationships with non-Christians.
The Skyline Wesleyan Church with Dr. John Maxwell near San Diego has capitalized on networking through new believers. Before being baptized, new believers are given 10 engraved invitations to pass out to their non-Christian friends to attend the ceremony. They are also coached in developing a 30-second testimony which they give when baptized.
A special service is conducted and when the baptisms are finished, the pastor explains the gospel to those attending. An opportunity is given to respond. Many come to know the Lord through this variety of networking.
Whole congregations, like individuals, can easily be lifted away from meaningful involvement with non-believers. Recently I asked a group of 30 Christians in an evangelism training class in their church to identify two meaningful relationships they had with non-Christians. One person was able to do so. This is a malady in the ETC.
3) People Oriented – The new church is people-oriented rather than program-oriented. It can do only what its people resources permit it to do. Ministries spring up around people with their unique gifts and abilities. The church exists to help people with their ministry.
As businesses develop profit centers, so the EEC develops ministry centers around the people in the congregation and supports them. “Every member a minister” becomes the motto. As people feel fulfilled in ministry and supported, the church grows. People are changed.
In the ETC, ministry is developed around programs imported into the church to which people are recruited. There is little or no regard given to interests, spiritual gifts, or abilities. The unspoken message is that people are valuable to the degree they fulfill the program of the church.
4) Flexibility- In order to grow, the newly planted church must be flexible, frequently venturing beyond its comfort zone. As such it tends to attract a pioneer breed which can adapt to frequently needed changes. Changes in location, multiple ministry hats for members to wear and limited finances provide a slim comfort zone for the newly planted church. To survive, it is willing to change in order to do what is needed. It is willing to try new approaches to outreach. It responds quickly to the needs of individuals. It recognizes the need to be on a constant search for new people to invite and to be inclusivistic of new people in order to survive.
In the ETC, changes are regarded as enemies. Maintaining the comfort zone becomes the hidden agenda for many members. Hardening of the categories sets in. The church loses it ability to take advantage of changing circumstances and new situations.
If you sense your church has become an Evangelism Tired Church, check your church for these vital life signs. It can become an Evangelism Energized Church once again if it recaptures these perspectives and acts upon them.
(The above material appeared in the November 1992 issue of Friendly Witnesses.)
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