Five Sobering Realities about Evangelism in Our Churches

July 10, 2017

My wife said she did not understand a word I said to her.

Ouch.

I was attempting to explain our research on 1,000 randomly chosen churches, and she had a blank look on her face. I knew what was taking place. A statistical nerd (me) was trying to share research with a normal person (my wife).

Such is the conundrum where I find myself. This research is incredibly revealing, but I often speak in such statistical terms that I cloud its import.

Allow me, then, to attempt to write with some clarity. Let me know if I have not succeeded. Here are some prefatory comments:

  • In this article, I am addressing the issue of evangelism in our churches. Churches measure conversion growth in different ways. The churches in our study measure conversion growth by baptisms.
  • The best way we know to measure evangelism effectiveness is the number of conversions relative to the size of the church. We often used membership as a measure of the size of the church in the past. That number unfortunately is no longer statistically relevant. Too many churches have inflated membership rolls. Some churches ignore membership altogether.
  • We are now using average worship attendance as our metric for church size. We will look at the number of conversions relative to the average worship attendance of the church. For example, a church with an evangelism ratio of 19:1 is reaching one person a year with the gospel for every 19 persons in attendance. To be clear, lower ratios are better; higher ratios are worse.
  • Do not compare these ratios to any ratios that have used membership as a metric for size! Any such comparisons are “apples and oranges” comparisons.
  • Please read my previous articles on our research to understand its scope.

So, with the statistical nerdy language done, allow me to share five sobering realities on evangelism in our churches.

  1. Growing churches are growing largely by transfer growth. Most of them are not reaching people with the gospel. They are growing at the expense of other churches. The conversion ratio of all 1,000 churches is 19:1. Growing churches are only slightly better at 17:1. Their growth comes largely from other churches.
  2. The number of effective evangelistic churches (EEC) is surprisingly stable. We defined an EEC church as one whose conversion rate is at least 50 percent better than the average. Although very few churches are growing evangelistically, the number of such churches is pretty stable. I did a study of EEC churches in 1996. The percentage of such churches has remained in the narrow range from 6 percent to 7.5 percent. Though we don’t have many evangelistic churches, the numbers have really not declined over two decades.
  3. Churches that are not in the EEC category are doing much worse evangelistically than in previous years. A non-evangelistic church twenty years ago typically did poorly in evangelism. A non-evangelistic church today is typically doing really, really, really poorly today. There is a widening chasm between these two groups of churches.
  4. Evangelism in the EEC churches is a clear priority. I’m stating the obvious here. But many churches are not doing the obvious.
  5. There are clear and discernible patterns of action in EEC churches. It’s fascinating to see the simple consistency in evangelistic churches. We will be sharing these patterns in future articles.

I am praying God will lead our churches to an evangelism renewal. Please join me at EvangelismRenewal.com where we will be sharing details of our research and much more. You can get a free eBook by me on evangelism renewal when you sign up

May God send an incredible evangelism renewal to our churches.

And may it begin in me.

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44 Comments

  • Hello Thom,
    Having a technical and creative background, I appreciate the research it took to provide the statistics and data in the Evangelism Renewal. I also read with interest your book on Autopsy of a Dead Church. I believe evangelism by the masses will happen when there is an awakening and true revival renews the hearts of Christians sitting in the pews of our churches. My prayer is that Spirit filled revival sweeps our land.

  • Jason Butte says on

    Hi Thom, thanks for your work and how it informs and motivates the body of Christ.

    I believe it would be very interesting to look at the statistics concerning the actual growth in churches as a result of evangelism. For example, a church with 1,000 in attendance could have a conversion ratio of 10:1 for several consecutive years. However, when the transfer additions are taken into consideration (let’s say 300 transfer additions for the same year), what is the resulting new average attendance for the next year? Is it 1,400, 1,300, 1,200, etc? How many of those converts are part of this increased number? After all, Luke wrote the book of Acts about 50 years after the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given, yet he could confidently say of the approximate 3,000 converts that they “continued steadfastly” (Acts 2:42).

    It would also be interesting to know how many of those who do show back up in the pews are over 18 years of age. I bring that up only because I would think many of the reported conversions are among youth. Which is great. Praise God! However, many of those may not have a choice but to come to church with mom and dad. And, we have all seen the data on how many of these depart once they get a choice. Biblically, this should cause us to consider the reality of what is accomplished with much of the evangelistic numbers that are reported.

    All of this data would be very interesting. The true conversion of souls for the glory of God must be our major thrust.

    Thanks again for all that you do! I know a lot of the above data is probably not available and would likely be hard to gather. I am just sharing some thoughts. Thank you again!

  • Thom Rainer,

    I read your new book on evangelism. Thank you for writing it. I sympathize with many of your points.

    One draw back I noticed is there is not a section on relational and rational apologetics. How are we to respectfully combat inclusivism without apologetics? How are we to have effective conversations with Mormon’s without relational and rational apologetics? I have more thoughts, but I was wondering why this was not included?

    Thank you

  • More relational and rational apologetics is needed (e.g. 1st Pet 3:15). Fideism and/or anti-intellectualism is no longer an option for the church as I have documented. See <a href="http://www.considerthereaso.com/2017/05/fideism-no-longer-viable-option-numbers.html

  • Tom Harper says on

    I don’t believe that anyone is able to draw people to Christ or influence others for eternity beyond the amount that there is of the Spirit of Christ empowering them. That is exactly why Jesus ordered his disciples in Acts 1:4-5 “not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” I’m afraid we have let doctrinal narrowness and fear of the supernatural grieve and quench the Spirit of God. I’m praying for God to intervene and replace the natural thinking in our churches with the supernatural power of His Spirit.

    • Frank Harmon says on

      Tom,
      There is no doubt that the Spirit of God is awesome and there is no way for us to convince people to come to Christ by our own efforts. The apostles were without power outside of having the Spirit in them or Jesus by their side in the preceding days.
      God is still at work! Jesus commanded us to go and baptize and make disciples. He includes us in the equation. Unfortunately, that is where our churches fall short. If we multiply any number by zero we still have zero and most give zero effort to telling the gospel to people outside of the walls of the church. We need to be about the Father’s business and start telling those Truth that need to hear it!

      • I am a terrible terrible flyer- yet I fly frequently with my job. Funny thing I have talked about God more with seat mates than anywhere else in my life. I am not a good evangelist – see husband for description. But what I truly have learned from monthly or bi- monthly terror hours is I often have to undo bad Christianity before anyone wants to talk about God. People often have lots of questions but so afraid of being judged just for their questions!
        I have learned to ask more questions and listen and find out what this person is to God. Then and only then do I approach the topic of who is Jesus. I have yet to meet a person who didn’t want to talk about their spiritual life- except one man who turned out to be a professor at a conservative seminary in Phoenix. Too funny!

      • Tom Harper says on

        Frank,
        Actually we are not commanded to go and baptize and make disciples. We are commissioned as we are going to baptize and make disciples. The last commandment Jesus gave to the disciples just before he ascended back to heaven was to not go anywhere but to wait in Jerusalem for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Then He promised that when that happened they would go and baptize and make disciples. You are right that we need to be about the Father’s business, but we better be led, anointed and empowered by the Spirit when we do it.

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