Seven Factors Hindering Evangelism in Churches

June 28, 2014
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There is no shortage of pundits who are providing to us the gloomy and dismal state of American congregations, and, indeed, of many churches around the world. For sure, I am among the guilty. While personal evangelism is ultimately a heart issue between Christians and God, we do see ways this disobedience to the Great Commission is manifesting itself.

Despite all the negative information you have heard from me, I remain an obnoxious optimist about local congregations. One of the reasons I am so optimistic is that many of us are no longer ignoring the problems. One of the early steps to church revitalization is a willingness to “look in the mirror.”

With that in mind, in this article I try to help church leaders look in the mirror if their churches are not evangelistic. And here are seven factors that leaders may see when they get that honest perspective.

  1. There is no priority of evangelism. I know. That sounds too self-evident. But churches that do not make evangelism a high priority are really making it no priority at all.
  2. Many laypersons believe that evangelism is what we pay the pastors and staff to do. Such a perspective is first unbiblical and, second, unproductive. Evangelistic churches always have enthusiastically evangelistic laypersons.
  3. Many churches have an excuse mentality. So pastors blame it on the laity. The laity blame it on the pastor. And both blame it on culture, the denomination, or some other external scapegoat.
  4. Too many church members do not connect prayer with evangelism. Many members are pretty good at praying for those who have physical needs. But many are woefully lacking in praying for those who have the greatest need: a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
  5. Too many Christians fail to be compassionate and Christ-like to others. Evangelism always ultimately includes a clear articulation of the gospel. But too many Christians never get that opportunity to share the gospel, because they fail to show Christ in their actions and compassion.
  6. Most church ministries are not intentionally evangelistic. The church should always seek to make certain any and all ministries include intentional efforts to share the gospel.
  7. Some church members are concerned that new Christians will change their church too much. I’m serious. I’ve heard that line many times. When I was a pastor, I was chastised by a church member who told me I was leading too many people to Christ. They were, she said, changing her church too rapidly.

These are seven of the key factors that are hindering evangelism in churches, at least from a symptomatic perspective.

What would you add to this conversation?

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  • Personally, I think religion, any religion, should keep its evangelism limited. More to the point, I think religion, at it’s most, should be a deeply personal, private affair. The world is doing much better now that the window of ignorance in the common man is shrinking and knowledge is freely obtained through myriad sources. Religion is outdated; it is not a good teaching tool, it’s lessons are based on myth, not fact and are inaccurate (sky as an upturned bowl, earth is flat and only 6.5k years old, etc). Religion isn’t necessary for building a good moral system (actually, evolutionary biology, filial influences, social zeitgeist and cultural norms determine morality. The bible says you can sell your daughter into slavery. Consider that). Religion is no longer necessary for emotional support and guidance (with families diversifying and with the explosion of the internet, many people are finding the dusty words of a two-thousand year old book to be less comforting in times of distress than the physical touch of another person or the kind words of a stranger). Religion is no longer the only source of charitable actions (Foundation Beyond Belief, Earthward, Inc, Brony Thank You Fund, Fellowship of Freethought, International Humanist and Ethical Union, and many more are raising money, awareness, and neighborhood care, and without the stigma of religion).

    Frankly, we are moving beyond religion, as individuals, as a culture, as a civilization. Religion explained away the unexplainable, but now god is being forced into smaller and smaller pockets of ignorance, and screaming ‘WE NEED TO EVANGELIZE MORE’ is more of an act of desperation than anything. We don’t need more Christians. We don’t need more zealots of any religious persuasion. We need more humanists. We need more scientists. We need more thinkers, helpers, and friends. Religion, however, has stifled scientific growth, intellectual exploration, social equality and tolerance for over a millenia. It’s time religion, and yes evangelizing, faded to the realm of myth.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Nekko: Out of fairness, I am approving your comment. But this is a Christian site. Most of the readers truly believe Jesus is the only way of salvation. But I am asking the other readers not to engage in a debate with you. A blog is a poor forum to do so, and it distracts from the conversation we are having. I wish you no malice. And though I have little doubt you would question the efficacy of my actions, I am truly praying for you right now.

      • jonathon says on

        The irony of an evangelist telling others not to evangelize.

      • Dr. Rainer, I am glad you let his comment post. People need to read the argument that needs to be countered. If you do not understand the other side you can’t really evangelize because you don’t what needs to be countered. When St. Paul went to Athens he paid attention to the religiosity of the city before proceeding to teach the people about an unknown god to whom they even had an idol. Also, Nekko is telling you about non-religious charities that allow anyone to contribute time, effort, and money. He is also telling you not to stifle (future) Christian scientists, thinkers, helpers, and friends. This is a good learning experience. Everything he has said would make for many great blog posts with counter arguments.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Well said and well received, Mark. Thank you.

    • Steve Karrick says on

      Nekko, are you a Freemason?

    • Ron Flurry says on


  • I think any discussion about why churches aren’t doing evangelism needs to include “hyper” Calvinism. I can show you statistically how as more and more Churches embrace this theology, evangelism goes down. It’s the predestined elephant in the room.

    • Matt Meadows says on

      The difficulty with the situation you are describing is how people define “hypercalvinism”, because it’s a fluid term that nobody can nail down. “Hypercalvinist” is ususally someone slightly more Calvinistic than you are, and thus it’s a term that just becomes pejorative rather than helpful.

      I will say that, speaking as a non-Calvinist who has deep respect and agreement with Reformed theology in general, I have not found Calvinism to be a hindrance to evangelism in the least. A great number of our greatest missionaries in world history have been 5-point Calvinists (Adoniram Judson, William Carey, Charles Spurgeon, just to name a few). Calvinism has been a part of the Baptist tradition ever since the first people sprung up who called themselves Baptists— a great many of them were very reformed in their soteriology. They weren’t anti-evangelism.

      I personally know a HUGE number of Calvinists. None of them deny evangelism. Many of them are gifted evangelists.

      I would encourage you to find something more specific than “hypercalvinism” to criticize, because generally speaking, most people think that all Calvinists who embrace predestination to be “hypercalvinists”. The real issue here is whether people deny that the Great Commission applies to all believers at all times (I believe it does, rather firmly).

  • Dr. Rainer, I want to thank you so much for all of the great articles.

    This is a power article that I very much what I needed! I understand that everything rises and falls on leadership and unless I completely buy into the idea of personal evangelism my church will never have an example to flow!

    I would love to interview you on this and other leadership topics and share the audio with the Pastor network I overseer. Please let me know if this is possible!

  • Outstanding post Thom! After years of baptism and attendance declines, evangelism must be the priority of local churches. When Evangelist Bailey Smith was at our church last Fall, his message to plateaued and declining churches was to “Stop.” Everything you’re doing isn’t working, so you should change everything and make sure the Gospel is being shared at every event/program/service/ministry of the church. Something is wrong when you attend a church event and never hear that Jesus saves.

  • Great observations, Thom. I would add that many see evangelism as an end in itself rather than part of the discipleship process. If we’re essentially leading people to say a prayer and be baptized so our churches can “grow,” then we have missed Jesus’ command to make disciple-making disciples. Evangelism and discipleship are inseparable.

  • Ricky Ray says on

    Dr. Rainer, you taught me that as a pastor if I would lead one person to Christ a month that would be 12 a year. I took that “challenge” to heart and have passed it on to my leadership. It has affected our entire congregation. I think the whole list can be summed up by saying, Evangelism is Personal. That’s what I got out of your teaching and this list. When it is not personal, then these factors do indeed hinder us. Thank you for the insight.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      And that’s why you are one of my pastor heroes, Ricky.

    • Cas McGillicuddy says on

      Ricky, how many new people have you added to your church then? And how many have your congregants added?

      The problem isn’t how much evangelism Christians are doing. It’s about how well their product can sell even in a best-case salesmanship scenario.

  • At first #7 seems unbelievable, but I had a man in my SS class few yrs ago who expressed that same sentiment when we were trying to start a new small group initiative to reach the neighborhood. Incredible. He wanted his church left alone.

  • As I have heard and read both Chuck Lawless and you say, evangelistic churches are led by evangelistic pastors. If I am not sharing the Gospel outside the pulpit, it is unlikely those that sit under my preaching will. Several years ago, you shared a statistic from your research, 48% of SBC pastors had not shared their faith outside the pulpit in the last 3 months (Am I correctly quoting you? If so, any updates?).
    In the SBC alone, if, this year, every pastor would lead one more person to Christ than they did last year and see that person baptized into their fellowship, we would see baptisms increase 16% in the SBC.
    As you point out, not everyone in every church will be excited about their pastor’s new heart for evangelism. Some might even lose their job. But, there are worse things in the world than being fired for being too evangelistic.

  • I concur with numbers 5 and 7. Many people do not understand how actions can speak louder than words. Cliques in churches are almost impossible to break. I have seen it when long time church members did not like new people coming in. It is why a lot of churches’ evangelism efforts, like on college campuses, keep the students separate from the rest congregation most of the time. The ones that tried to integrate the two generally had troubles doing so.

  • Many congregations fail to be engaged and relevant to their mission field. This would not be acceptable with missionaries we send to foreign fields but seems to be ok here at home.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Jim: You nailed it. We indeed must see our communities as mission fields.

      • One of the biggest mission fields are universities. However, this can be a very difficult group to work with because you will have diverse opinions and will be asked some difficult questions. Students are smarter than many people think they are.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        They are incredibly smart.

      • It’s not by night of power but by the Spirit of the Lord. He that Kenneth would is wise. Intellect of man has little to do with evangelism, the world needs to hear of the love of God and of the incredible sacrifice of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ.

  • These are very important factors! I agree with your observations. I would expand on the prayer factor. It is not only praying for people to come to Christ, it is the Christian praying until his heart’s passion reflects God’s heart. A statement from “The Valley of Vision” devotional has gripped my heart lately: “In prayer all things here below vanish, and nothing seems important but holiness of heart and the salvation of others.”

    The remaining six factors are spot on and call me to repentance! The fuel for change, I believe, must flow from our posture in prayer.

    Thanks for the reminders!

  • I keep seeing the lists of all the things the church and pastors are not doing right. Let’s see some list of what we are doing well and the areas where the church is doing good!

    • Mike Hurst says on

      Doug, if you had cancer wouldn’t you want to know? If we need to pat each other on the back and emphasize only the warm fuzzies, where do we learn? There are obvious issues in our congregations, and thank God for Thom bringing them into the light.

    • Cas McGillicuddy says on

      Your wish is our command.

      Christians are really, really good at closing their eyes and ears to the truth. They are exceedingly good at refusing to engage with reality. They are past masters of spinning even the very worst bad news into a “win” so the flocks can continue to believe they’re doing well as a religion. And NOBODY but NOBODY beats them at relabeling the most hateful, cruel deeds and words as loving.

    • Obideyi Sunday Adejare says on

      The problems are being highlighted, so as to finding solutions. He is not blaming the church. Evangelism is the duty of every Christian.

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