Seven Factors Hindering Evangelism in Churches

June 28, 2014
Post Quarantine Church
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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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  • That is a good list… or should I say a bad list! I have seen many of those before in the churches I have attended. It is food for thought.

  • Craig Giddens says on

    Churches that have a high view of the Bible and consistently focus on the preaching and teaching of scripture tend be a more evangelistic body.

  • A lady at our church called me one day and complained that we were preaching too much on the topic of sin and repentance. She said it was making people too uncomfortable and people might leave as a result. Actually, we had just began preaching on the subject because the former pastor almost never did.
    I responded by asking the lady if she believed the church should be preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and she responded with….”Well of Course…..That’s the purpose of the church”.
    I then followed up by asking her…..” Then how do we preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ without mentioning the topics of sin and repentance?……
    Preaching Jesus without preaching sin and repentance is like preaching half the gospel.
    However, this is exactly what many churches do by preaching the “Feel-Good” gospel. They reduce our Savior to the level of Santa Clause and all the benefits of knowing him, but talk nothing of the cost of that salvation and what is required of the believer.
    She didn’t have much else to add.

    • This really strikes a cord with me. A lack of emphasis on our, to put it bluntly, evil nature reduces the greatness of the Cross. I remember sitting in a Secret Church meeting about the Cross of Christ, delivered by Pastor David Platt. His special emphasis on the unworthiness of mankind made the sacrifice so much more powerful to me than ever before.

      People are afraid to look in the mirror and see total depravity, but that is part of why Christ died. We can look in that mirror now and say that Jesus has justified us before God and He is making all things new. One day we will see his invisible face, and it will be all the more glorious because we didn’t do anything to deserve it.

  • Samuel Bright says on

    Every fellowship needs to either have one of the five gifted equippers, or be connected to an Apostolic Center that can have that input. Read the Book! Eph. 4 lists the five-fold ministry we all need , if we are to mature as a Body. If you are not familiar with the Apostolic Center concept, I recommend the book “Apostolic Centers: Shifting the Church, Transforming the World” by Alain Caron. Pastors are needed, but the other 4 equippers are needed — according to the apostle Paul.

  • i heard one pastor sum it up well.There indeed are many reasons and excuses we have for not engaging others with the gospel,but the main reason would be our lack of confidence in the gospel.

  • Here is a reason I think that is not listed
    Pastors do not really preach evangelism it or do it. Many in the congregation yearn to be taught evangelism -real witnessing and not faith sharing by osmosis.
    My example? Revivals. “First big-steeple” churches do not have them.
    Ask why and listen to the trite reasons how you will be told they do not work. In response ask how revival services have impacted Christianity historically and list people you know who came to saving faith after revivals. Despite the great success of revivals you will be talked down as a rube for even suggesting such a ridiculous thing in this day despite the historical fact of the great harvest and movements started by such services.

    • jonathon says on

      Could you hold a revival at Big Steeple Church, and have as many as a quarter of the seats of occupied by non-Christians?

      Skip that. Could it hold a revival, and have anybody come?
      Unfortunately, I’ve read several accounts of revivals where the only person that showed up was the preacher.

      • Matt Meadows says on

        Revival meetings certainly have had their place in history, but I can’t say that I see a lack of revival meetings as a reason for a decline in evangelism. The early Church basically overtook the entire Roman Empire in the first few hundred years of her existence, and we have no record (either in the New Testament or in the annals of history) that tell us of anything called, or resembling, “revival meetings”, despite the incredible growth she saw.

      • I do not know who would show at an unsupported apathetic so called evangelistic church for a revival. Leadership starts from the pulpit. It is never tried you will not know.. Never up to bat you never get a hit. At the worst you will be derided by some theological snobs that do not evangelize.
        History versus experts of today? I will go with will go with Wesley,Whitfield,Graham and others. I do not think they thought they were sinning by preaching on days other than Sunday whether they call it a revival, crusade or Bible conference or something else.
        My son was saved at a poorly attended revival. I hope that makes his salvation valid still:)
        The leader of my ministry was saved at a revival. I was saved at one of the early church youth camps that was like a revival even though despite being an already baptized member of a Southern Baptist church. My wife was saved by listening to Billy Graham on TV. I just can not think why any body-especially anyone from a church benefiting from the First or Second Great Awakening could believe anything old could help are experts of today.
        By “the foolishness of preaching” a revival just just might work – even if “experts” grimace. Even if it is old fashioned and has centurys of success revival preaching can be excused if our experts who have not been doing it the last few decades do not believe it. We can not say “We don’t do it and it does not work when we don’t do it.”

      • Matt Meadows says on

        I understand what you’re saying, but please do not think that I implied that revival meetings are bad. I do think they aren’t all that useful in today’s culture, and I don’t see them at all as the missing link in our evangelism…….. but I never implied that there was anything wrong with offering them.

        The main thing I’m trying to point out here isn’t the efficacy of revivals. It’s the necessity of them. The Scriptures nor Church history dictate that these are necessary for widespread evangelism, although I know they are quite capable of that.

        A few posts above I lamented how we take the efficacy of something and allow that to give something priority. I can’t say that revival meetings are a critical part of the life of a church/denomination, especially when it’s not dictated by Scripture, when these very same churches have give up much of their identity as God’s Covenant People by forsaking many the very weekly practices God gave us to learn about Him corporately (Lord’s Supper, singing of Psalms, public reading of Scripture, and preaching of the Word). These alone are extremely evangelistic, to say nothing of the wisdom and encouragement imparted to the participants for the purpose of the Great Commission.

      • All good. I appreciate your remarks. I was overstating points. I know many seminarians the past few years are concerned with Finneyism manipulation. We know true revival is sent from above. Of you have preaching during the week where am from you can name it what you want it will still be called a revival. Urban Camp Meeting- a Bible Conference with a nice name or revival I think it is an obvious piece left out. When the pastor leads prayer and training for months – as well as leads his people to share an event I have seen results. To me a church supported revival is like a basketball guard who averages 20. Someone thinks we need to go another way ignoring the obvious. the dude is averaging 20.
        Lift Jesus Up!

  • Matt Meadows says on

    If I could also add to this conversation, there is one reason larger than the ones above that I can only offer out of observation and conviction of someone with seminary training but not an expert in such things.

    I fear that a great many Southern Baptist churches have eviscerated the significance and practices of what it means to be a Christian, and thus the life of the local church is anemic. The symptom is that we tend to abandon the rich practices given by Scriptural precedence/command, and also those given to us by an extraordinarily rich Christian tradition.

    So very many churches today center their life mostly around the sermon, the passing of the collection plate, and singing 7 or 8 songs. The sermon may be topical or expositional, but generally centers around “how God can help you in your life”. The songs are basically about how much we love God and what we can do for Him. But in the end, if this is mostly all we do, it’s simply man-centered. Thus, we’ve abandoned the actual transcendence of the liturgy and are not focusing on knowing God and worshipping Him based specifically on that knowledge. In other words, the gathered worship service seems meant to be a “fillin’ station” to get you through the rest of the week (I’ve heard this preached over and over). I’m not terribly surprised that people generally have difficulty in inviting people to come be a part of this, especially since most modern people are so privatized that they seem to be doing just fine without church that they don’t need this “fillin’ station”.

    I think if we were to put the situation right-side up, we’d see that there is a perspective on church life that is grounded both in Scripture and Church history (in word, and in 2000 years of experience) that proclaims a different message than most Southern Baptist churches I’ve encountered. There have been many Baptists in history who have rightfully found their identity as the Covenant People of God (the Bride of Christ, the Church, the Elect, however you want to frame it) and thus, as the Covenant People, we are not called to supplement our lives with God. Rather we are called to place our full identity into being part of Christ’s Church, submitting every single aspect of our life to the service of this Covenant family (whether we are witness to someone, or simply cleaning our bathroom as an act of stewardship). Scripture gives us the clear precedence for the gathered worship to contain proclamation of the Word (expositional preaching), public reading of the Scriptures (and I don’t mean two or three emotional sounded inspirational verses), singing of Psalms (from the Bible) and hymns and spiritual songs (stuff we, the Church, have written), and the serving of the Lord’s Supper, as well as giving of offerings for the work of the Gospel. Historically speaking, the Church has found the recitation of the Creeds and various catechisms to be very helpful (and I agree). This is what we do (or, should be doing). It’s part of our identity as God’s Covenant People. We not only find our identity in these practices, but we learn immense amounts of knowledge of God via these practices, because they are all pedagogical in nature. They are not rooted in experience, they are rooted in truth. Experience may be the leaves on the tree, but the root is in the truth these practices proclaim.

    This Biblical/Historical perspective I think more fully brings the Church into the worship and glory of the Lord, and it is here that she finds so much of the identity that she once had, and has lost in the name of pragmatism and experientialism.

    Note that I’m not saying we do these things for the sake of doing these things. I’m saying we do these things because those are what the Scriptures give us the precedence for, and it’s what the Church has historically done as God’s Covenant People. I’m sure there are things we can add to these that are very good for the liturgy, but we should definitely not be taking away from them. If they are done weekly as an empty ritual, that is a problem with the person doing these as empty rituals. It’s not a problem with the liturgy itself.

    If we had such perspective, and gave the life in our churches such richness in meaning, my suspicion is that the members of the Church would be far more likely and willing to invite the outside world to become a believer, become a member of the Church, and participate as one of God’s Covenant People, worshiping in Spirit and Truth, in the richness of the Biblical and historical tradition.

    I suppose in a nutshell, I’m suggesting that evangelism is lacking in the Southern Baptist Convention because so very many of our churches just simply lack the richness of what it means to be a member of God’s Church. For many, it simply means “hear a sermon, sing some songs, put money in the collection plate, and maybe get energy to finish off the week”.

    • Benjamin Pennington says on

      Wow, Matt! You are speaking my language. I wish I had more time to reread and think through everything you said to reply more fully.

      I have been spending a lot of time in prayer and contemplation on this issue, especially looking at myself first. I am coming to the conclusion that even before No.1 on the list is the fact that we don’t know what our purpose as a church is any longer. I really believe that is lost in so many congregations. Until leadership understands profoundly who and what the Church is, and until we begin to “lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us,” I’m not sure we are going to ignite the same Christ-exalting desire for evangelism in the heart of our people.

      • Matt Meadows says on

        I can think a further reason that I didn’t mention, but perhaps here in a quick reply I can…..

        We’ve tried, and tried, and tried, and tried to beg people in the pews to become evangelists. The same sort of evangelists. Cookie cutter style. With no regard whatsoever to people’s gifting. People aren’t told to be hospitable to those around them (despite the gift of hospitality running wonderfully rampant among our churches, it’s one of our best characteristics). People aren’t told to be merciful to the broken, despite the gift of mercy. People aren’t told to be generous with those who have lost everything, despite the gift of giving/generosity being common in our churches.

        The Holy Spirit has gifted so very many of our members with incredible gifts, many of which are displayed in plain sight every week, just simply by the nature of how these saints behave.

        And then we’re told that we should all become the same sort of evangelist, despite the fact that evangelism is one of the spiritual gifts. Yes, all believers should witness (verbally share the Gospel explicitly). But our teaching and focus on evangelism has tried in vain to produce a congregation of people that seem to be gifted only in evangelism, as if this is a good idea (it’s not, and the Holy Spirit hasn’t done this, and probably isn’t going to).

        Evangelism isn’t so much one of my gifts, but I don’t let it stop me from witnessing. But neither do I let my subdued amount of evangelism make me feel like less of a Christian, because I am intentionally doing the things I am gifted for.

      • john mushenhouse says on

        Not one of your gifts?????? Then why are you commanded by Jesus to do it.

        I guess it’s just not your ministry and somebody else will do it.

        It is disobedience not to and disobedience is sin.

      • john mushenhouse says on

        Have you ever thought about leaving the safety of the church and witnessing to a stranger. Maybe a clerk in a store etc.

        Here is an icebreaker which I have used for years and it always get the topic on Jesus.

        Walk up to someone and ask them “What do you think about Jesus”.

        It always starts dialog

  • Steve Karrick says on

    We have a mentality in our churches that wants to look at improving ourselves (pride), rather than us listening to God and improving in the areas that are for our calling. The “renewing” of our minds from Romans 12:2 is about a transformation of ourselves for the work/life God has prepared for us. But we are worried about fitting into cliques, that maybe are not where God wants us to be. The problem I have seen is “brothers” and “sisters” ignoring others, this is devastating to the church. Ministries crumble and most of the time they don’t even get off the ground. This is a stumbling block, not only fir those that ignore but the one being ignored allowing that to affect them and their ministry. We are supposed to edify one another, not the opposite. Worldly attitudes and ways have made their way into the Church……how???
    If we do not love one another we are doomed to continue what is taking place in our churches NOW. We allow things into our Churches that are not supposed to be. We do not call each other out, like Paul did Peter, we candy coat the Word and abandon the Church God has prepares for us. Scripture is filled with instruction on how we should treat and deal with one another.
    None of us has “arrived” but we do one another a disservice when we are not honest and do not call one another out on things. Maybe….just maybe God is leading someone to say something to me for the purpose of “waking” (Romans 13:11) and a renewing taking place. We need to: trust God when He speaks to us, rely on our Father, the power in Christ and the leading of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us and love one another.

    Romans 6:17. But God be thanked, that he were the servants of sin, but he have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.

  • I think one of the biggest reasons is that the church has no confidence that when the gospel is shared, people will believe. This lack of trust that God will water the seeds planted is devestating. We think the problem lies in our presentation or our methodology, but Salvation is of the Lord! We need only share, He does the rest. Unbelief isn’t a sign of failure, but a sign that what scripture says is true: to the Jews a stumbling block, to the gentiles, foolishness.

  • Is not part (or in my book the majority) of the problem a misunderstanding of evangelism, discipleship and the Great Commission? In my opinion, saying that a lack of “evangelism” is disobedience to the Great Commission is a misunderstanding of the Mt 28. The Great Commission is not an evangelism text, it is a discipleship text. We are called to make disciples. I believe we have a misguided, linear view of evangelism, conversion and discipleship. I believe a better way of viewing the “process” is to see discipleship (both pre conversion and post conversion) as any time we point people to Jesus through our words and actions. We should all be in the process of being discipled by the good news of the Kingdom. As we are discipling others in the ways of Jesus evangelism will no doubt take place, but it will take place in the midst of a discipling relationship, rather than in an artificial, unnatural manner that is characteristic of most views of evangelism.

    • Steve Karrick says on

      I agree with your comment “We should all be in the process of being descipled by the good news of The Kingdom.”

  • Doesn’t Barna say 50% of evangelical church members believe Jesus is not the only way, truth, and life? Seems like that ought to make the list.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      I can’t verify your stats, Maurice, but bad theology is a factor for sure.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        To all: Power is out at my house and my iPhone is about dead. If power is not restored shortly, I will have no way to post comments. I will certainly get them posted once power is back. So don’t hesitate to add your thoughts.

    • atheistic thinking is a big danger to the faith of the young seeds, theology so far explains your doubt. appreciate who you plus your ancestors to existence he is the one you are doubting his existence