The Death of Evangelism: Five Issues We Must Address

The issue may be the biggest surprise of my ministry. 

On the one hand, I am surprised at the decline of evangelism in most churches. But that is not the biggest surprise. The issue that perplexes and surprises me the most is that very few church leaders and members are even acknowledging the death of evangelism in their congregations and denominations. 

As but one denominational example, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, measures evangelistic effectiveness by baptisms. Annual baptisms have declined from a peak of 445,725 in 1972 to 180,177 in 2022, a 60% decline! But when the 2022 statistical report was released, many of the comments noted that baptisms had increased 16% from the previous year. While that is true, we cannot use 2021 as a valid comparison year because churches were still regathering from the pandemic.

Likewise, it is becoming increasingly common for local churches to neglect, or even forget about, evangelism. 

For both denominations and churches, denial is not a good strategy.

What is discipleship? Recall how Jesus called his first disciples, Simon and Andrew, in Mark 1:17: “Jesus called out to them, ‘Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people.’” Also, recall his last words on earth to his followers in Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 

Jesus’ ministry on earth began with evangelism and concluded with evangelism.

Why, then, is evangelism dying or dead in most churches? Why do denominations seem to be talking about everything but evangelism? Here are five issues that we must address to answer these questions: 

1. Denial is not a good evangelistic strategy. Many church leaders and church members, as well as denominational leaders, do not talk about the anemic evangelism in their churches. Some have evangelistic amnesia. Though it’s cliché, we can’t address the problem of evangelistic lethargy until we admit we have a problem. 

2. Evangelism is spiritual warfare. Jesus was physically present with his first disciples when they traveled and shared the gospel. Jesus promised us the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit when He ascended to heaven. Simply stated, evangelism is at the forefront of spiritual warfare. We can’t go it alone. We must have the Holy Spirit leading us and empowering us. Satan will do anything in his limited power to stop the spread of the gospel. 

3. Prayer must accompany evangelism. Since evangelism is spiritual warfare, we cannot and must not attempt to share the gospel in our own power. The most effective evangelistic churches strategically wed prayer and evangelism. We have a resource at Church Answers that does just that. It provides a 30-day reset of evangelistic priorities. We call it The Hope Initiative. I plead with you to look at that resource. If you cannot afford it, let us know, and we will do everything we can to help. Email us at [email protected]. 

4. Churches must learn to celebrate evangelism. It’s another cliché, but you become what you celebrate. Celebrate conversions, baptisms, and professions of faith. Celebrate faithfulness of church members who are sharing the gospel. Celebrate the changed lives of new believers. 

5. If your church does not have enough time to prioritize evangelism, you have ceased to be obedient to the call of Christ. We work with pastors and other church leaders to learn how to prioritize their work. Evangelism, preaching, prayer, and small group leadership are critical. If you are too busy to lead in evangelism, you are too busy. 

The most common trait of churches who address these five issues is that they have a pastor who personally prioritizes evangelism. While we would never suggest that churches look at a pastor as a hired hand for evangelism and growth, we can say unequivocally that an evangelistic church must have an evangelistic pastor. 

Evangelism is dead or dying in most American churches. Perhaps God is awakening you and your church to reverse this reality in His power. 

I would absolutely love to hear your thoughts on this issue. Why is evangelism dead or dying in most churches? What examples do you have of churches that are defying this terrible trend? 

Let me hear from you.

Posted on August 14, 2023

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Thom, I am a 63-year-old pastor who has been in ministry nearly 40 years. I’ve started the 9th year of my present assignment. I expect to be here until I someday have to step aside due to age and effectiveness. My flock has seen significant decline before I arrived, and that’s continued to some degree. 15 years ago, they were averaging around 525 in worship. We’re down to just around 71. That’s up from the mid-30’s after COVID. This in a community that has declined by 20 – 25% in the last seven years due to the severe downgrading of the energy industry in this area.

    I have preached and taught the Great Commission since my arrival. We have helped to “reboot” one church on the Navajo Reservation in the last year. They are at about 25 – 30 on Sundays, which is pretty good on the Reservation. January 16, we have planted a new church in the neighborhood with the Dinner Church format. That body, meeting on Monday evenings, is now averaging 56.

    I write this to give context. Now, the body I serve has been in the mode of “we’re here, y’all come”, and mission is what you do on the Reservation or assist after a disaster, or go to some foreign land. They are starting to understand the Mission field is outside our doors. We have practiced Pray-N-Go for a time, but volunteers “dried up” because of the lack of fruit.
    Unfortunately, average age is probably about 70, and the energy level is, as expected, lower. On some days, mine too! But I refuse to give up or give in. Hence, the new ministries we’ve started.

    Recently, we’ve been seeing new people come who are older and looking for an orthodox church. We, now out of the United Methodist denomination and having joined the Global Methodist Church, fit the bill. I’m encouraging our people to “brag on Jesus” to the folk they relate to.

    Nothing glitsy or awe-inspiring here, but persistence, perseverance, and prayer.

  • Great challenge,
    The big issue as i see it is, In reach as opposed to outreach.
    I look at the time, money and energy used keeping the saved comfortable and it saddens me so much.
    We need to get insiders out and outsiders in.
    I was discipled outside through evangelism, i was made to be bold and know what i believed as i mixed with unbelievers.

  • As a ‘cradle Episcopalian’ born in 1946 and raised in this denomination (and being a part of many congregations over the years), I truly never remember any emphasis on evangelism, and precious little emphasis on outreach to the poor.
    If it ever lived at all, I think evangelism in Anglicanism died before I was born.
    So for years I became part of evangelistic churches, both evangelical and Pentecostal types, and I even earned a couple of degrees in an evangelical (non-Anglican) seminary … before eventually coming back to Anglicanism to aid in its orthodox reformation (i.e., ACNA, GAFCON, GSAF).

  • Hi Thom,
    Thanks for all that you have written about churches and church growth.

    I have read fourteen of your books, including your books that were published this year and last year. I have also read some of your posts and journal articles. I really enjoy reading what you write!

    I’m writing my response to this post as an experienced evangelist, published author, and seminary graduate. I praise God for giving me the privilege of seeing many people come to know Jesus after I have shared the gospel with them. I also praise Him for enabling me to graduate from three well-known seminaries. During my years as a seminary student, God gave me the opportunity to read numerous books on the topic of evangelism written by some of America’s best evangelists. I am so grateful for all that I learned from them.

    Thanks for sharing an excellent post on a very important topic. Each of your five issues are definitely problems that we as Christians must address. I’m glad that you are aware of these issues. Like you, I really love the local church and pastors, but I’m very concerned about their general lack of enthusiasm for evangelism.

    Evangelism is dead or dying in churches for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons are closely related to our fears of harming relationships with unsaved people by offending them. Here are some of the main reasons that I see for the decline of evangelism:

    1) Many churches seem to focus more on entertaining their guests than on evangelizing them. It’s understandable that churches want to be seeker friendly, and they must attempt to contextualize the gospel by using videos and other technology (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). However, many churches and pastors seem too concerned about (i.e., too afraid of) offending guests and not concerned enough about whether their guests come to know Jesus. Many pastors rarely give gospel presentations from the pulpit.
    2) Many pastors don’t proclaim the gospel as boldly and clearly from the pulpit as they can. They tend share the gospel in a modern way that doesn’t usually lead to many people being convicted of their sins and becoming genuine converts. Many pastors tend to avoid mentioning specific sins, using the Ten Commandments, saying that God’s standard is perfection, and using the word “hell.” Their gospel presentations are often very fast and not as persuasive as they could be. The best evangelists—such as Ray Comfort, Larry Moyer, Greg Steir, R. York Moore, and the late D. James Kennedy— have explicitly included both specific sins and God’s standard of perfection in their gospel presentations. Moreover, the late Will Metzger and the late Bill Bright (in the books he wrote during the last few years of his life) used the Ten Commandments in their gospel presentations. If pastors don’t share the gospel as boldly and clearly as they can, the church members at their church won’t do it either. Jesus, Paul, and Peter were bold evangelists who clearly and fearlessly proclaimed the gospel (see Mark 10:17-27; Acts 2:14-39; Romans 3:10-23, etc.). Pastors can and should try to follow their excellent example. God is more likely to produce a lot of fruit (converts) when the gospel is boldly and clearly proclaimed. The Book of Acts shows how the early Christians had so much evangelistic success due to their emphasis on prayer and boldness.
    3) Many pastors and other church leaders don’t engage in personal evangelism on a regular basis and don’t train their church members in how to share the gospel with lost people. Pastors tend to be gifted leaders, teachers, and preachers. Only a small percentage of pastors are gifted evangelists. As a result, many pastors aren’t very passionate about personal evangelism and don’t train their church members in personal evangelism. However, all pastors can faithfully share the gospel with the lost, train church members in evangelism, and trust God for the results. Those who aren’t gifted in evangelism can still be faithful witnesses.
    4) Many seminaries don’t require all of their graduates to take courses on personal evangelism. Many seminary graduates—especially the growing number of pastors who graduate with a Master of Arts degree—don’t need to take a course on personal evangelism in order to graduate with their degree. Furthermore, many seminaries are teaching their students the modern way of sharing the gospel instead of the more traditional, effective, and bold way of sharing it (see #2 above). As a result, many pastors don’t know how to share the gospel as clearly and boldly as they should be able to share it.
    5) Many pastors and church leaders act as if they are more concerned about the self-esteem of the children and young adults at their church than about their salvation. Even at VBS and Sunday school, there seems to be a tendency to avoid using the Ten Commandments, talking about hell, and making it very clear why we all need Jesus. I attended three VBS recently over the course of three weeks. No kids received Jesus at the three VBS partly because the leaders didn’t make it clear enough why the kids need Jesus. Children’s greatest need is to be forgiven by God, not to have very high self-esteem (Colossians 1:13-14; Romans 12:1-3). Pastors and church leaders can kindly and lovingly share the truth of the gospel with kids instead of worrying about offending them. Psychology can have a place in the local church, but it shouldn’t prevent the church from engaging in effective evangelism and biblical counseling.

    Thankfully, there are definitely some exceptions to the problems that I have just described. For example, Grace Church of Eden Prairie, Minnesota has at least one pastor who is gifted in evangelism and who trains other Christians to share their faith. The evangelistic training at that church encourages Christians to mention specific sins in their gospel presentation. I hear that it’s good training. Praise God!

    I hope that you find this response helpful.

    May God continue to bless you and your ministry.

    In Christ,
    Josh Peterson

  • Some Christians don’t even like their own religion because they are miserable in it. Some are still attending but tired of partisan politics and clergy who with one hard line sermon can run off people faster than they can be brought in. Those surely won’t evangelise. Some churches converted people to their particular flavour and not to Christianity. Additionally, God is hard to find in some churches and probably hasn’t been taught in ages. Today, if you are going to discuss faith someone, you better start with finding out if they even believe in God or what is their god?

  • Larry Webb says on

    My church does absolutely nothing for evangelism. Correction, I have knocked on doors and hung door hangers. Talked to a lady(long time member) said they tried what I did with no success. 66 homes, door hangers, prayed for each, a family of 8 came to church a week later.

  • John Sparks says on

    First of all, I recently resigned my church… The trouble all started a few months ago when I began to show them the videos for Autopsy of a Deceased Church. Criticism of it began to get back to me. I was so naive! I thought they would relish the chance to hear from an expert like you, Thom, and see it as an opportunity to take a good hard look at themselves. Wrong! Not only did they not like what they saw in the “mirror,” they have no intention of changing. Long story short, I’m out of a job. I wasn’t fired; I resigned. I just got tired of beating my head against the wall by trying to change an elderly congregation that has no intention of changing. One of the criticisms leveled against me was that I was too evangelistic. I’m in the process of starting a new fellowship of believers that “get it,” some of whom came to Christ under my pastorate.

  • Robin Jordan says on

    From what I have observed, Thom, a number of factors appear to account for the decline of evangelism not just in the Southern Baptist Convention but also other denominations, evangelical and mainline. The exception, according to Ed Stetzer, are the charismatic/Pentecostal denominations like the Assemblies of God. They appear to be bucking the trend. Another exception appears to be Black denominations.
    Among these factors are the following:
    1. Evangelical Christians, mainline Christians, and Roman Catholics have become distracted by the culture wars and politics. Whether they realize, local churches are creating boundaries between their members and attendees and the unchurched or lightly churched population of their communities and regions, that their members and attendees are reluctant to cross to evangelize the unchurched and lightly churched population and which the unchurched and lightly churched population find a significant barrier to cross to become a disciple of Jesus and a participant in a particular faith community.
    2. Many pastors and other clergy have negligible training and experience in evangelizing unchurched and lightly churched people and discipling new leaders and as a consequence they are unable to equip their congregations for evangelism and discipling and to lead their congregations in evangelism and disciplining.
    3. For many Christians, talking about their religious and spiritual beliefs and convictions with others has become taboo. They have accepted the idea that an individual’s s religious and spiritual beliefs are a private matter and not a suitable topic of conversation. They are unaware that members of the unchurched and lightly churched population are not entirely closed to talking about religious and spiritual beliefs and convictions. There is a gap between what they perceive and actuality. This taboo is a boundary that they have set between themselves and the unchurched and lightly churched population and themselves.
    4. Many Christians do not see evangelism and discipling as the responsibility of all disciples of Jesus. They have an inadequate understanding of what is means to be a disciple of Jesus.
    5. Several mainline denominations have acquired an anti-evangelical identity which confuses evangelism with evangelicalism. Churches that have broken away from these denominations over issues like changes in the liturgy, women in ordained ministry, ordination of individuals involved In same sex relationships, the blessing of same sex relationships, and same sex marriage have retained this identity.
    6. Many Christians no longer believe in Jesus’ exclusive claims. They have come to believe that other religions lead to God.
    7. This factor overlaps with #4. The present theology of evangelism found in a number of churches does not take into account a number of shifts in cultural attitudes in the United States and assumes that the unchurched and lightly churched population has been influenced by a Biblical worldview, which is far from the case. It makes assumptions that are not based in reality.
    8. Many Christians are under the misapprehension that evangelism involves persuading others to accept their beliefs and convictions. They are unfamiliar with the role that the Holy Spirit plays in evangelism. They do not grasp that their role is to be witnesses to Jesus, both in their words and their actions, and to point others to Jesus.
    9. Many Christians lack the kind of enthusiasm and excitement about their faith, which not only motivates them to be active in their witness but also attracts the attention of members of the unchurched and lightly churched population and may spark their interest in that faith.
    10. The way a number of local churches “do church” in their Sunday gatherings and on other occasions encourages passivity. It conveys the wrong message.
    11. In Southern Baptist and other denominational churches, the adult Sunday school class does not emphasize evangelism as it once did. The focus is upon learning content and not equipping participants to evangelize the unchurched ad lightly churched and disciple new believers. It has become a stronghold of what the late J. I. Packer called “hot tub religion.” The participants sit and soak in God’s Word, but they do not obey it! They do not act on what it teaches!
    12. This may not be a major contributing factor, but I observed fewer and fewer churches use hymns and songs in their Sunday gatherings that emphasize the Great Commission. The focus of many hymns and songs is upon what God has done for me. These hymns and songs appear to reflect the contemporary preoccupation with self. They do not urge the congregation to serve others and to share the Good News with them.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Wow. I just responded to Bob Myers about his incredible response, and then I read your words, Robin. Another amazing contribution. It’s hard to say which point resonates with the most, but I think this one was the best: “8. Many Christians are under the misapprehension that evangelism involves persuading others to accept their beliefs and convictions. They are unfamiliar with the role that the Holy Spirit plays in evangelism. They do not grasp that their role is to be witnesses to Jesus, both in their words and their actions, and to point others to Jesus.”

  • Bob Myers says on


    I appreciate this and last week’s posts that press the urgent issue of evangelism. Honestly, I stand guilty as most everyone else…and I’ve been a pastor. Now that I work “in the world,” I’ve had more opportunities, but I still feel a bit derelict in my duties. Interestingly, I was asked to preach on Romans 10:5-15 yesterday where Paul articulates his clarion call for evangelism, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”

    I pressed the issue with them, citing your blog title from last Monday, “Five reasons your church will die.” Convicting. More than one person said it was what they needed to hear.

    I think there are a number of reasons why evangelical Christians are not evangelizing today.

    1. We are afraid. The culture has turned antagonistic against evangelicalism in the last 5 years especially. In the UK, Christians are being arrested for silently praying outside an abortion clinic – not being disruptive or saying anything. I would not be surprised to see similar actions here in the US in the near future.

    2. It is not like it was in the 70’s when God’s Spirit was moving powerfully in America and Southern Baptist baptisms hit their high. Witnessing back then was easy. At least, that was my experience. People responded readily to the gospel. The mission field is much more challenging today.

    3. Since the turn of the 21st Century, evangelicals have engaged more in social action ministries than in evangelism. That’s not a bad thing, but it is bad that we have substituted that strategy for actually speaking the word. We’ve adopted the saying, “Preach the gospel at all times; use words if necessary.” It is not a mission statement, I’m afraid; it’s an excuse.

    4. A lot of Christians live in a Christian bubble. They need to take the initiative to make non-Christian friends or acquaintances.

    5. We don’t know where to start. Church Answer resources are helpful. But people do need to know how to start a gospel conversation.

    Thom, I especially appreciate your emphasis on prayer. If people pray, they’ll begin to see opportunities, God will increase their burden, and the Holy Spirit will prepare the people who need to hear.


    • Thom Rainer says on

      Outstanding response, Bob. All of your points are absolutely spot on. Your response is a clear case where the commenter’s content surpasses that of the blog writer.

      • Thom, I think both Robin and Bob absolutely have their fingers on the salient issues. Evangelism will be a very natural response once these other issues are properly resolved. (Hence my objection of a few days ago where I said evangelism was not the solution to a dying church). One must know the Master to be both a witness and to testify to the lost. Robin and Bob have powerfully demonstrated that folks are focused all too much on anything other than the Master–and the Kingdom suffers for it, as well as the local expressions of His Body.

  • David J. McCarty says on

    I have tried to be an advocate and encourager for the need to do outreach/evangelism ministry in our congregation. The resistance to this type of ministry mindset has created an uphill battle. What I have decided to do is get people involved in doing outreach/evangelism ministry in the way of providing resources and support for Christ-centered Crisis Pregnancy Centers, Blood Drives to bring people into our church, so our members can interact with them concerning our congregation and its ministries, and to support other mission and ministries that are spreading the Gospel. Also, I have used the idea of each one reach one evangelism. You do not have to share your faith with 50,40, 30, even five people. Simply think about reaching one person at a time. If we did that the multiplication of members in the Body of Christ would be massive.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      I get it, David. Sometimes the pastor has do the work of evangelism with no one else, at least for a season. If every pastor in the United States was used of God to reach one person a year, we would have one million new converts.

  • Thank you for addressing this vital subject which brings to light a sad truth I see in many churches we visit. We would love to collaborate with you and any church and pastor who is convicted by this article. We assist, support, and help devise a plan for evangelism in their churches by equipping people to be way of life witnesses. We stand ready to help and reverse the trend mentioned in this article.
    Don Workman

  • Raymond Bertolet says on

    The link on this article do not go to your website.