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.
More from Thom