I heard it again this week: a Christian, defending a good Christian activity, saying “But we are not trying to proselytise.” ‘Proselytise’ is just a another way of saying’ evangelise’ – or simply, ‘tell people about Jesus.’ So my first reaction was, “But why ever wouldn’t you want to do that?”
And I know the answer: it’s because of the push-back that we anticipate, brace ourselves for, practice feeling the pain for, and therefore fear. As Bill Hybels puts it, “We say people’s ‘No’ for them.”
Put it in harsh spotlight, of course, and we know he’s right. So here are seven ways we can keep evangelism on our church’s agenda.
1. Preach regularly for decision
This is perhaps the most obvious, but the least used, tool in our box: aim in our sermons to invite people to become Christians, right there and then. Every so often, we need a ‘today’s the day’ message – what we sometimes call a ‘shake the tree’ Sunday when, which no big fanfare or invitational lead-in, we simply preach for decision. I’m not a big ‘come to the front’ or raise your hand’ fan – but I aim to lead folk in a prayer, gently and clearly, in what we used to call ‘the sinner’s prayer.’
It has the added benefit that it helps our regular members to see what a simple explanation and invitation looks like, so that when they are speaking to their own friends, they can also ask, ‘So what’s stopping you from becoming a Christian right now…?”
2. Plan for the decision, and the follow up
How do we do it? We have postcards printed that we can leave in the backs of seats. They are dead simple, with four letters: A, B, C and D . They stand forAlready a Christian; Beginning today; Considering; and Don’t believe a word of it, and I reckon anyone can circle one of those. There’s space for a name and address, if they want to tell us their decision, which is what we encourage.
And there’s a connection too: there’s a particular book that day for anyone who circled B, C, or D, and an invitation to our next course. Plus, we are primed to do 1:1 follow up, with some space in the diary.
3. Assume self service
But people become Christians all the time, in God’s sovereign plan. So we have a simple plastic wallet on the welcome desk, entitled ‘It’s just the beginning: If you became a Christian today, this is the pack for you’. There’s a gospel, a booklet, a CD with a couple of talks, a letter from me, and a contact card. And one of those walks, most weeks.
4. Teach and equip the members to pray
This is old-school, again, but really important: we need to encourage our members to pray, by name, for their non-Christian friends, whom they intend to invite to an event we are laying on. I was always encouraged to pray for three; our diocese is encouraging us to pray for seven (one a day). It’s something we shall be deliberately encouraging people to do as we head into the Christmas season. We shall be giving them cards to fill in and slip in their wallets. I’m increasingly convinced that we need to teach the ‘how-to’ as well as the ‘what’ and the ‘why.’
I’m increasingly convinced that we need to teach the ‘how-to’ as well as the ‘what’ and the ‘why.’
5. Identify the next step
Some of our events are quite clear gospel presentations, others are more allusive and designed to provoke thought. We have a choral evensong next week, which is exactly that. So always, always, identify the next step in the pathway. ‘Did you enjoy this evening? Well, in a few weeks time…’ Don’t let anything exist outside that invitational chain.
6. Check my own diary
Oh, this is the battleground. As a pastor I can find time for everything and everyone except my own personal evangelism. I don’t think I’ve ever won this, and I’m not actually a natural one-to-one evangelist (although if I think about it, that should make me an ideal guinea pig for most church members who are in exactly the same boat!). But I need to ask myself, constantly, who are the non-Christian friends I am praying for?
7. Pray Chappo’s prayer
And finally I need to remember the prayer of the wonderful Aussie evangelist, John Chapman. “Lord, give me opportunities – and don’t be subtle.” Amen!