Let’s face it: The world is changing rapidly. Neither God’s Word, nor the gospel, nor His church is eligible to change in terms of the absolutes of God’s truth. But the environment in which these truths are shared and the manner with which these truths are heard are changing even as we speak.
The Great Commission mandate to “go into all the world” seemingly runs into one barrier after another. Door-to-door evangelism (let alone the grand old flashing arrow strategically planted outside the church that declares, “Y’all are all welcome to come inside!”) just doesn’t seem to work anymore.
Christianity has become polarized and politicized — let alone the massive disdain for anything or anyone religious. Youth activities compete with school mandates, and local church revivals are those things Granddad used to do when they “packed the pew” before dinner on the grounds!
Many churches are dwindling due to excessive feuding, competition from the “modern” church down the road, and, simply, lackluster worship that is too often bound in some past tradition that has absolutely nothing to do with reaching people for Christ.
This is a crisis. Baptisms are down because fewer people are being told about Jesus, and even fewer are actually being invited to “give their hearts and lives to Jesus.”
We are worn out, and many have just given up. Perhaps it is time to revisit the question of outreach and evangelism in the local church.
Here are a few do-nots:
Do not give up. Jesus has not given up on us. Do not throw the baby out with the bath water. Change the water, but hold onto the baby. We are swimming in tired, used and even dirty water. Do not ever sacrifice the absolutes of the gospel. It’s still all — and only — about the Lord Jesus. He is the same always. He never changes, nor does His plan of salvation: Acknowledge your sin, repent before a holy and righteous God, accept Him into your life by faith and trust the Spirit to do His work. Do not fall for the lie and “cutesy-fy” and compromise your worship, preaching and sharing of the gospel message. Do not deviate from holding high the name of Jesus. This list goes on and on.
Here are some practical suggestions that may serve to revitalize you and your church as you endeavor to reach our world for Christ.
— Live it!
This is as old as it gets. You and I, many times, are the only Bible some will get to read. While this is a relative statement, it would seem that many inside the church live out their lives quite differently outside the church. The squeeze of the world is as tight as it gets these days. The demand to conform and compromise is ever present. Certainly this has not changed, but the world that squeezes has changed. Christianity is no longer the “popular thing” on the campus. And, while some of the extreme religions seem to have unbridled access to public prayer, Christian prayer is even vilified. The bottom line is straightforward: If you are a Christian, then live like one!
— Preach it!
Certainly here I am referring to the pulpit, but the proclamation of the gospel has many pulpits. Keep the main thing the main thing. Both the very activity of preaching, as well as the content of the message preached, may be considered to be foolish by some (1 Corinthians 1:18). But this is God’s chosen plan, and His chosen method is the very means by which the power of salvation is presented to those who are lost. Hold the line, and do not swerve into the oncoming traffic that demands feel-good “sermonettes” that pamper the ever-changing diaper of our crying world. Tell them about Jesus!
— Sing it!
Yes, hold the line. Many a Christ-centered song has seared many a soul-searching heart. Elvis is actually dead. Jesus is alive. Praise and worship are not components or constituents of evangelism. They are necessities — bare necessities at that. Hold the line.
— Talk it!
Re-cultivate your ongoing conversation. “Gossip the gospel” in daily conversation. As you do this, encourage others to do likewise. Talk it around the table, talk it at the ballpark and talk it at home. Turn good conversation into gospel conversation.
— Ask it!
Many will be surprised that the invitation to accept Christ still works. The reason is because it is biblical. Jesus told us to be fishers of men. This means we are to gather all the equipment, bait the hook and cast the line. There it is in a nutshell!
First, gather all the equipment necessary to go fishing. Get the people together. (Fishing poles by themselves don’t actually fish!) Teach the people and encourage them. Equip them to live it, preach it, sing it and talk it. Do this in small groups. Train leaders to do this. Gather together new and fresh potential opportunities (like wild game dinners, special children’s events, student blowouts, impact services, and so on).
Second, bait the hook. Make certain the absolutes of the gospel message are inextricably intertwined with your gathered equipment. It is no good going fishing if, in fact, you do not have bait on your hook. Evangelism is not just about being nice! Many times, we serve a cup of soup and never actually share why we do so. Sometimes we beat around the bush so much we forget what bush we are beating around!
Third, actually throw the line. Cast the net. Get on with it. People need the Lord!
— Don Wilton is pastor of Spartanburg First Baptist Church and founding president of The Encouraging Word broadcast ministry. He has written numerous books and articles and is a former president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.