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Friday, December 19, 2008

Church Planting Evangelism

Saying the word "evangelism" can put a bad taste in our mouths having become associated with certain tele-evangelists with dodgy theology and zero integrity. It is also used in business settings to describe viral endorsements from clients. You may have also heard the term "brand evangelist". Whatever alternative meanings it carries today it describes the most important aspect of church planting -- one-on-one gospel sharing! I'm going to share what I've learnt from 2 books I have read.

I literally just finished reading The Faithful Witness by Jerry Wiles. It is a MUST read for all church planters -- incredibly inspiring. I also read Becoming A Contagious Christian by Bill Hybels. Both books are very uplifting, practical and life-changing. If you can read both, do so. If not, get The Faithful Witness as I found it the most spiritually stirring and the story's alone are worth it.

A Change of Mind About Evangelism
Hybels has a formula in his book, not specifically for sharing the gospel or praying a prayer, actually he says not to use formulas especially for salvation prayers, but he clearly breaks apart what a Christian needs in order to have maximum impact for the gospel in someones life. The formula is: 

High Potency (HP) + Close Proximity (CP) + Clear Communication (CC) = Maximum Impact (MI)

Missing one of these elements sabotages our ability to lead people into faith. Without having a potent relationship with Jesus, being genuine friends with non-believers and being able to clearly articulate the message it just wont happen. 

Wiles doesn't use a fancy formula but he says basically the same things and in a way that more deeply affected me. He starts with who we are in Christ. It was Galations 2:20 and Colossians 1:27 that the Holy Spirit used to transform his understanding of his own life in Christ which in turn fueled him in his evangelistic efforts. What 'High Potency' is to Hybels, 'Identity' is to Wiles. He writes, "... a witness is first and foremost something you are. Jesus' last recorded words on earth prior to His ascension back to heaven were these: You shall be witnesses to Me (Acts 1:8) ... Your witness about Jesus is only as good as your relationship with Jesus."

Wiles makes a strong case that Christians already have the tools to witness just like a baby knows how to breathe. He says "... stop searching for a greater ability to witness and start releasing the nature of Christ that is already indwelling you!" Now that's provocative. So provocative in fact that the day I read it (yesterday) I went ahead a prayed with a man at the gas station and he was healed and confessed that he wanted Christ. Seriously, it's not brain surgery, it's being yourself, your new self that is, the identity of Christ. If we are in Christ and Revelation 1:5 refers to Jesus as "The Faithful Witness", then what are you?

Again, Wiles is relentless with his provocation, "Only one thing can put a stop to the Lord's sovereign work in setting up appointments for life-changing witness encounters -- our unwillingness to open our mouths and share the Good News of Jesus Christ." There is no guilt or manipulation in this. Every believer in Jesus will express it differently but the truth is that every believer, being in Christ, naturally desires to share what Jesus has done for them. For this reason Wiles has the person share their faith straightaway. He argues that because people have just been freed from their sin and have received perfect peace and joy they are happy for others to know, and somewhat unable to deny it! 

The truth is that people in this world feel guilty, discouraged, rejected, hurt and alone. That means they are perfect candidates to receive Jesus. The lie we believe is that people will reject the gospel. That does happen but in Jerry Wiles experience he sees 1 in every 4 people receive Jesus after sharing the gospel. He notes that Jesus had a similar success rate in the Gospel accounts. People know they need God, they just need someone to show them the way. Hybels points out that 25% of the US population would go to church if a friend would just invite them. That's 1 in 4 if you didn't realize!  

The biggest lesson for me in reading these books was an identity shift. Believing who I am in Christ and believing that Jesus is working in people's lives. I dare you to test this out, change your mind and see the results. Evangelism is the most effective church planting strategy. 

Conversations & Questions
We have a responsibility to initiate conversations with people. Building trust is important, but if we believe that the gospel is powerful then we should have greater trust in what Jesus can do than in our ability to be winsome. We are often afraid to bring up Jesus in fear of being rejected and ruining all future gospel opportunities. 

Hybels writes, "So can we just come out and say it? Far too many Christians have been anesthetized into thinking that if they simply live out their faith in an open and consistent fashion, the people around them will see it, want it, and somehow figure out how to get it. That never happens." I agree, people need to know they can have all their sins and guilt taken away right here, right now. Hybels goes on, "Most of the time, seekers, whether they admit it openly or not, respect and admire Christians who aren't afraid to take a stand." Go ahead, start a conversation, and speak the truth.

Another helpful practice is to keep it simple by quickly getting to the heart of the matter,  and to pray and to rely on the Holy Spirit. Look into peoples eyes and relate the gospel to where they are at. Don't over complicate it. Wiles makes the point, "It's more difficult to forget a direct, simple question than a long, veiled, never-to-the point conversation." Even if the person doesn't receive Christ the question will stay with them and may bear fruit later.

It's important to practice and develop your own style of question asking. Both authors warn of the pitfalls of unnatural prescribed evangelism steps. But they do offer their personal favorite openers. Wiles suggestions include:
  1. Is anything encouraging happening in your life? Or, do you see anything encouraging happening around you or in the lives of people you know? 
  2. Have you noticed any signs of spiritual awakening in your city?
  3. Have you been thinking more about the Lord lately? (Or I guess the word "Lord" could be exchanged for "God" as unchurched people might not be familiar with that word).
  4. Has the Lord been good to you today? 
  5. Has anyone told you today that God loves you?
Here was the shocker for me on question 3, 'have you been thinking more about the Lord lately?', Wiles says that 90% of people say yes! He comments, "The greater the fear and frustration and concern people have about the aspects of their lives, the more tender, they seem to be toward God and the more they question the meaning of life, the purpose for their existence on this earth, and the way to find lasting inner peace." You'll need to get the book for further explanation of where to take the conversations after these opener questions. 

Hybels offers these openers:
  1. Do you ever think about spiritual things?
  2. Who, in your opinion, was Jesus Christ?
  3. What belief did you grow up with?
  4. Do you ever wonder what happens to us when we die?
  5. What do you think a real Christian is? 
  6. Where are you heading in your spiritual journey?
The Power of The Word
Another powerful and yet simple point for me was the use of scripture in evangelism. I don't know why I didn't really think about this much before but if we believe that God's word is inspired and sharper than a double edged sword AND that is does reveal the heart, then sharing sections of scripture with non-believers WILL have a dramatic affect of them. Wiles mentions that he carries copies of the gospel of John with him because many have been saved simply by reading it! He tells people "Here's a book that was written by a man who knew Jesus personally, and tells how you can know Him personally as well." If that doesn't start a conversation at least the person can read it on their own. 

In this regard Hybels lays out different approaches to sharing the gospel that might be helpful. The Roman Road is a classic. You can simply share 3 verses from the book of Romans with someone (make sure you have a Bible with you) and ask them questions about what the verses mean. It's easy to remember and covers the fundamental gospel elements, Romans 3:23, 6:23 and 10:13. 

When I read this method I found it easy to remember the first two because they are the same verse but chapter 10 and verse 13 was a bit more random and I thought, I bet I forget this last verse reference. So I prayed, "Lord help me remember these references so that I can use them at an appropriate time." At that moment I glanced at the clock on the oven and it was 10:13am! Holy cow -- and that clock is slightly wrong! Now that scripture reference is burned in my memory forever. Jesus is so cool. That confirmed again that God wants me to share my faith with people.

The Double Whammy
This is where Wiles wins for me. The double or even triple or even more soul winning whammy! When he travels he sees up to 8 people saved, but at the very least 1 person is saved. At a Christian conference he travelled to he inquired to the hotel/conference venue works if anyone had shared with them about the purpose of the event. No-one had. So Wiles continues to lead a maid, a young security guard at the entrance to the exhibition area, a hotel maintenance worker and eight security guards to Christ. He strategically uses one salvation to spark another -- what a genius!

Again, he's at the checkout in a store and noticed no one was around, so he seizes the opportunity. The girl at the checkout becomes a Christian, right there and then. On the way out the door he notices a man who looks down and says "You might be interested in knowing that the woman standing at the cash register, Regina, just received Jesus Christ into her heart and experienced the forgiveness of her sins ... You need that too, don't you? He nodded and said, Yes I do." The story continues as he leads the mans stepson to Christ and then his wife shows up. He says, "You might be interested in knowing that your husband and you son have just invited Jesus Christ into their hearts. You need to do that too, don't you? She also said yes." 

One of the most strategic things he does is to use the immediate testimony of the person receiving Christ and presents it as a new opportunity for someone else. This builds faith and confidence in new Christians to continue to share their faith. It also causes people to be more open to the gospel in the face of a freshly converted person beaming with the joy of the Lord and radiant that they are now guilt free and destined for an eternity with Jesus. Isn't that brilliant? He notes that he has often lead 4 or 5 people to Jesus in this sequential manner at the same time. 

This principle rings true because of the way people relate to each other. Wiles writes, "People tend to work or associate in clusters ... If you have the opportunity to lead one of them to the Lord, the door will often open to share with several other members of the staff or team." He frequents restaurants and other places where people have responded to the gospel because co-workers and others are now more likely to be open to the gospel having seen someone they know find faith in Christ. 

All the church planting books I have read point to the fact that you have to connect with people who don't know Jesus -- that's the purpose of church planting. This means a high commitment to personal evangelism is critical for church planters. Wiles writes, "Can the church end up with too many people sharing Christ? No!" And, "Need a lift in your spiritual life? Win someone to the Lord! Introduce others to the living Christ." Often, the most exciting things are the things we desire the most and long to do more of. Hybels writes, "There's nothing in life that's as exciting as befriending, loving, and leading wayward people toward faith in Christ. Nothing." 

This is obviously not just for church planting but for established churches. I'd suggest that these books have equipped me in the most effective way for church planting. It seems unavoidable that a high degree of consistent gospel sharing is really the best means to plant a church. Generally the mass communication stuff (mailers, etc...) attracts Christians. So perhaps, both strategies can be combined but with a strong emphasis on evangelism in church planting.



Evangelism Coach said...

This is a great comparasion of two books. I am very familiar with Hybels, but the one by Wiles is new. I'll have to put that on my reading list.

I have my own list of books as well that I could recommend to you. Check them out on the Books Page at my site.

Chris W

Mark said...


Great post. I read Hybels but like Chris didn't know about the other. I've been learning to grow in appropriate boldness for sharing my faith for some time now. Also, I'm growing out of the assumption that evangelism happens one-on-one. Rather than this "extractional evangelism" which pulls a convert from his community, when they come to Christ, I ask, "Who do you know that needs to hear about Jesus?" Usually, the new Christian is connected to a larger group of friends (Bible also says, "household"). It offers not just more hearts the opportunity to hear the gospel in their own language, but also a chance for a whole community to come to the Lord and become a brand new church!

May we all find the strength to overcome our fear and proclaim the gospel. Keep up the good writing Matt.

Shane said...

Great stuff. I'll be subscribing to your feed and linking to your blog. We are in training to plant a church of our own as well. God bless!