Evangelism in the Small Church
Evangelism--regardless of whatever else it might mean--means a reaching out to others, making contact with those outside the church or those who have become inactive in the church. We might use terms like "outreach" and "witness," but it means being it touch with others regarding the content of the gospel.
Small churches may look upon evangelism as something that large churches do. After all, they have more money, they have "programs," they have evangelistic "events" and "revivals." But what the folks in the smaller congregations overlook is that "programs" and "revivals" are not the essence of evangelism.
Indeed, too often folks believe that "revivals" are the panacea of evangelism; and they reason that if their small congregation cannot conduct a major revival, then they really cant be expected to engage in evangelism. They consider themselves to be excused from doing any kind of evangelism.
I would argue just the opposite. We have a distorted image of evangelism. We think that it takes place in large gatherings of people--huge churches or stadiums--and that it is the responsibility of singular "evangelists." I believe we need to rid ourselves of that image. I believe that we need to adopt an understanding that any Christian can be an evangelist anywhere.
Of course, the response of the faithful church-goer who shyly spends his or her life in the back pew on Sunday morning is that "I cant do that! Im no public speaker!" And she misses the point. Many Christians are not public speakers. They are not expected to be. But MOST Christians are still capable to carrying on conversations and meeting with other people.
And how many times has a Christian heard the question on Monday morning, "How was your weekend?" And how many opportunities have we missed to share our church with someone? We are given far more opportunities of this kind than we are aware. Do we think that no one wants to hear about our church?
But still, even conversation can be a threatening experience for folks. So, we need to look to other opportunities to reach out and share our churches. One of the easiest is the simple invitation. Ask a question: "Would you like to...?" And if were uncomfortable with inviting folks to join us at a worship service, we can always invite them to a social event.
Too many church social events are attended by the same old crowd, the in-crowd, when they are ideal opportunities for inviting lots of friends and neighbors. We should especially take advantage of dinners, because most folks like to eat, and very few will turn down the invitation unless they already have something on their calendars.
For the extraordinarily shy, for those who are uncomfortable doing any inviting, there are still opportunities for sharing the local church and Christianity. Even very small congregations have access to literature that can be given away. Sunday morning bulletins spread the word of your church on a regular basis. Many churches have regular newsletters.
Most denominations have some form of regular devotional publication. One of these is the interdenominational The Upper Room Daily Devotional Guide, published bi-monthly. It can also be accessed online at www.upperroom.org. The purchase of extra copies of this publication to give away can be a significant evangelism project.
Although Christians consider their faith to be Bible-based, we often dont do the best job of getting that book out to others. There are organizations publishing scripture in very-low-cost formats. For example, the American Bible Society publishes Bibles in some formats for only a few dollars and New Testaments in some formats for less than a dollar.
For less than the price of some sandwiches at fast-food outlets, we could be giving away complete Bibles! For less than the price of a cup of coffee or a soft drink at some restaurants, we could be giving away New Testaments! This could be significant evangelism. The American Bible Society is online at www.americanbible.org.
Our contacts with the outside world can take all kinds of forms in our sharing of our church and our faith. But there will still be those who are skeptical who will be asking, "So what good will it do?" Well, for one thing it will do much good for the person who is doing the sharing. We will be making efforts that will be enhancing our spiritual lives.
Even if nothing happens that is visible to us, there may be much happening that is invisible, or visible only to others. If we are sharing our church and our faith, we are having an impact on others. Folks sometimes complain that the only time they see some children is in Vacation Bible School; but they have still had a signficant influence on those children.
So what can we expect? I think we should expect to move mountains! But that is dependent on folks committing themselves to evangelism of a personal nature. I suspect that what most often happens is that our church life stops at the door. We may be faithful to our congregation, but we dont work much on expanding it.
What if we did take seriously a program of personal evangelism as detailed above? What if, for example, a congregation committed itself, every active member of the congregation, to sharing the church with at least one other person each week? That is, this sharing would take place once between the regularly scheduled weekly worship services.
Is once a week too much to ask? I dont think so. So what kind of success rate should we expect? Can we gladly continue our outreach even though it may not seem to "work"? Can we put up with 99% failure? With only 1% success? If we can do that, and keep on doing that, relentlessly, within two years a church can double its attendance.
Indeed, if those who are new to the congregation join in the personal evangelism effort, a church can double its attendance in less than a year and a half. Do the math. Of course, this assumes an unlimited demographic base. And, in spite of our outreach, there just may not be a lot of souls out there to draw on. But we still need to be making the effort.
An interesting byproduct should evolve out of this process. As we involve ourselves in inviting others, we may find ourselves asking, "To what do we have to invite others? What can we create that will be inviting? What might we change to make the church more inviting?" In other words, we may learn to see our church as outsiders see it.
We may also find ourselves more involved in doing ministry in ways that we had not previously thought of. Indeed, anything that we can do for another person is a form of ministry, and much of the church is in need of giving free reign to all of its potential forms of ministry. Personal evangelism can alert us to that potential.
Finally, in all of this and through all of this, we need to be supportive of one another. This will be easy for some, but difficult for others. Those for whom it is easy need to be attentive to those for whom it is difficult; there may be ways in which they can be helpful, even if it is only to listen to them. Sometimes we just need to share our concerns.
Nothing worthwhile in life is ever easy. There will always be difficulties. But the small church needs to understand that it has many more options than it thinks. It need not model itself after the mega-church or even the five-hundred member church. What it does need to do is discover all the options open to it and make the most of them.
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