O YOU REMEMBER when a church could draw a crowd simply by hanging out a sign reading “Revival Here”? Not so today!
Remember when the music director would call the believers out of the pews to the choir to sing? In our early days, they did this for two reasons. First, because there were so many unsaved people in the audience who did not know the words to the songs (we didn’t sing “off the wall” back then), the Christians came to the choir loft to sing to them. Second, there were so many visitors in our churches, a full choir would make more room for them. No need for that to happen today!
Remember when most evangelical churches had an evangelistic service on Sunday evening? Better yet, remember when most churches had a Sunday evening service? Pastors preached evangelistic sermons since so many sinners showed up on Sunday. Not happening today!
The Situation Now
Today we are up against slumping churches, loss of respect for pastors, and untrained laity.
Our churches are in a slump. Andy McAdams, in a study titled The Condition of the Church in America, reported:
• In America, 3,500 to 4,000 churches close their doors each year.
• Half of all churches last year did not add one new member through conversion growth.
• Churches lose an estimated 2,765,000 people each year to nominalism and secularism.
Approximately 85 percent of churches in America have less than 200 people. Sixty percent of churches are under 100 people. The average U.S. congregation has 89 members, according to The Barna Group. In the Church of God, we have 4,200 American churches with less than 100 people in morning worship.
Our pastors are under stress. Peter Drucker, the late leadership guru, said the four hardest jobs in America (and not necessarily in order, he added) are these:
• The president of the United States
• A university president
• A CEO of a hospital
• A pastor
Why would he include the pastor in such a small list? It’s because leading a church is a tough job, and many pastors can take it only so long before they suffer burn-out. Howard Ball, of Churches Alive, says about 25,000 pastors quit the ministry each year. That’s 2,000 a month!
Why do so many pastors quit? The research points to two major reasons: disillusionment and frustration. Somehow the job is not what they thought it would be, and the people in the church just won’t cooperate. In fact, 85 percent of pastors today say that the greatest problem they face is uncooperative people.
Our people are not trained. According to a Gallup Survey, only 10 percent of American church members are active in any kind of personal ministry. Fifty percent have no interest in serving, while 40 per- cent have an interest in serving but have never been asked or do not know how.
I read a quote somewhere (I wish I could have thought it up!) that says, “In an ocean of need, Christians have become islands of piety.”
Let that soak in. We reside in communities full of unsaved, unchurched, and hurting individuals, but we work mostly only in our churches. If we are involved in ministry, it probably takes place inside the four walls of the church. We’ve got to change this.
Equip, Heal, and Plan
Remember that 40 percent of believers are ready to do more for the Lord if they would be asked and trained.
Let’s equip our laity. We’ve been sending people out “unarmed”! Let’s make our churches places where we equip people for ministry and then send them into the community and world for mission and ministry. Let’s give people hands-on train- ing for ministry and skill-building events that prepare them for ministry to a hurting world.
Let’s make our churches “saving stations.” Our churches must be a place where love abides and all people can find salvation, healing, holiness, and safety. The church as a saving station must offer Christ as Savior to God’s people, the community, and the world. The church must be a place of fellowship where all people feel included, loved, and valued—where people know you by name, not just as an identity. The “saving station” church will have ministries of healing for men and women, the young and old, married couples and singles, the churched and the unchurched—any that are hurting.
Let’s get a plan. I have just finished a new book on personal evangelism titled Share the Gospel in Three Stories. It trains you, the believer, to (1) listen to their story, (2) share your story, and (3) tell His story. We offer a simple plan of evangelism that works in churches of any size. We call it “Take Five.” It is a plan for the local church to merge small home-based groups with personal-evangelism training. It is a Bible study equipping believers to reach unbelievers.
The strategy consists of five couples and/ or singles who meet in respective homes for about three hours once a month for five months. Each couple focuses on five unsaved or unchurched couples or singles (the “church-detached”) with the goal of reaching out to them with kindness and care in order to eventually help them know Christ and find a church home.
This monthly Bible study includes a fellowship meal, followed by a 20-minute video teaching, and then about 30 minutes of discussion. The evening concludes with a time of prayer for any requests of the group and especially the needs of the focus couples.
Take Five offers three vital elements:
• Supper—breaking bread together in homes
• Soul-winning—cutting-edge teaching and small-group interaction on up-to-date methods of reaching the lost
• Supplication—sincere prayer for unbelievers
Steve Sjogren, in his book Conspiracy of Kindness, says, “For most Christians, doing evangelism is a lot like going to the dentist: no one really enjoys doing it, but it has to be done every once in a while.”
I passionately believe it does not have to be this way. We can win many to Christ through relational evangelism.
I know a man who was won to Christ by his secretary while at work. He probably would have never just “shown up” for a church service or in any other way associate himself with Christianity. But his secretary lived such a godly life before him that he was intrigued and sought after the reason for her joy. For months she carefully listened to his story, then shared her story, and finally told him the gospel story.
This man accepted Christ, fell in love with the Church of God, joined the local assembly . . . and then fell in love with his secretary! I know all these details because that young man was me! Today, 44 years later, Pat (my wife/secretary) and I are still reaching the lost and teaching other believers to do so.