How cool would it be if your congregation’s size doubled every year? Don’t let the practical side of you immediately throw stumbling blocks at this idea. It’s understandable to be concerned about lack of space at your church’s building, for instance. God can work out the practical stuff later, because people’s relationship with God is more important than the size of your building. Assuming you know that, ask the question, what would it take for your congregation to double in size in the next 365 days?
The Status Quo of Evangelism
One way to accomplish this type of growth would be to have the preacher prepare several evangelistic sermons and invite the entire community to the building to hear the lessons. But that’s what we’ve been trying for generations, and even when it has seen some success, it hasn’t seen that type of success. Alternatively, we could pay the preacher to not only spend time in his office preparing sermons, but also to beat the streets and set Bible studies with non-believers. Come to think of it, aren’t we already doing that too? What kind of growth has that resulted in? Praise God for the souls who have been won through the preacher’s efforts, but assuming your congregation is larger than three or four souls, one guy’s Bible studies likely hasn’t doubled the congregation’s size in one year. Here’s an idea: We could hop onto social media, post and share Bible verses and Christian memes and debate with people in the comment section. Perhaps that would work.
Tongue in cheek aside, it’s clear that the above suggestions, which, from what I have witnessed, have become the church’s status quo of evangelism, are not going to fulfill the Great Commission. Are we satisfied with the results that we have seen for the past generation or so? I hope not.
What would it really take to see the church double in size in 52 weeks? The preacher could reach an individual with the gospel. Just one soul. That would do it. So long as you did too. And everyone else. If every single Christian were involved in reaching the lost, and each one reached one, then the church would double. And it doesn’t take an overly-creative mind to imagine that happening again the following year, but this time with twice as many people participating.
Again, the practical side of us may want to object here, but for the time being, don’t allow it to. Instead, let’s briefly consider whether every Christian is truly qualified for this type of work. In my years of evangelism, I have seen three basic qualifications for the task:
The apostle Paul wrote, “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14). Love is a leading quality of the Christian. It is to be applied above all things (see Colossians 3:14). We do not evangelize to win arguments or make ourselves feel good. We do it because we love the lost, the Lord, and our own souls, which leads to our next qualification.
Proper motivation is always required for a job well done. If you do not desire to do something, you’ll likely never do it, or if you end up doing it, it is likely out of necessity. Just as an overseer of the Lord’s church must not lead “out of compulsion” (1 Peter 5:2), so too must the evangelist share the good news willingly. What will motivate you for evangelism? A true understanding of the cost and answer to sin—the revelation of God’s love.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.Romans 5:8
3. Basic Knowledge
If you know enough to become a Christian, you know enough to teach others how to become a Christian. If you know what God has done for you, you know enough to share that news with someone else. The person who says, “I can’t evangelize; I don’t know enough” has a distorted view of evangelism. Will there be times when tough questions or objections arise in your evangelism? Without a doubt. But Jesus sent His apostles out to share the good news of the kingdom, not answer every question about Scripture. The answers to the tough questions will come with time and study, but for now, don’t waste anymore time to teach someone the basics of the gospel.
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.1 Corinthians 2:1-2
Paul impressed upon the Corinthians’ hearts “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3). Basic knowledge is all that’s needed to get started.
“Yes, yes, yes,” someone begins. “I agree I am qualified with love, motivation, and basic knowledge, but I…” How would you finish that sentence? But I can’t speak well. But I am weak. But I am fearful. I can relate. The first Bible study I led, I literally shook the entire time, so much so that the person I was studying with asked if I was okay. Do you see 1 Corinthians 2:1–2 quoted above? Check out the next three verses.
I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.1 Corinthians 2:3-5
Did Paul actually write this? Are we talking about the same Paul we read about in Acts? Yes! Even one of the most famous evangelists in the kingdom trembled while spreading the good news. But that’s where the gospel shines the most! As the saying of today goes, “Let go, and let God.” When you depend on your own abilities, your dependence is misplaced. Let God and the message of Jesus do the work.
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.Romans 10:17
Faith does not come by way of well-crafted arguments and eloquent speech. It comes by hearing the message of the soul-saving gospel.
The Keys to Evangelism
In the Greek, evangelize is the verb form of the word gospel. So, to evangelize someone is to gospel-ize, or to “good news” them. Maybe it’s better put this way: to evangelize is to share the good news with someone else. There is a place in evangelism for storytelling and sharing with others what God has done specifically in your life, but from my experience, the most effective and accurate way to share the gospel message is to have a Bible study with someone.
When you and your friend can sit down together with questions and discover the answers by turning pages and reading Bible passages in context, some amazing things happen. And this is key—while evangelizing, always have a Bible between you and your friend, either literally or figuratively. On the other hand, when you tell your friend what the Bible says, you rob them of the opportunity to discover the truth for themselves, and you are between your friend and the Bible. When you tell them the answers, best case scenario, they learn the truth, but they link it with you and your knowledge (i.e. you shine; the gospel doesn’t). You must commit to keeping a Bible between you and your friend in your evangelism. It’s easy to slip back into lecture mode. But it is so much more profitable when you take the time to help someone discover the truth in their personal copy of God’s word.
But how do you set a Bible study?
First, you must have a conversation. Otherwise, you’ll never get to the point when someone is given the opportunity to say yes to a Bible study. Many Christians depend on being extra nice or smiling more than average, hoping people will come to them and asking about what makes them different. Of course, Jesus did say something about this (see Matthew 5:16). But He also commanded that Christians actively go and teach (see Matthew 28:18–20; Mark 16:15). In order to teach, you must use words. You must converse.
When having a conversation with someone, have these two basic goals in mind: (1) develop interest, and (2) increase curiosity. When someone is interested and curious about something, they ask questions and pursue answers. However, you must also remember that one quick way to decrease interest and satisfy curiosity is to provide the answers. So do your best to navigate the conversation with questions, not answers. Our voice assistants have made things so easy. If I’m curious about something, all I have to do is say, “Hey, Voice Assistant! What’s the average lifespan of a whooping crane?” Then, the answer is verbally given and silence ensues. But imagine if the voice assistant followed up with some questions. “Do you mean one in captivity, or one in the wild?” “Are you more interested in the lifespan now, or fifty years ago?” “Why do you think the numbers are different?” “What got you interested in this subject to begin with?” “How many whooping cranes do you think are in the wild today?” “What do you think caused them to be so endangered?” I just wanted the average lifespan, but now I’m going down a research path that has me interested and curious. Okay, maybe whooping cranes are not that interesting to you (perhaps they are more so now than ever before!), but I hope you get the point.
How do you start a conversation?
Navigating conversations with questions is key to developing interest and curiosity. But how do you start a religious conversation? You may have been thinking that there is some trick or skill that only the best of the “people persons” have, but no, it is deceptively simple. Are you ready? Here it is: “May I ask you a question?” That’s something you can insert anytime with anyone, whether you’re walking up to a cashier, or in mid-conversation with your best friend. Most people will say yes to your request, and when they do, you now have permission to ask anything at all. You could ask why the sky is blue, what color their socks are, or what the average lifespan of a whooping crane is. Or you could use the opportunity to start a religious conversation. “What are your thoughts about Jesus?” “What church do you go to?” “What’s your favorite book of the Bible?” “What person in the Bible do you think you relate to the most?” Get creative! Then, forget for a moment what you think about things, and continue to ask them what they think about things. Perhaps you’ll eventually get to the point when you can ask something like, “What do you think the Bible says about that?” “I don’t know,” they may respond, to which you can say, “Would you like to know?”
Have a genuine conversation with someone. Navigating a conversation with questions will avoid arguments and fulfill your goals of developing interest and increasing curiosity. It will also avoid running into postmodern responses like, “that may be true for you, but it’s not true for me.” Be committed to not providing Bible answers to questions, but instead providing the opportunity to discover the answers. Be careful about scripts and tactics. And you especially do not want to seem like you’re leading someone into a trap. Have fun and explore as many subjects with as many people as possible.
In your journey of having religious conversations, you’ll come across many people who are just not interested in religious things. In those moments, you have the amazing opportunity to represent Jesus. He never shoved religion or the Scriptures down people’s throats. After having given them an adequate opportunity, if they decided to walk away, Jesus allowed them to. You can do the same. Leave the door open, thank them for being willing to discuss things with you (as brief as it may have been), let them know you’d be happy to talk about it again if they ever become interested, and change the subject. Yes, many folks will not be interested, but they likely will not be hostile. And you may be surprised how many people are willing to talk about these things with you. Give as many folks as you can an opportunity to learn more about Jesus.
A word about arguments
An older brother recently told me, “I grew up during the debate age.” What he meant was during his youth, it was normal for people to have a meeting of the minds and find value in working through disagreements. Today, however, disagreements are often hostile environments and seen as intolerance (a social sin!). When the gospel claims to be the truth, you will certainly have disagreements as you share it. But we are no longer living in the debate age, so be careful about turning disagreements into arguments.
When you navigate conversations with questions, arguments are virtually impossible, since you are simply asking the other person about their interests and opinions. But a good conversationalist will likely eventually turn the questions on you, asking you about your interests and opinions. This is an opportunity to kindly decline to answer, admitting that your opinions don’t mean much in the end. “But what do you think the Bible says about that?” “I’m not sure.” “Would you like to know?” Usually, if the conversation has gotten this far, it would be dishonest for them to say no.
So, what would it take for your congregation to double in size in the next year? Just reach one person. In my experience, most active evangelists are able to reach more than one person a year. So perhaps your local church can triple or quadruple in size soon. It’s not just about numbers, but a plurality is made up of several individuals. And every individual has been created in the image of God for a purpose.
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:Ecclesiastes 12:13 (NKJV)
Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man’s all.
Perhaps God placed you in an individual’s life to help them fulfill that purpose.