Studies have shown that only 1 out of 5 North American church members invited anyone to church last year. Only 1 in 50 invited someone who doesn’t already attend another church. This means that, on a yearly basis, 80% of the time we don’t invite anyone, and if we do, 90% of the time it is another Christian from another church. This kind of a track record isn’t exactly a recipe for explosive growth.
However, many of our people know this is a problem and wish they could do something about it, but they just don’t know what. Although they’ve probably heard some sermons that made them feel guilty about this, it is unlikely they have heard much on exactly how they’re supposed to get the job done. That’s why it’s out job as pastors and leaders to show them the way. We should never forget that the Biblical job description for a pastor is that he should equip the people of God to do the work of God (Ephesians 4:12).
Fortunately there are lots of things we can do to help our people out. The first is to give our people something to invite others to. The sad fact is that in many churches, people are simply too embarrassed by the poor quality of their church to risk inviting anyone. A dirty and outdated building, unfriendly members, drab music, and a boring half-baked preacher will all strongly encourage your people *not* to invite anyone – ever. We need to give them the kind of church they feel good about attending, so they will be excited about telling others. Getting your basic ministry act together will go a long way in giving your people the confidence and enthusiasm they need to engage their friends and family members.
The next step is to actually train and equip your people. There are several top quality resources and seminars that you can use to give your people the tools they need to get the job of evangelism done. My personal favourite is the “Becoming a Contagious Christian” course put out by Willowcreek. I’ve seen people personally transformed by this course. It really shows some concrete ways people of all temperaments can share their faith. I absolutely loved how they don’t force everyone into a one-size-fits-all kind of approach and method. One of the other nice features of this course is that it comes with additional sermon and promotional resources so you can do this as a church-wide campaign. When we did this at my last church we had 17 different small groups take the course – many of them newly created just for that purpose. Other resources that I would recommend are “Bursting Your Bubble” put out by Campus Crusade, and “Beehive Evangelism” by Dub Chambers. Books I would recommend are “Evangelism Without Additives” by Jim Henderson, “It’s a God Thing” by Larry Baker, and “Irresistible Evangelism” by Steve Sjogren.
Falling back into the “give our people something to invite others to” category, is the evangelistic sermon series. Personally, I think this should be done several times a year. One pastor I met, Bruxy Cavey, explained this to me and called it “respiration”. To achieve an evangelistic balance in your preaching, Bruxy suggested that you put together a longer sermon series that is targeted at building up and equipping your own people, followed by a shorter series targeted at reaching those who are outside the church. As you continue to do this, a pattern of “breathing in” and “breathing out” develops and your church grows in both numbers and in depth. Putting together a good evangelistic series involves a number of things. First is that you pick a topic that reaches a powerful felt need in your community. Topics like finding financial freedom, sex, and marriage will always draw a crowd and apologetics-styled messages can work well too.
Simply putting together a good evangelistic series will often not be enough. You need to help your people invite others to this. This happens by high quality and high intensity promotion. When we did our last Easter outreach, we sent out thousands of full colour glossy post-cards professionally designed by Outreach Marketing to advertise the series. We used a mystery-thriller theme for the sermons to make them appealing (i.e. The Greatest Trial in History: Was the scene of the greatest trial also the scene of the greatest crime?). While we knew that we would get a .5% immediate response rate without the help of our people, the main intent was to give our people a talking point with their friends. Over time consistent, relevant, high quality promotion of the church will serve to break the ice when our people attempt to share their faith. Those outside the church will already know who we are, already have a positive impression of us (unless you screw up the high-quality/relevant part of your promotion), and will just need an invitation from someone they know and trust before they check it out.
Another excellent tool is a high-quality outreach-oriented professionally-designed website. Warning: if you get some teenager who’s “into computers” to do this for free I guarantee it will look like it was made by a teenager who’s “into computers” did it for free. If you put together a truly excellent and frequently updated website this can serve as an excellent tool to help your people in their personal outreach efforts. You make it easy for them to offer an easy “taste and see” to their friends by giving them an option of simply pointing their friend to your church’s website. Frankly, even if your people don’t directly mention the church’s website, if the church came up in conversation at all, there’s a good chance in our Google-orientated society that their friends will check out your site anyways. You get to choose whether this will be a great impression or a disastrous one.
There is a powerful synergy when you combine the power of mass church outreach with the intimacy of personal one-on-one outreach. When we as “evangelicals” really put our money where our mouth is changed lives and growing churches is the inevitable result. For wasn’t it Jesus Himself who said that if we lift Him up he will “draw all men unto me”? The beautiful thing is that once we are faithful to this Godly priority a wonderful Great Commission feed-back loop is created. We attract visitors, we connect them to our Christian community, and we train and equip them to attract visitors, connect them to our Christian community and train and equip them to attract visitors… Putting this in older terminology, we go and make disciples, we baptize them, we teach them to obey everything that Christ commanded including the command to go and make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to obey… While this may seem like a new idea, it’s actually a very old one.
*Note: Much of this series is based on an eye-opening seminar I took in Detroit back in 2001 called The Four Laws of Effective Outreach. This outstanding resource can be ordered here from Outreach Marketing.