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Thinking Clearly About Evangelism

It’s no secret that many American churches are struggling, particularly with a decline in church attendance. Close to home (for me at least), Churches of Christ were bleeding members prior to COVID-19, and anecdotal evidence from the past few years doesn’t seem to paint much more of a positive picture. More widely, while data can appear conflicting depending on where you look, most reports paint a discouraging picture regarding evangelical church attendance post-COVID, particularly in comparison to population growth.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t say this to be an alarmist. If anything, I lean far to the other end of the hopeless-hopeful spectrum. The harvest is still plentiful, and the gospel is still the power of God that brings salvation. Yet in light of these realities—many churches declining, but the harvest being plentiful and the gospel being powerful—it’s odd to me that evangelism seems to have fallen on hard times.

Last fall, Barna found that most church leaders feel their churches have been much more effective at helping believers grow in their own faith (95% effective or very effective) than helping non-believers come to Christ (37% effective or very-effective). For the most part, this is not the result of strong efforts which simply failed to show fruit. Instead, it looks as if a little under half of churches are intentionally training people in evangelism outside the sermon setting, and of those churches with “formal faith-sharing training,” 29% never taught participants to present the gospel. (Am I the only person confused by that one?)


“Most church leaders feel their churches have been much more effective at helping believers grow in their own faith than helping non-believers come to Christ.”


While the solutions to disciple-making problems in many of our churches will be multi-faceted, it certainly does seem that one major response to church decline would be a renewed focus on evangelism.

In a day in which evangelism has fallen on hard times, I believe many of our churches stand poised to draw from our heritage’s love of Scripture and desire for fidelity to apostolic teaching and practice. We can point our churches to Scripture and seek to renew the conviction, compassion, and clarity with which the early church preached the good news about King Jesus. If we want to do this, though, it will be helpful to understand some of the misconceptions people have about evangelism and what Scripture has to say about them. Though more could certainly be listed, here are a few common myths I hear about evangelism, juxtaposed with their biblical truths.

MYTH: Evangelism comes naturally to some people, and they’re the ones God expects to be evangelistic.

FACT: Evangelism comes supernaturally to all Christians by the power of the Holy Spirit. God does gift the church with some evangelists, but part of their gifting is for the sake of equipping others. All believers are empowered by the Spirit to share the gospel (Ephesians 4:11-13, Acts 8:4).


“Evangelism comes supernaturally to all Christians by the power of the Holy Spirit.”


MYTH: Anybody that would be interested in following Jesus already goes to church.
FACT: Most non-believers have serious misunderstandings about the gospel, and many would be interested if someone shared the true gospel along with a life that matched it. We often think, “If they really cared, they would come,” but God essentially said “Since I love them, I will go” (see Acts 8:30-31, Luke 10:2).

MYTH: Since non-believers are without excuse for rejecting God, we shouldn’t feel guilty for remaining silent.
FACT: Non-believers are without excuse—even if they never receive a clear presentation of the gospel—but we are also without excuse before God if we never give non-believers clear presentations of the Gospel (Romans 1:18-20, Romans 10:14-15).

MYTH: You should always build a friendship with someone first in order to earn the right to share the gospel.
FACT: Although friendships are helpful, friendships are not actually a prerequisite to sharing the gospel with someone. Jesus already gave us authority to share the gospel. The Bible regularly points to the need to share the Gospel as early as possible (John 20:21, Acts 26:28-29).

MYTH: Conversations are difficult, so I can just share the gospel with my actions instead.
FACT: The demonstration of our lives needs the declaration of our lips, because the gospel is a message to be shared (Romans 10:17, Colossians 4:4).


“The demonstration of our lives needs the declaration of our lips, because the gospel is a message to be shared.”


MYTH: People take a long time to come to faith, so we shouldn’t press for decisions.
FACT: Some people take a long time, but many people in the New Testament came to faith fairly quickly after hearing the gospel. Either way, the gospel demands a response which its messengers should lovingly and urgently call for (Acts 2:40, Acts 8:36).

If there ever was a clarion call for clear thinking about evangelism, the status of many American churches ought to be it. Even more than that, though, we need right acting. May our clear thinking about evangelism, coupled with our love for Christ, lead to urgent witness.

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