Overcoming Evangelism Barriers
"Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
The Great Commission describes a continuum of outreach from the local community to peoples around the globe. The local church should be as concerned about the lost around the corner as around the globe--and vice versa. The resources at our disposal to achieve local and world evangelism are unmatched in church history. Never before have so many organizations been devoted to evangelism--setting off an explosion of books, workbooks, publications, videos, seminars, and training ministries. The electronic church has more outlets--including cable, satellite, and now even the Internet--to spread the good news. An astounding variety of Christian music, computer games, and other entertainment is available to attract unbelievers of every age and interest. Instant E-mail communications allow workers around the globe to support each other with the click of a mouse button.
Christians are enjoying enormous successes in evangelism and church growth. A generation ago, a church of 1,000 would have been considered a megachurch. Now churches of 20,000 members are not unknown. Breakthroughs are occurring worldwide. Missions outreaches have seen churches with literally thousands of members spring up in regions such as Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.
A TIME OF TALL BARRIERS
Despite the resources at hand and promising breakthroughs, pastors and evangelical leaders are seeing a virtual forest of barriers arising to keep churches from effective evangelism. Many churches are noticing signs of burnout when it comes to evangelistic activity.
Barriers to evangelism outreach can include:
A lack of time commitment. Never have families been under such time pressures. Today, most women work outside the home. Downsizing in the work community has increased the commitment that laypeople must give to their jobs. Yet, they expect more out of less leisure time--more outside interests, more activities for their children, and more entertainment from more outlets. The losers in this time crunch are churches and evangelical outreaches. Church members are less willing to enter into long-term commitments. One pastor lamented, "I don¼t know why I can¼t get [members] more involved." It¼s no wonder that many churches are hiring staff to do what volunteer laypeople used to do--including evangelism.
Finances. Households are under financial strain. Incomes are stagnating, while the costs of housing, taxes, college, and other necessities are rising.
And again, the church and parachurch are caught in the squeeze. Financial support for world and home missions is going down in many evangelical churches. Because of environmental regulations adding to building upkeep, and insurance and staffing costs going up, outreach--both local and global--is frequently the first to suffer.
The shift to a post-Christian culture. Americans are cocooning. Instead of sharing life with the neighborhood, the community, and especially the church, they are self-absorbed in their home entertainment centers, fitness equipment, computers, and the Internet. Telecommuters are even working from home. This isolation is intensified by the suspicion Christians are sometimes viewed with today. At one time, Christians and church leaders were the most respected in the community. To be a church deacon was a badge of public honor. Today, however, nonbelievers are being influenced by the opinion of some people in media and government that the evangelical church is intolerant and intrusive.
Meanwhile, competition is intensifying. Even pagan and humanistic approaches have taken hold. Top-grossing movies are studded with New Age themes; books by Eastern mystics have climbed to the highest rungs of the best-seller lists; and gurus of the "new spirituality" are being invited into major corporations to offer stress management and success seminars.
How have these barriers affected the local church's pursuit of its responsibility to evangelism? Some feel that North America is becoming a secondary force in the global church and on the home front.
HOW WE CAN OVERCOME
How can local churches overcome these obstacles and carry on the task of world evangelism?
Churches and their leaders need to:
Renew the vision for worldwide evangelism. Local church leaders should lay out bold visions for their flocks for home and global outreach. They should ask: Can we get into the new housing development in our city? Can we dramatically increase the number of conversions and new members we experience this year? Can we add additional missionary families to our missions monthly support budget? Such visions will challenge members and give them a chance to see what God can do through a motivated and active congregation.
Reenergize and equip the laity. Laypeople need to be reminded that just as both local and global evangelism is every church¼s responsibility, it is also every member's responsibility. There simply will never be enough people to complete the job of local and world evangelism.
But lay members can't just be sent out as lambs among wolves. They need to be prepared and trained as Christ did with His disciples. Evangelism Explosion is just one example of a simple-to-administer but effective evangelism and discipleship ministry as well as a means of developing lay leaders. It offers a system of church-based training that includes a carefully developed and effective presentation of the gospel, as well as methods of presentation and learning that develop not just soul-winners but also trainers of soul-winners.
Adapt to the culture. Unfortunately, many churches stick with past approaches even after they have proved ineffective for penetrating a changed culture. As Christ made clear, new wine calls for new wineskins--and new methods. For that reason, last year we shortened and simplified our materials to accommodate tightened schedules. Earlier this year EE brought together a convocation of denominational, church, and individual leaders in evangelism to determine how best to meet the needs of churches in a changing culture. The purpose was to lay out a road map for the future direction of evangelicalism. Jimmy Davis, national evangelists representative for the Assemblies of God, who attended the convocation stated that evangelism ministries need to move forward to reflect "the rapid change from the information age to the imagination age." One particular cultural development upon which the church needs to capitalize is the arrival of the world on our doorstep. Here is an area where world and local evangelism can truly come together. Churches need to make a commitment to cross-cultural ministry--a commitment highlighted in the Great Commission reference to reaching Samaria, a hated people the Jews would have normally shied away from.
Find cost-effective approaches. Training ministries that can be run entirely by laypeople do not require expensive facilities. The cost of training materials is minimal. Ministries such as these can have a major impact on church outreach but a small impact on the church budget.
Capitalize on electronic communications but not rely on them. There's no question the church should take advantage of every means to reach unbelievers, including continuing to use television in its many current formats, as well as the Internet and on-line services. But we should remember that the most effective form of outreach has always been personal outreach to friends, neighbors, relatives, and associates. More than 8 in 10 Christians have come to the Lord through friendship evangelism, which is still the most effective way of overcoming the freeze-out of the church in our culture. Christians need to be trained to capitalize on these relationships.
Work together. There are as many workable methods and combinations of methods as there are churches, with plenty of room for everyone to work cooperatively to reach the lost.
Remember to let God work. The Great Commission is Christ's program, and He will complete it in His time. Our role is to be faithful and to continue keeping His last command our top priority. That more than anything defines the responsibility for the local church and the parachurch in world evangelism across the continuum from "Jerusalemäunto the uttermost part of the earth."