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Evangelism in the Smaller Church

By David B. Crabtree

I stood alone, scanning the parking lot of my new church. It was 3 minutes before Sunday school and not a single car containing visitors had turned down the gravel lane. I thought of Zechariah 4:10, where God asked, "Who despises the day of small things?" (NIV). At that moment I despised the day of small things. My new post had a 35-year history and 33 people. Morale was low. Our building was secluded on the back of the property. Everything from the burnt-orange carpet to the peeling vinyl entryway to the crooked sign said, "Stay away."

Worship was stifled and awkward. I didn’t have a novel strategy to help the church grow. Evangelism programs I knew about didn’t seem to fit this congregation, and I was too inexperienced to make appropriate modifications. On that second week in September, I didn’t want to stay at Calvary Church. I wanted to eat a Sunday brunch and start packing. I might have, except for the tan Chevy I saw turning down the lane. I smiled, waved, and slipped inside.

As I remember, we had a banner day that Sunday. Our rule was: If it breathes, we count it. That day we counted 39 people. People seemed pleased with the turnout. That was 15 years ago.

Today Calvary Church is healthy and vibrant. Some transfer growth helped us along the way, though I have learned that people who drift in from other churches usually drift out in short order. A wise elder defined these short-termers as scaffolding. They help you build for a while, and then they fold up and move on. We experienced good growth as people moved into the community and became part of the church. But by far, the most solid growth came through personal evangelism and the joy of the new birth radiating from new believers.

ESTABLISHING FOUNDATIONAL TRUTHS

A small church can engage in effective evangelism if the right climate is established. At Calvary Church, we established foundational truths that set the stage for growth.

Prayer

The first foundation was, and still is, prayer. I was especially blessed to have faithful prayer warriors among the elderly. Early on we started a prayer meeting, and we have had an organized, ongoing prayer ministry ever since. Our evangelism has risen and fallen in conjunction with our intensity in prayer.

Evangelism

Having built a foundation through prayer, we affirmed that it is God’s will that every church grow. The Early Church was our example. We became convinced that any healthy body will grow, but it will require time and nourishment. If a church does not experience growth, it has a fundamental problem. No church can move forward without two convictions: that God wants the church to grow, and that people in the church want it to grow. At Calvary Church, we endeavored to create a healthy discontent with the status quo. People soon understood that a static church is a struggling church, and God delights in partnering with us to solve the problem.

With these principles, we simplified and personalized evangelism. We weren’t anywhere near the commitment level needed to support some of the evangelism programs I wanted to implement, so our focus became people, rather than programs. We determined that evangelism comes down to one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.

The greatest tools for evangelism are not located in a binder-and-tape series; they are sitting in our pews every Sunday morning. Since 86 percent of people who come to Christ are won through the witness of a friend, relative, associate, or neighbor, no church can complain about a lack of resources for evangelism. Every Sunday I am looking at and preaching to my evangelism program.

Several women came without their husbands. Their fervent prayer challenged us to join in the battle for these men’s salvation. One by one we saw these husbands give their lives to Christ. Today, some of these men lead ministries in our church. Most churches would grow by 50 percent if we would reach the immediate families of our members. I have found that more prayer and less push opens the door of a stubborn heart.

One woman drove by our church every morning for 6 years. From time to time she thought about visiting. One day she sat next to a businessman on an airline flight back to Greensboro. The subject of church came up in their conversation. This businessman invited her to church. She visited and her life was transformed. She lived a few blocks away, but she found us at 33,000 feet because one beggar told another beggar where to get bread.

Discipleship

It takes disciples to make disciples. In most circumstances, the soul-winner is also the logical one to disciple a new convert. If we fail here, we limit the harvest. If we do not train, we cannot sustain. The exponential growth we see modeled in Scripture requires more than a prayer and a hug at the altar. The vibrant enthusiasm of the new believer must be anchored in discipleship, lest our harvest field wither without root. With a nutritious, balanced diet, a healthy church grows like a healthy child. The pulpit and the classroom must take the new believer beyond surface issues.

Missions

Nothing has stirred people at Calvary Church to evangelism as much as world missions. Familiarity with the status quo breeds contempt. An aggressive missions endeavor raises awareness of the lostness of the lost.

After I came as pastor, one of the first things we did was double the monthly support to our missionaries. A few years later, we became involved in short-term mission trips. Short-term teams magnify awareness and personalize a sense of missions. The majority of short-term team members come back to our church with a new commitment to world missions and a greater awareness of the local mission field. The culture shock of an outreach to an inner city or foreign country reshapes our perspective on missions.

CONCLUSION

The most underchallenged, underutilized, and untrained potential for evangelism sits Sunday after Sunday, listening to our preaching. The possible impact of this untapped resource is staggering.

On a cold Sunday morning, an old English preacher looked out over a small gathering of poor, tired laborers. He preached without eloquence or response. He thought his time had been wasted. An old man slept on the second row; a young boy sat on the back row with his head down. The old preacher didn’t realize the little boy was Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

David Livingstone received his call in a small meeting of grandmothers. Most of the preaching greats were won to Christ in humble circumstances. In every church pew there is potential, an unmined vein of gold. In every smaller church there is an unheard—or unheeded—call. Be steady, be seeking, be simple, and be sound. Small is a starting point, not a destination.

David B. Crabtree is pastor of Calvary Church (Assemblies of God) Greensboro, North Carolina.

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