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Your Ministry of Evangelism

As a leader of the evangelism ministry of your church, you have various responsibilities. Each task serves to deepen the congregation’s commitment to its mission.

  1. Promote evangelism as a core value of each ministry of the church.
  2. Envision what God’s will for the congregation’s evangelism ministry and set goals that are consistent with that vision.
  3. Develop a plan for an overall evangelism strategy and system that reaches out to people, welcomes them into the congregation, relates them to God, and equips and empowers them for ministry.
  4. Serve as team leader for those assigned to work with you: guiding the work of the team, helping them to work from a biblical and theological foundation, creating work space in which Christian faith formation happens, planning agendas, presiding at meetings, and representing the ministry of evangelism in meetings of the church council and charge conference.
  5. Work with the pastor, team, and other church leaders in assessing your congregation’s goals and measures pertaining to evangelism (paying particular attention to professions of faith) and attendance trends, as well as the way in which new people are received into the congregation and empowered for ministry.
  6. Implement and evaluate your plan.

Build the Evangelism Ministry Team

Evangelism is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit. Start building your team with prayer. The nominations and leadership development committee may help to identify team members, though you may need to recruit or add members to complete your team. Your pastor can assist with suggestions. At your first meeting, determine a time of day when team members will be in prayer for one another and for the development of a common vision for the congregation’s evangelistic ministry.

Build a team of people committed to the ministry of evangelism. Depending on the size of the congregation and the group structure that may already be in place, the team may vary in number. Aim for a group of no fewer than five and no more than a dozen. Your team should represent a cross section of the congregation. If your church does not currently have an evangelism team, you might want to include as members the lay leader, lay servants (speakers) in the congregation, at least one youth and one young adult.

Agree on a schedule and a reading list, including this Guideline. Work through the suggested Action Steps that follow with your pastor, the team, and—as much as possible—with other key church leaders and members of the congregation.

As team leader, it is important to familiarize yourself with biblical models of evangelism and faith sharing. It would be helpful to spend a few minutes at the beginning of each team meeting using one of these texts in centering and devotional time. Talk with your pastor about periodically beginning church council meetings or other administrative team meetings with one of these verses as well. Some of these texts include:

  • Matthew 9:35–10:23 (call of the disciples)
  • Luke 4:16-21 (Jesus’ sermon in the synagogue)
  • Luke 8:26-39 (Jesus’ expulsion of unclean spirits)
  • Luke 10:1-20 (mission of the seventy)
  • Luke 10:25-37 (parable of the Good Samaritan)
  • Luke 15 (parables of the lost sheep, coin, and son)
  • John 1:35-51 (call of Jesus’ first disciples)
  • John 20:19-31 (post-resurrection appearance of Jesus)

As your team reads each passage, consider the following questions:

  • How is evangelism practiced in this passage or story?
  • What does the passage teach about evangelism?
  • In what ways does our congregation practice evangelism as highlighted in this passage?
  • In what ways could we improve our ministry of evangelism to align with this biblical witness?
  • What personal stories of evangelism does this passage inspire or bring to mind?

Holistic Evangelism

The practices and understanding of evangelism vary widely across the denomination. Some churches understand evangelism as sharing a set of beliefs and accepting tenets of the faith rationally—a “head” style of ministry. Some congregations view evangelism as growing in one’s personal relationship with Jesus—a “heart” style. Still other congregations believe evangelism is loving our neighbors in tangible ways—a “hands” style. Rarely do congregations employ and integrate all three. The outcome is a less-effective ministry of evangelism.

Action Step

What are the areas of strength and focus in your congregation? Does your congregation tend to focus more on the head, heart, or hands of faith? Which area could use some more attention?

While individuals may excel in one style over another, holistic evangelism systems involve the entire congregation and integrate all three aspects—head, heart, and hands—not only in what we do at church, but in our everyday lives. Most of us are quite proficient in the art of compartmentalization, and our religious life is one of the compartments. We talk about God at church. We serve God at church. We might read our Bibles or pray at home, but we may not think about living out our faith in all of the other arenas where we invest time and energy. Yes, church is where we learn and are reminded of who we are and how we fit into God’s larger story; where we practice articulating our individual faith stories, and where others help us to discern our gifts and calling in God’s kingdom. But that cannot be where our practice of faith stops.

Our denominational mission statement is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We invite people into a lifetime of growing in love of God and neighbor, so that they may join in God’s world-transforming work. This work of transformation happens only when people know who they are, who God is, and how to live in loving relationships.

The Power of Story

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we believe that there is a different and greater story that guides our life than the one offered to us by the world. God is actively working in the lives of people all around us, whether they realize it or not. Our task is to help them see God’s hand and understand that their lives have great purpose and meaning as their stories intersect with God’s story.

In today’s culture, we can’t just assume that people will know or hear God’s story by some other means. The church needs to reclaim its tradition of educating its people to be bearers of that story in their everyday lives. The graphic below illustrates the cycle of how one enters and grows in God’s story in order to live as Christ’s hands and feet in the world. This cycle never ends, as the more we grow in our faith and knowledge of God, the more we understand our need for and dependence on God.

Cycle: Living the story, awareness of a different story, learning the story, finding once's place in and sharing the story, living the story...etc

Awareness of a Different Story

Everyday we are bombarded by advertisements and messages telling us what gives a person value and worth. The American Dream is about achieving and having more than previous generations, and consumerism tells us that we will be happy if we just have a little more. Yet God tells a different story, and our level of education, job title, or social status does not determine our value to God. God loves us and begins working in our lives, offering to be in relationship with us, even before we realize it. We call this prevenient grace. It is God who awakens us to this different story, but as the Church and Christians, we have the privilege of helping others to see God’s hand and share God’s alternative story.

Learning the Story

Fifty years ago, churches could rely on the American culture to assist in faith formation and basic Christian teaching and principles. That assumption can no longer be made, and churches need to be intentional about teaching God’s story to people of all ages. Christian education and formation is not only for children and completed at the age of Confirmation. We are called to grow in love of God and neighbor throughout our lives.

Where do we learn and teach the story? Worship is where theology is taught through the singing of hymns, recitation of ancient creeds and prayers, the reading and proclamation of the word, and celebration of the sacraments. The story is also learned in participation in classes and small groups and through prayer and personal study of scripture.

Finding One’s Place in and Sharing the Story

While it is important to grow in head knowledge of God and the tenets of the faith, we grow in our discipleship by practicing our faith in the context of community. We cannot expect our congregations to articulate, integrate and practice their faith in their everyday lives if we have not created space for them to practice within the walls of the church. It is in the body of Christ where we discover our gifts for ministry and help one another see how God has and continues to work in our lives. Here are some ideas for helping people name and claim their individual and communal place in God’s story in the context of worship:

  • If you currently have a time for joys and concerns, consider using that time to ask a different question. “Where did you see God this week?”
  • Instead of giving the what, where and when details as an announcement, share a story of witness or impact regarding an upcoming ministry or event
  • Introduce the offering by telling a story of how the money enables ministry and transformed lives
  • Plan a time for people to share their witness as a response to the message Before the service, be sure you have a couple of people ready and prepared to share.
  • Record videos of people telling their God-moment stories in advance of worship and show as either an introduction or response to the Word proclaimed

Living the Story

For decades, the entry point into the church for most people was worship. Then people would join a Sunday school class or other group, and eventually, they would participate in serving and leading. Belief preceded belonging and behaving like a disciple of Jesus. People would learn the story before living the story.

This paradigm has now shifted, however. Many people without a church home and many younger people enter the church through mission or fellowship opportunities. Young adults today are volunteering at record rates, and they care about creation and making the world a better place. They just have not been taught or shown that mercy and justice are also priorities of the kingdom of God. People are living the story before they are even aware that they have entered God’s story and that the Holy Spirit is working in their lives. This is a significant shift, and congregations need to make adjustments and learn how to raise awareness of God’s story for these individuals in these settings

As an evangelism team, your task is to ensure that each person’s story is heard, claimed, and shared and to find where those stories intersect with God’s story.

Our Individual Stories

Each of us has our own story of how God has worked and moved in our lives. People outside of Christianity want to know what difference Christ has made in our lives. The validity of our witness depends on the reality of our personal interaction with Jesus Christ and our personal transformation by the Holy Spirit. Many people in our congregations have never been asked to share their stories or even process what Jesus has done and meant for them individually. Does your congregation encourage people to discover and practice sharing their Christian journey with others?

Action Step

There are at least three groups of Christians in the church: (1) Those who can trace the path of their Christian conversion (some can even name the exact moment of conversion), (2) those who cannot remember a time when they were not Christian, and (3) those who are still exploring and questioning their experience of God.

To help these groups articulate their faith journeys, host an event at which you invite the pastor, leaders, and congregation to answer the following questions. It’s not necessary to divide the groups physically; have people choose the group questions they wish to answer.

Group 1—Those Able to Trace Their Path of Conversion

  1. What was your life like before meeting Jesus Christ?
  2. How did you meet and accept Jesus Christ as Savior?
  3. How would you describe your life since accepting Jesus Christ?

Group 2—Those Who Cannot Remember Not Being Christian

  1. What was it like to grow up in a Christian environment?
  2. When did you accept the Christian faith as your own? (Perhaps you were baptized as an infant or went through confirmation, but claimed Christianity as your personal faith later.)
  3. How would you describe your life since affirming the Christian faith?

Group 3—Those Whose Stories Are Still Evolving

  1. What drew (draws) you to participation in a Christian faith community?
  2. What encourages you to continue your journey of faith in this Christian community?
  3. What do you wish to learn about Christ and the life of faith?

Encourage members of each group to use the questions to create a faith journey timeline, to map out the peaks and valleys of their journeys, the places where they felt the presence of God, and the places where they struggled.

When the questions have been answered and the timelines completed, invite people to share their stories with the larger group. Encourage sharing from all three categories, and honor every story as it is told.

Your Congregation’s Story

Like individuals, congregations have a story that connects to God’s story and bears witness to Jesus Christ. It is important for the congregation to be able to articulate the various ways it is bearing witness to the kingdom of God.

Action Step

Invite the congregation to rehearse its history in ministry since its inception (coordinate this activity with the church historian). If your church has a long history, consider beginning your timeline at the earliest memory of one of your leaders. Gather a roll of butcher paper or tape newsprint together end-to-end to create a work surface. Draw a timeline on the paper beginning with the birth of the church leading to the present. Ask the pastor, leaders, and members of the congregation to place on the timeline key ministries, activities, and events through which the church has been sharing its Christian witness with the community. Use different color sticky notes or markers to chart when people came to the church, when their children were baptized and confirmed, and formational events in their journey as part of the congregation. After completing the timeline, discuss the story the timeline tells about your church and the noticeable trends that emerge. Are most of the events in recent history or did a majority of the highlights occur some time ago? Are there common trends of positive responses from which to build?

Your Community’s Story

In 2008, General Conference added the phrase “for the transformation of the world” to our denominational mission statement—“to make disciples of Jesus Christ”—for a reason. The purpose of making disciples is for the kingdom of earth to look more like the kingdom of heaven. Yet for decades, congregations have waited for their neighbors to come to them. We have viewed increased church attendance as the ends and the goal, instead a means to the end. Along with opening the doors in to our churches, the doors need to be opened out to the world beyond the walls of the building. The church is not the building. We—the body of Christ—are the church. God is already out there working, and God invites us out into our neighborhoods to join in that work.

Here are some questions to guide that work:

  • What, through Christ, does your local congregation have to offer the people in the surrounding community?
  • What is your relationship with the community (if any)?
  • What assumptions do you hold about your neighbors and their needs? Have you invested the time to hear their stories?
  • How does (or might) your congregation connect with people who have transitioned into the neighborhood?
  • What are the major concerns of the people in the surrounding community? If you don’t know, how will you find out?

Action Steps

1. Obtain demographic data about your community. Your conference office may have contracted services with a demographic information company such as MissionInsite. If so, you can obtain a wide array of demographic data about your immediate community through such a service. If your conference office doesn’t have such data, you may contact Discipleship Ministries directly, which can supply this information (see the “Resources” section for details.) From these findings, you will be able to determine the numbers, age groupings, education levels, interest in church, hopes and dreams, and more, of the people in your community. How do the strengths of your church match with the people and needs in your community?

2. Identify the members considered inactive or marginal. Why are they inactive? Who has the responsibility to reach out to and perhaps reconcile with them on behalf of the church? The percentage of marginal members should be low if a viable discipleship system is in place and active in your local church. Coordinate this activity with the committee on nominations and leader development.