So here are seven things I’m learning about evangelism. Some are reflections on my own life and practice and others are on trends:
1.To my surprise, there are a lot of great books on personal evangelism. I’ve been critical of books on evangelism, and many of the popular ones give me good reason to be. I thought there was a huge drought between J. I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (original edition, 1967) and Mark Dever’s The Gospel and Personal Evangelism (2007). Not so! Unbeknownst to me there has been a good steady flow of great books over the last 30 years. Some of my favorites are Harvie Conn’s Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace and Michael Green’s Evangelism in the Early Church.
2.Many pastors and leaders are thinking hard about evangelism and doing exciting things. From university campuses in Chicago, Boston, or Tacoma, to the neighborhoods of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, pastors and church leaders are spreading the gospel and engaging with skeptics. From all accounts, there’s lots of fruit. Though there doesn’t seem to be any creative new method, other than spending time with unbelievers and inviting them to spend time together. Local churches are planting in strategic places in the United Kingdom, New England, and the Northwest parts of the United States where the population is sometimes less than 2 percent evangelical. Organizations such as Redeemer, NETS, Soma Communities, and the Crowded House are equipping them. Here and there, some churches grow large in size, but mostly there is a steady growth of new churches that do not grow as a consequence of membership transfers from other churches, but from welcoming new believers.
3.There are lots of different methods out there, but many steadfastly focus on the same Good News. Evangelistic methods are always controversial. And I don’t mean to undermine the importance of those debates. But while many Christians and churches allow context to shape their method, they proclaim the same gospel message. This is exciting to see. We should be encouraged that many are thinking critically and creatively on how to bring the gospel of justification by faith alone through grace alone to bear upon their community. To cite just one example: David Helm’s preaching at Holy Trinity Church not only edifies believers with the gospel but also engages the unbelief of the downtown Chicago neighborhoods that the church ministers in.
4.Blue collar, industrial areas are neglected in church planting and evangelism efforts. That is not to say that there is a complete neglect; there are certainly some great churches doing encouraging things that get overlooked. But by and large, it’s just not as appealing to go plant a church in places like Pontiac, Michigan. As far as I know, there is no exciting movement to engage mill workers with the gospel. People write more articles about evangelism to people in sky-rise apartments than people in manufactured homes. Young pastors should consider these areas of need, even if they don’t have a thriving arts community, shopping centers, or houses built after 1974.
5.I’d rather practice evangelism than read about it. Maybe that sounds obvious or overly pietistic of me, but reading and listening to others talk about the sweetness of the gospel and the realities of hell for that amount of focused time put a unique urgency in me to get to the labor of sowing and reaping souls. Still, I need to continue to read more and think harder on sharing the gospel.
6.I should think more strategically about being around unbelievers, or I’ll never be around them. This is probably more of a problem for pastors and seminary students. It’s difficult to practice evangelism when our schedules are filled with being around other church leaders, seminary students, and those we are discipling. The shepherd impulse to be around sheep is not a bad one, but if we want our congregants to be active in evangelism, we should lead the way. I’d love to hear how readers who are pastors have strategically made time for personal evangelism.
7.I need to pray that I would have the eyes to see opportunities to share the gospel. I probably spend a good 15 hours a week doing work at coffee shops around town. Rarely do I pause what I’m doing, turn around, and talk to the person next to me. Let me guilt myself even more—I ignore those around me while reading a book or listening to a talk on personal evangelism! There are lots of reasons to pray concerning evangelism—this one, I think, is a good one.