In this special article excerpted from Outreach magazine, you’ll learn the keys to evangelism success from three pastors who’ve walked the walk.
A few years ago, Kelly Brady was reading 2 Timothy 4:5 when it stopped him in his tracks. The apostle Paul, an evangelist, was telling Timothy, his disciple and a pastor, to “do the work of an evangelist.”
“I remember responding fairly defensively,” says Brady, senior pastor of Glen Ellyn Bible Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. But when Brady took hold of that concept, he realized he needed to make changes, for the sake of his church and his community. “I was not living out our mission. And the sheep follow the shepherd.”
Brady is one of a growing number of senior pastors who are rediscovering a personal passion for witness outside the walls of church. They’re swapping traditional evangelism techniques for relational approaches. They’re challenging their members to set aside fears and become creative with evangelism. And they’re partnering “as one church” with other pastors and organizations for communitywide strategies.
Like Brady, Dan Weyerhaeuser—senior pastor of Lakeland Church in Gurnee, Illinois—knew that a congregation’s attitude toward sharing Christ reflects that of the senior staff. Although he found evangelism a joy, he knew most of his witness came “on the job.”
“Most of my outreach used to be related to my job. I’d do a funeral, for example, and we’d share the gospel there,” he says. “I wasn’t replicating myself.”
Weyerhaeuser and his staff needed “to help everyone live the life of witness, not just ‘evangelists,’” he says. They changed the church’s mission statement to reflect a new church culture, and hired “a wonderful mobilizer when it comes to evangelism.”
Teaching from the pulpit emphasized the need to build relationships with neighbors. They also instituted communitywide social events and reached out to civic officials such as the mayor and police chief, and partnered with other churches.
Chad Benkert, senior pastor of Federated Covenant Church in the town of Dowagiac, Michigan, had spent several years as a youth pastor, where his “street ministry” opened his eyes to post-Christian culture and where nontraditional approaches to sharing the gospel were successful in bringing the “pre-churched” into the fold. When Federated asked him to be their interim pastor, the congregation numbered around 25.
The church is now around 150. Benkert points to two factors for the growth.
“I got out into the community,” he says. And he began to preach on creative evangelism.
“We created a burden for the lost. Without that, nothing motivates people to share. It takes having a deep desire and a life-transforming walk,” says Benkert, who adds that all the church’s ministries have outreach built into their programs and plans.
Benkert says the momentum of interest ramped up as his people saw more and more visitors come to Christ. “They’ve seen lives change in front of them,” he says. “That’s powerful.”
Weyerhaeuser challenged his church to host backyard barbecues on Labor Day weekend and invite their neighbors—whether or not they had met them before. The whole congregation was asked to map out their neighborhood and go door to door with an invitation to an event in their home. Then they were to find out one thing they shared in common with their new acquaintances, and just have fun.
True, inviting strangers into their homes caused more than a few members to be uneasy—including their gregarious senior pastor. “I felt nervous passing out the invitations at first,” says Weyerhaeuser. “Then when most people thanked me, I realized they had a desire to connect, too.”
The event was a hit, and not because of Weyerhaeuser’s magic tricks. (He was a bartender and magician in his unbelieving college days.) What constituted success was building new friendships.
“I used to know the names of about nine of my neighbors,” says Weyerhaeuser. “Now I know 35.”
Lakeland Church has become known for its neighborly evangelism—the kind some experts are labeling as “organic” or “natural.”
Collaborating for Change
Benkert recommends finding a few others with whom to share the vision. “Build a team. It’s not a lone-wolf thing,” he says.
The pastor leads a cohort of fellow senior denominational leaders who share a vision of “culture change” and meet regularly to support and challenge each other. “We share the vision of culture change,” he says.
Brady’s church is partnering with Young Life and looking for other connections.
Weyerhaeuser is part of a group of senior leadership among churches in Gurnee, Illinois, which borders Waukegan, Illinois, 40 miles north of Chicago. The pastors are partners, not competitors. (See ChristTogether.com.)
“We realized that collectively, we are responsible for every household in Gurney. We are only one church,” Weyerhaeuser says. For example, the group has organized multichurch Bible study groups in their communities.
Weyerhaeuser reminds his church that in every book in the Bible, everywhere in Scripture, is the message of outreach. Christian leadership needs to help everyone live the life, not just “evangelists.”
“Jesus had a heart for all the nations and he sent us out,” he says. “We need to live out John 3:16.”
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