This is a story about how a really discouraging Easter led to one of the healthiest seasons in the life of our church.
We had been working hard for months to plan the service, outreach events, and more. We spent money on door-hangers, invitation cards, and Facebook ads. Mission teams and church members went door-to-door, inviting thousands of people to our Easter services. Finally, when Easter arrived, I stood in our church lobby, eagerly waiting to see who the Lord would bring into our doors that day.
And after all of that effort, we had a whopping grand total of two first-time guests, one of which was a Christian visiting from out-of-town. Incidentally, neither of them heard about our services as a result of any of our expensive, labor-intensive “marketing” efforts.
After all of those weeks of planning and really hard work, we had one non-Christian from our city come to our service that day.
After a long morning of church activities, my kids fell asleep in the car while we made the hour-long trek to my parents’ home for more Easter festivities. And as our car rolled down the interstate, I began to reflect on the day.
That Easter, I was reminded that hosting big, splashy services wasn’t going to be an effective strategy for seeing lives changed in our post-Christian city. I realized that if we were going to see people come to Christ, it was usually going to happen as individuals reached out to their friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
So we launched an effort in our church, encouraging every member to read Mark’s Gospel with a non-Christian friend. I created some discussion guides to use, a simple tool to help our church members have confidence to open God’s Word with people that don’t know him.
In the past six months, our people have responded incredibly. More than half of our members have started one-on-one Bible studies with non-Christians, and God’s Word is going out to more and more people.
Jesus seemed to do ministry this way. He spent much of his time and energy investing in twelve and he frequently departed from a place once a crowd began to form (Matthew 8:18, Mark 1:38). In the same way, Paul’s letters to Timothy don’t contain practical guidelines on attracting a big crowd. Instead, they encourage Timothy to teach a few “faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (1 Timothy 2:2). The norm in the Christian life seems to be the gospel going from one person to another. One at a time.
So pastors, work to equip every member in your church to “do the work of an evangelist.” Just consider these comparisons:
- An attractional service enables a few people to use their gifts in a public setting. But if everyone in your church is engaged in evangelistic Bible reading, then everyone is involved in God’s work and using their God-given gifts.
- An attractional service enables us to reach people one day a week. But if everyone in your church is engaged in evangelistic Bible reading, then we know God’s Word is going out from our church seven days a week.
- An attractional service enables us to invite people to an event. But if everyone in your church is engaged in evangelistic Bible reading, then people are engaged where they already are. People may be uncomfortable to come a church service but are willing to read with a friend.
- An attractional service enables us to reach a few guests every week. But if everyone in your church is engaged in evangelistic Bible reading, then we have the potential to reach many more. Everyone in our churches knows a bunch of people. What are we doing to equip them to share Christ with those people?
Whenever I encourage our church to read the Bible with a non-Christian friend, I always tell them that they will be surprised by three things:
- You will be surprised about how equipped you are to do it. God has given you gifts. If you know the gospel, you can share it with others.
- You will be surprised about how willing non-Christians are. Our church has been asking non-Christians to read Mark’s Gospel with them for six months, and I’ve only heard about one person getting rejected. People are willing to read the Bible and consider the claims of Christ.
- You will be surprised about how much fruit comes. God’s Word never returns void (Isaiah 55:11) and faith comes through hearing the Word (Romans 10:17). When we share God’s Word with non-Christians, the Lord will act. And it will be glorious.
Pastors, you have been called by God to pursue a “ministry of reconciliation,” calling sinners to know the one true God (2 Corinthians 5:18). This ministry comes to us (and all Christians) “by the mercy of God” (2 Corinthians 4:1). So don’t hog God’s mercy; invite your church to get involved.