Evangelism is the most important duty the Lord Jesus Christ gave the church before he ascended into Heaven. But today in America, churches and individual Christians are failing to present the Gospel to a lost and dying world. In this section, I will examine some of the reasons for this decline and provide solutions and motivations for witnessing.
Too many Christians today think witnessing is an option. Actually, witnessing is an order. It's the last thing the Lord Jesus told us to do (Acts 1:8), and the first thing He expects us to do. Too many Christians fail to do their duty, because they are emotion-oriented not command-oriented. (See "I don't feel led.")
Another barrier to all-Christian evangelism is the clergy-laity division. Most Christians believe "We pay the pastor to do that." However, the clergy-laity division is not Biblical. The Church is the Body of Christ in which every believer had at least one spiritual gift (I Cor. 12:4-7). Leaders are not supposed to do all the work of the ministry but to train Christians how to serve (Eph. 4:11-16). Ignorance of the Bible's commands as well as apathy among the saints and power-grabbing by pastors has hog-tied the Church in its witness to the unsaved and ministry to the saved. Terms like "body life" and "priesthood of the believers" must become more than talk if the church is to fulfill the mission the Lord Jesus gave us.
A variation on this excuse is giftedness. Since evangelism is a spiritual gift (Eph. 4:11), some argue that only those with that particular gift should witness. Those not gifted at best waste time witnessing or at worst do harm. But the Bible does not teach this. All believers witnessed in the early church (Acts 8:4). Paul reminded Timothy to "do the work of an evangelist" (2 Tim. 4:5). While these excuses sound spiritual, they are really emotional. People do not like change and try to avoid it if they can. But if these same folks had to make changes to keep their jobs, they would probably change instead of quitting or getting fired. Should we not be willing to make the changes the Lord requires of us to serve Him better?
Another excuse is a misuse of prophetic interpretation. Many conservative Christians are pretribulationists. Some believe we are in the Laodicean Age (How they determine that, I'm not sure), and, hence, we are supposed to fail! Their refusal to obey God is taken as a sign of the times, preordained, and, hence, not their fault. The very failure of the church and individual Christians to witness is somehow excused because we are "in the last days." But not to worry -- we'll all be raptured out before the final judgment befalls all the people we failed to witness to! Instead of being ashamed of their apathy, many Christians go on their merry way, unperturbed by their dereliction. But is this the attitude the Bible teaches? The Second Coming of Christ is supposed to be our "blessed hope" (Titus 2:13) not our pious cop-out. Instead of giving up, Christians are exhorted to work harder than ever as they see the end coming (Heb. 10:23-25; 1 Pet. 4:7-11). I believe much of the Laodicean Age talk has become a self-fulfilling prophecy of defeat. Obedience to the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) is the only solution.
But even if churches and individual Christians decide to begin evangelizing for the Lord Jesus, they can still encounter difficulties that can divert and discourage them. Below we will look at some of the things that can ruin the witnessing efforts of Christians. Also, we will look at ways to overcome these distractions.
One diversion can be disagreements over which evangelism program to use. I've seen churches split into quarreling factions about how to witness. As a result, evangelism gets ignored and personalities and egos clash over methods. Rather the church should use several programs. For example, the people who want Evangelism Explosion should be allow to use it while those who want Master Plan of Evangelism should use it. "One size fits all" does not work for either witnesses or prospects. People who are effective with one plan may not be effective with a different plan. Also, a plan that does not reach one prospect may reach another. Instead of competing, different witnessing groups should be directed to complement each other's efforts. The town can be divided up into areas by precincts or school districts. I suggest that the church might buy a city map and yellow in places canvassed street by street, then people can see how much progress they are making. The church should have an elder to direct and coordinate the outreach. (Some churches have had the confusion of two teams working the same area at the same time.)
I suggest the church begin its outreach in its own neighborhood, branching out from their building into the rest of the area. Beginners at witnessing will feel more comfortable starting from a known base. Besides, we should not neglect those who live right around our churches. Also, leaders should witness in their own neighborhoods to set an example.
Sometimes a church gets convicted and tries to go overboard pressuring people to do too much too fast. As a result, people drop out or shy away from evangelistic training. A better way is to start people out with something easy, like tract or calling card distribution. People who have little or no experience witnessing can partner with someone more experienced, as Jesus sent out his disciples two by two (Mark 6:7). Some people sneer at starting small but that is better than not starting at all. Starting small and growing is more important than just talking big about witnessing and doing nothing.
One thing that diverts evangelism is clinging to old forms. Some Christians read about great revivals of the past and believe that a slavish imitation of past forms will automatically produce past results. I've seen churches put up revival tents on their property in hopes of getting the same results as D. L. Moody or Billy Sunday. The problem is that people ignore the historical context of these revivals. In the past, revivals were successful because people had very little entertainment and a tent meeting was also a social event. Today, people have many more entertainment options than sitting in an unairconditioned tent in August. I'm glad when someone gets saved at these revivals. I've even taken part in them. Some people say, "It's worth it if even one person gets saved. Why, he might become the next Charles Finney!" Maybe. But I believe we should use methods that are more effective in our modern society. Many Christians use the church building as a hard top revival tent. When they have a revival service, usually only Christians attend. (Actually, a revival should be aimed at Christians to teach them how to better follow Jesus, while evangelism is aimed at the unsaved.) As a result, salvation sermons are preached night after night to the saved. Also, many Christians put up a building or a tent and invite people to COME. The unsaved figure if they avoid the church during the time of the revival, they can avoid the Gospel. But the Lord Jesus commanded us to GO to the unsaved.
Not only should churches evangelize, they should advertise that they evangelize. This will attract people interested in witnessing, especially people who may have prior experience with one of your programs. Advertisements could read, "We take Jesus Christ seriously" or "We take the Great Commission seriously" with a list of your programs.
In this section, I'll be presenting and evaluation different evangelistic methods and programs. I've noticed one common weakness -- none of these programs work unless they are put into practice. A package of forms and information on a shelf never reached anyone.