Evangelistic Momentum 4: Practical Steps
Building on the foundations laid with recent book reviews, Ray Evans – with help from his colleague Jon Putt – considers how leaders can start to move their churches into intentional evangelistic growth.
Most leaders need a great deal of help to actually develop evangelistic momentum in their churches.
Given what we’ve seen in previous blogs about the times we are living in, we need leaders who know how to build churches which are more outward focused and evangelistically effective.
Yes, the results are with God (a point J. I. Packer made many years ago in his book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, echoing any common sense reading of the New Testament1). But we are also to ‘win’ as many converts as we can (1 Cor 9:19).
Making a Change
Chip and Dan Heath wrote an unusual book entitled, Switch.2 It is all about change. They employed the metaphor of an elephant, a rider, and a path. Sounds weird I know, but stay with me.
Too much challenge and you ‘spook the elephant’. It goes charging off in any direction to reach safety. Many pastors, in trying to put some fuel on to the evangelism fire, only add guilt to their hearers. Telling people to become ever more aware of how lost their loved ones are doesn't spur them into more courageous action, but to more abject passivity. They feel it's hopeless. The elephant is spooked.
What the authors advise, is to direct the rider more carefully and then to script the key moves to effectively make their way ‘along the path’. Let's look at them one at a time.
1. Direct the Rider...
Simply put, this means helping the person who is (nominally) in control to steer better.
They argue we need to recognise that:
a. What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. Don’t say, "Eat healthier," say, "Eat more dark leafy greens."
b. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. Change is hard, so acknowledge it.
c. What looks like a people problem is often a situational problem. Make sure to think about their environment and support system.
So let’s take that to our concern. In the New Testament, if you want to develop evangelistic momentum, start with raising voices to the Lord (see Matthew 9:38; Acts 4:23-31). In Colossians 4:2-6, Paul is directing a church on how to reach outsiders (v5a). He starts with, "Devote yourselves to prayer." He goes on to ask for prayers for him as a preacher (v2), then prayers for his preaching (v3). But he starts with that powerfully emotive word, Devote. He is pointing to a priority and a passion along the lines of Romans 9:1-3 and 10:1.
To build evangelistic momentum, the church has to start crying out to God for people who are not yet crying out to him for themselves. Intercessory prayer has to become more normal, and more central.
A colleague challenged a group of leaders recently, "Have an open time of prayer without any direction about content; then see what or who gets prayed for." He accurately observed that prayers for lost people are not often up there in our own spontaneous prayers.
All Christians can and do pray. It is a mark of spiritual life. Intercessory prayer needs to be there alongside worshipful prayer as key to a healthy prayer life, "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come." Leaders must model this and make it a key part of personal and corporate ministry.
Read again the priority order of Acts 6:5, "We will give ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word." So if you want to develop evangelistic momentum, start with personal and corporate prayer. Leaders can begin to carefully direct that, without overwhelming members with guilt – don’t spook the elephant as you encourage this! It will set the church on a course for making the most of the opportunities as they subsequently arise (Col 4:5b).
...in Evangelistic Living
Another way of helping ‘direct the rider’ and to build momentum is to encourage the basic building blocks of an evangelistic Christian life. A very useful, if somewhat dated work is, Becoming a Contagious Christian.3 We found this to be a key resource. As well as organising things ‘from the top down’, this work encourages a ‘bottom up’, personal, ground-swell of evangelistic impact. If enough individuals ‘get’ the three key practices they describe, "The tide comes in and all the boats float."
Basing the emphases around the challenge of the Lord Jesus to be salt and light (Matt 5:13-16), the authors summarise three Christian practices in the phrases High Potency, Close Proximity, and Clear Communication.
i. High Potency is the idea that if Christians are to be effective, as salt is to be salty, they need to keep their hearts and lives close to God.
ii. Close Proximity, building on the idea that salt has to be out of the saltshaker and mixed in with what it is trying to influence, stresses that Christians must prioritise time and investment in relationships with those who are not yet saved.4
iii. Clear Communication stresses that gospel light has to shine into a dark world (Phil 2:15). That is, Christianity is a message that needs passing on, not just a lifestyle that one is attracted to. And the message is wonderful good news, not just helpful advice. It comes with a demand to respond. It may be ignored or rejected; two things which we like to avoid. Wise leadership will help people see that the Lord is with them even if they get rejected. This is not failure on their part, but part of the cost of following Christ (John 15:18-21). Acknowledging the tough things is important (see ‘c’ above).
When these three emphases become part of the DNA of Christian discipleship in a church, momentum can build up. Leaders who know this this will seek to encourage these things in the lives of the believers.
So, these are some of the ways that you can more effectively ‘direct the rider’.
2. Script the moves
Leaders need to think carefully about this. Passion about evangelism can fuel frenetic activity, but failure can be experienced if the key moves aren't scripted.
Let me give you an example. At Christmas we encourage believers to invite their friends. This can be heard as, "Put a few leaflets through doors." Leaflets through letterboxes, even with the best of intentions, rarely succeed in their goal of getting people to come.
All the passion that goes in to encouraging invites and then running a great service can go AWOL because there is no scripted move. So, instead, describe it along these lines: "Pass on an invite, and I am not worried how it is done so long as it is eye-to-eye contact, with a warm smile, and a loving personal encouragement to come with me to…". To have credibility you will need to model this yourself as a leader. That kind of detailed scripted move can easily treble your attendance at a carol service.
Another example of scripting a key move, would be the training a leader could give to believers along the lines of, "Here’s how to tell your story in two minutes, jargon free."5
‘Scripted moves’ mean, in essence, ‘Be specific about actual details that help something work’ (see ‘a’ above).
3. Shape the Path
It is important to think about ‘the journey’ you want people to take. What are the next moves for your people, and the people they want to reach? Are the pathways from invite, to interest, to seeking, to finding, to belonging both clear and helpful? Do you give enough guidance to help people navigate journeys? As momentum builds you will need to channel it into pathways, using good gospel strategy and tactics. Elsewhere I describe an apostolic three-pronged approach derived from Acts 16 which can help any church develop better pathways for different people.6 I will develop this further in the next article.
As we look back on the emphases of the recent articles, realism about the truly desperate times in which we live and mobilising a church-wide evangelistic momentum are two key aspects of leaders helping churches to bring the gospel to Britain; a nation which is largely without God and without hope.
1. James I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (IVP, 1961).
2. Chip and Dan Heath, Switch: How to change things when change is hard (Random House Business, 2011). Part of the metaphor is derived from Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis (Arrow, 2007).
3. Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg, Becoming a Contagious Christian: How to Invest Your Life in Reaching Other People (Zondervan, 1994).
4. Rebecca Manley-Pippert, Out of the Saltshaker and Into the World: Evangelism as a Way of Life (IVP, 1999).
5. See Ray Evans, Ready, Steady, Grow (IVP, 2014, pp198, 199).
6. Ibid., esp. see pp.144-167.