by David R. Shannon
Painting is one of the most common forms of art. Every painting has to be on some type of canvas or surface. Evangelism searches for the canvas of “souls.” Paul would brush on love and truth to each canvas that would accommodate him. He said he became “a servant to all, that I might win the more” (1 Cor. 9:19b). Simple acts of love and service are brush strokes that often gain enough notice to open the door for us to fill a person’s mind with the truth of God that will set them free. When we see the process of God creating masterpieces, the fire in our bones burns hotter. We look for more canvases to bring to God and watch in awe as he creates more masterpieces. Perhaps this is one of the best antidotes for burnout in ministry. But where do we find the canvases? Christians often say that they would love to study with individuals but just can’t find any who are willing, when it is often as simple as looking around worship services and Bible classes.
Necessary Brush Strokes: Guests
A congregation or individual cannot claim to be evangelistic unless they go all out to reach their guests. Consider this: who, as a rule of thumb, will be the next person baptized at the church building where you attend? It will be someone who has first come as a “guest” to the worship service. With this in mind, guests are of great importance. But, rarely is someone baptized during his or her first visit. What is the point? We cannot move people to the waters of baptism if we cannot move them to a second visit of our worship services. This isn’t God’s law, but rather a simple rule of thumb about our culture and how seekers search for God.
How do we move a guest toward multiple visits? We must demonstrate the love of God to them and to each other (John 13:34-35). That is God’s law. God’s love is love that causes second visits. Teaching the truth is important, but true doctrine is not going to cause someone who doesn’t know truth to come back to a worship service.
We must do all we can do to build environments that welcome guest in our services and classes, as well as friendliness toward guests in the parking lot, foyers, auditorium, and classrooms. Preaching and announcements should not contain so much “in house” jargon that someone from the world would feel completely confused and left out of the communication. It is also of extreme importance to build trustworthy relationships with our guests. Once trust is established, they will likely be willing to study with us. This type of environment includes things like inviting guests to your Bible class, inviting them to sit with you in worship, taking them to lunch, making sure they meet others, and connecting them with other members that have the same career, schooling, or neighborhood.
Most today won’t return for multiple visits unless they are finding two big “Rs”—Relationships and Relevance. Can they find a group of Christians that will walk relationally with them through life beginning at where they are today? Can they find humble people who are willing to suffer long and help them carry their baggage that Satan has dumped on them (Eph. 4:2, 16)? The second is relevance. Will they find that your congregation is a place that will help them live a better life this week because of what they have learned from the Word of God in class and worship? Will they see this church as a place to help them learn more of God and His Word? Do they see this congregation as a place that will help them serve the hurting, rebuild broken lives, and welcome others? Will they say, “I love this church, they are always doing things to help others.” If they don’t see the church as relevant, obviously they won’t waste their time there. The two “Rs” will create the opportunity to teach them the truth about the Kingdom and our Lord (Acts 8:12).
Did you notice the choice of the word “guest” above? We want visitors to be our “guest”! What is the difference in a “visitor” and a “guest”? All of us have had mice or roaches to “visit” our house. How do we react to them? But we also have had family or friends to come as our “guest.” Guest are invited, treated hospitably, and leave knowing they are loved. Visitors often show up unexpectedly and catch us off guard. Our lack of preparation causes them to leave feeling unwelcomed and unloved.
The Lord’s church must be a group of people who invite potential guest all throughout the week. In other words, we aren’t surprised or caught off guard when someone joins us on Sunday because we have already invited, prayed, and come early to greet them and give them our hospitality as if souls are at stake (they are).
One of the greatest soul winners to live in recent times, Jerry Jenkins said, “When every person from the pulpit to the back pew believes they need to invite others to church, it will grow.” He added that their needs to be three or four others who are willing to study with individuals one night a week each week. His summary was that if a congregation does these two things, the walls will have to be pushed out to hold all the new members. The art of evangelism often lies in how we invite, greet guests, and build relationships with them while offering a congregation that will change their life!
Necessary Brush Strokes: Invitations
The church calendar ought to encourage members to be constantly inviting. Have at least four times each year that everyone will be encouraged to give invitations. For example have a Friends Day, VBS, Gospel Meeting, and Family Day. Don’t combine any of these. Space them out three months apart. Also, build community or fellowship in your Bible classes so that each person feels a strong bond in their class. Then have a Bible Class Emphases Day to encourage all to build the number in their classes.
Who are you trying to reach? You answer, “The community around us.” Then answer this, “How much have you done out in the community over the past few months?” How can you reach people who know nothing about you and would probably believe you care nothing for them? It is essential to have a few, if not several, outreach efforts each year to let your community know that your congregation exists and that she loves them.
The Lord’s church ought to be the best neighbor in the neighborhood! Change the oil and wash the cars of single mothers in your community, give away hot chocolate at the Christmas Parade, have a community give-away day (like a yard sale, except everything is free), honor Veterans with a Veteran’s Day Breakfast, honor your community servants at another time with a “Public Servants Appreciation Breakfast,” have a month-long emphases challenging everyone in your congregation to do at least ten simple acts of kindness in the community and give the glory to God, have a “We are the Sermon Day” where the whole congregation is involved in serving the community on a Sunday afternoon, and contact your county’s department of human services to find ways your congregation could help foster children get ready for school. In other words, simply look for ways to serve beyond serving us.
One man said, “Too often, when we say service, what we really mean is serve us.” What does your congregation do for her neighbors? I just came from a campaign in Hattiesburg, Mississippi at the Kensington Woods church of Christ. One of the ladies who visited from the community walked up to one of the leaders in the church and said, “When someone knocked on my door and invited me, I said to my family, ‘This is the same church that gave us a walking taco at the relay for life event.’” That was a major reason why she wanted to visit. She knew they were a loving congregation and wanted to know more about them. She attended almost every night. Pray for her. I think of another lady’s comments at a baptism, “Isn’t it amazing I met you guys when you gave me a cup of hot chocolate at the Christmas parade, and now I’m being baptized.”
People cannot visit a church they do not know exists. They are more likely to be attracted to the church if they have received the love of the Lord from her. They will not stay at a church they do not believe to be relevant. Also they will not stay if no one offers to share in a relationship with them. The beauty of God’s plan is that He teaches us to master all of these! Christ’s disciples love their neighbors; yes all of them (Matt. 5:43-48; 22:39). Christ’s disciples understand the significance of a loving and serving family (Rom. 8:16; John 13:34-35; Jas. 1:27). Christ’s disciples understand there is no civic club, organization, or business more relevant than the church. If anyone in the community is going to see the truth lived and hear it taught it is the responsibility of the local congregation (1 Tim. 3:15). The church is built (“grounded”) on the truth and holds up (“pillar”) the truth for all others to learn it.
Good, loving neighbors who are Christians inviting their neighbors to be their guest is what causes people to show up on Sunday. Remember, they will come for multiple visits if they see the relevance and enjoy the relationships. This gives someone in the congregation the opportunity to ask for a Bible study. Maybe a good way to do this is with a simple question, “Where are you spiritually?” Listen carefully to their answer. Don’t give quick, canned responses. Don’t start correcting false doctrine at that moment.
Jerry Jenkins always said, “The number one mistake in evangelism is answering premature questions.” Let them know you respect the fact they have been on a journey looking for God. Reinforce the fact you are so thankful they have a heart that would cause them to seek Him. Tell them how much you love meeting people that want to walk close to God. Then turn the conversation toward an invitation. “I simply want to help you in your journey and know you could be of help to me too! Let’s sit down and study the Word. I love to study, and I’m sure you would enjoy it since you have a heart that wants to serve God too.” Explain that you can start with the basics such as the Scriptures (source, authority, final authority), the two covenants (difference in O.T. and N.T.), salvation (remember most adults believe they are saved), the church (difference in the church and denominationalism), and Christian living. Lets be like Philip and meet them where they are and help them get to where they need to be (Acts 8:30-38).
There is no art of evangelism if we can’t find the canvas of souls on which to paint the love and truth of God. Let’s join in a partnership with God to create beautiful, eternal artwork. Remember the closing words of reassurance to Jesus’ commission; “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). Let’s paint with God!