The Centrifugal Church
Is your church a centrifuge for gospel ministry? Are believers compelled out from the safe harbor of Christian fellowship to engage our unbelieving world?
Many American churches today are an evangelistic cul-de-sac, lots of believers gathering in, but very little gospel going back out in gospel propagation. Instead of evangelistic DNA woven through every aspect of ministry, it becomes an appendage expressed primarily in programs and specialty events.
Christians often struggle to evangelize unbelievers for the same reason criminals struggle to find policemen… most are not looking for one. Instead of pursuing others with the gospel, we are cocooned with those who already know it. Genuinely drawing near to Christ will rightly submerse us in believer’s fellowship, but it will simultaneously thrust us toward others in gospel ministry. Heavily evangelistic churches thrive because individual believers implement the faithful exposition of Scripture and are propelled out to reach sinners for Christ.
The Great Commission is an individual commission. It is not fulfilled in silence, but in conversations that confront ungodliness and unrighteousness with the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Day by day, we look for points of intersection, where the “salt and light” will collide with decay and darkness. Transforming hearts forge evangelistic instincts. As that happens, exhorting believers to evangelize should become as necessary as daring a newborn to cry; it should take effort to silence.
Christians must cultivate evangelistic instincts. That humble tenacity to press conversations toward the gospel. How can a church cultivate strong gospel instincts? What steps can be taken to strengthen day to day evangelistic living?
Here are a few encouragements for both church leaders and members. Though not exhaustive, they will hopefully help raise the voice for Christ exalting, gospel proclaiming evangelism in the local church.
1. Spring load the gospel.
This isn’t complicated, if you’re saved, you know enough of the gospel to present it to someone else. However, it takes work to be clear and understandable. Take responsibility to help every believer in your congregation memorize the foundational gospel components and key verses. With those stamped in mind, work daily to recite it and even role play with other believers. You may not always hold your Bible in hand when an evangelistic opportunity presents itself, so spring load the gospel message in mind. Be alert and stay ready!
2. Recruit a prayer team.
The hard work of evangelism begins on our knees, petitioning God to go before us in the hearts of those we engage with the gospel. No amount of human effort can save someone. So, in humility and dependency, we approach the throne of God with our prayers of intercession. This follows the pattern of Paul, who prays earnestly for his mission field when he says, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).
Not only does this step focus our prayers as a church, it creates accountability and encouragement to keep one another in perpetual motion toward specific unbelievers. When we pray for specific unbelievers, as individuals and as groups, we grow increasingly aware of the opportunities Christ is giving and able to celebrate His answers when we proclaim His name.
3. Live excellent.
Live with integrity. Peter wrote “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). Live so that when your name crosses the mind of unbeliever’s they associate you with Jesus. The most clear and accurate gospel presentation is muted if unbelievers identify you by patterns of sin (anger, lust, gossip, laziness) instead of patterns of righteousness (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self- control). In humility, repent when you sin, and use even your failures to magnify God’s mercy. Christlike humility and holiness should distinguish you from the world. Keep in mind that your example may be the first expose many receive to the transforming power of the gospel.
4. Engage your mission field
The place to begin a life of evangelism is right where you are. As you read this today, who are the unbelievers you’re engaging with the gospel? God in His sovereign grace, chose to place you along side unbelievers – in your neighborhood, in your family and at work – are not there by accident. It’s not enough to talk about them, we must talk with them, using the natural points of connection in our lives to advance the gospel conversation. Don’t throw away the opportunity to proclaim His saving message. This is your first mission field.
What step will you take to engage them with the gospel, even if it means relational unease? What will be your first step in your strategy to fully present Christ’s message of repentance and faith? Every unbeliever in our life should both know our identity as a Christian and know our desire to see them come to believe in Christ as Savior and Lord.
5. Create new mission fields
Along the way, create new mission fields. Remember the example of Christ, who was always interacting unbelievers (Luke 7:34; John 4:7-30), and then take the first step in the right direction. Find new ways to interact with unbelievers. Volunteer at a local school, help in a community project, meet your neighbors, go out of your way to introduce yourself to others, etc. These ideas and more help to create new networks that open up new mission fields for gospel ministry.
Here’s a place to start, take the “2-minute challenge” Give yourself no more than 2 minutes to identify yourself with Christ when meeting someone new! As an ambassador of Christ, be quick to let others know who you represent (2 Corinthians 5:20). Say something that lets another know you belong to, have been forgiven by, are loved by, are trusting in God, etc. That way, as your conversations develop, you’ve already identified with Christ right away. No procrastinating!
6. Relentlessly love other believers.
The hard work of evangelism is carried out most vividly when believers speak and act with Christ-exalting love for one another. Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
Christian love is vital to evangelism because it makes the love of Christ visible for the world to see. The world is watching and must see the transforming power of the gospel on display in our lives. This was at the heart of Paul’s challenge to Philemon in extending forgiveness to Onesimus (Philemon 1:8-10).
The unbelieving world must see the Holy spirit enabling Christians to serve one another, encourage one another, endure hardship, refuse gossip, forgive, speak the truth in love and embrace suffering. How are the “one another’s” made visible in your relationships with other believers? Does your love for other believers lend credibility to your gospel presentation?
7. Lead by example.
No matter your age, level of responsibility or visibility within the church, you can lead by example. the heart of Paul’s encouragement to timothy is to lead by example despite his youth (1 Timothy 4:12). Some of the greatest evangelists are those whose names we won’t remember, but were relentlessly faithful to tell others about Jesus.
Those who lead by example in evangelism encourage others to fight the temptation to be lazy and complacent. Tell people about opportunities God has given you to share the gospel and encourage others to share their stories as well. Don’t wait for someone else to lead by example, take initiative and set the pace as the Spirit works through you.
8. Celebrate salvation.
Never lose sight of the miracle that happens in new birth. if heaven explodes in celebration in response to the new birth, so should we. one way to do this is to share testimonies often. We can never hear enough of the work Christ has done in drawing someone to salvation. incorporate the recounting of salvation wherever possible. doing so reminds us of the many ways the gospel penetrates hearts and how God chooses to use saved sinners in that process.
9. Maximize evangelistic gatherings.
Certain church gatherings lend themselves to evangelistic purposes with greater clarity than others. For example, hold a Good Friday service in a local park or community center. In the weeks leading up to the evening, saturate the surrounding community with invitations, then maximize the service by presenting a clear gospel proclamation. The same can be done with baptism. Hold a baptism service in a public setting and invite unbelieving family, friends and those we find along the way to listen to the testimonies of new believers.
The apostle Paul told the Corinthians that he delivered to them “as of first importance what [he] also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3). For you to do faithful evangelism, the gospel must be of first importance to you. Only then will you overcome the challenges that have prevented you from boldly sharing the gospel with unbelievers.
These simple steps will develop a stronger evangelistic culture that in your local church. What would you add?
A portion of this article has been adapted from Stitzinger, Jim. “A Witnessing Community.” in A Guide to Evangelism, edited by Dan Dewitt, 34-41. Louisville: SBTS Press, 2013.