What constitutes a healthy evangelism program? If a congregation has a decent percentage of their budget directed at outreach efforts, does that mean it is healthy? If a congregation does mass mailings inviting the community to church, is that enough to be healthy? What is a healthy evangelism program?
I would propose that a healthy evangelism program is one that: a) engages in outreach and evangelism on a corporate level; and b) equips members for outreach and evangelism on a personal level.
The C18 program is designed to bring all this together—outreach and evangelism, corporate and personal efforts.
What is corporate outreach? How is it different from personal evangelism?
Let us establish some definitions.
Corporate means “relating to a large group.” It comes from the Latin word corpus which means “body.”
Personal means “coming from an individual.”
Outreach literally means “to reach beyond.” In outreach, you are trying to reach beyond an established boundary, to connect to others, and to build a bridge that allows for communication.
Evangelism is “the sharing of the gospel.” It comes from a Greek word that means “good news.”
When evangelism and outreach take place both corporately and personally, a congregation has a healthy ministry. Let us give some examples of each.
Again, outreach is the attempt to build a bridge of communication with the community so that in the future the gospel might be shared. Some examples of corporate outreach:
- Mailing 10,000 outreach postcards inviting people to join you this Christmas Eve.
- Canvassing 2,000 homes, extending the same invitation.
- Utilizing targeted Facebook ads to let your community know about congregation events this holiday season.
Extending the invitation to Christmas Eve is not evangelism. You have not proclaimed the gospel yet. It is outreach.
When members of the community come to Christmas Eve worship, then they will hear the Good News of Emmanuel, God made flesh, come to rescue us from our sin. The sermon, liturgy, and hymns are all serving an evangelism effort.
If your congregation has planned well, a few days after Christmas Eve, someone from your church will stop by the home of those worship guests to share the gospel again. Typically, this is either the pastor or a member who has been trained to provide this type of witness. This is still corporate evangelism, because the pastor or trained evangelist are acting on behalf of the corpus or the body—the congregation.
You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. – 1 Peter 2:9
When you were baptized, God not only washed away your sins and made you his child, but he anointed you as a priest, “that you may declare [his] praises.” Every believer will now, by the power of the Spirit dwelling inside him, do the types of things we would expect a priest to do. This means that outreach and evangelism will not just occur corporately, but personally too.
In personal outreach, the believer is simply trying to create opportunities for someone they know to hear the gospel—an unchurched friend or relative or neighbor.
When you invite your next door neighbor to join you at your congregation on Christmas Eve, you have not engaged in evangelism, for you have not proclaimed the gospel. You have engaged in personal outreach, attempting to create an opportunity for that friend to hear the gospel. It is a fantastic way to minister to your friend!
Studies show that a personal invitation extended from a friend is about three hundred times more likely to move someone to come to church than a postcard invitation received in the mail. Why is that? It can be intimidating to go to a strange church. You do not know anyone. You do not know the customs. Going to church with someone you know is substantially less scary.
Personal outreach is an easy way to ease into your role as priest. The believer does not have to proclaim law and gospel himself (yet!). He is simply inviting someone he knows to come to church with him.
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. – 1 Peter 3:15
However, as a believer engages in personal outreach, he is going to have opportunities to actually engage in personal evangelism.
A friend shares that his marriage is unraveling. You have the opportunity to explain how Christ’s love has been the glue that has held your marriage together when it hit hard patches. That is evangelism! You are implying, “There is hope—Christ!” You can then invite this friend to come to church and meet your pastor, who could offer counseling.
A neighbor shares that he has cancer. You have the opportunity to console, to love, to listen. You also have the chance to explain the only way one can peacefully face mortality—with the confidence of the resurrection. You are engaging in personal evangelism.
Corporate efforts do not eliminate the need for personal efforts. Personal efforts cannot do the same things as corporate efforts.
A challenge congregations face is when people see outreach and evangelism as falling only in the corporate realm or only in the personal realm.
Personal Emphasized Over Corporate
For example, take the pastor who, when asked to summarize the congregational evangelism strategy, answers, “We preach the gospel each week. Our members then share their faith in their personal lives.” That fails to acknowledge that personal efforts cannot accomplish the exact same things as corporate efforts.
Consider canvassing or mass mailings, both of which have been utilized to good effect in WELS congregations. Which member, on his own, could canvass 2,000 homes? Which member could do a mass mailing to 10,000 people in the community? The workload be too great for one individual or family. Moreover, that member does not have the God-given responsibility to publicly represent your congregation in an outreach effort. He would be overstepping to produce the outreach postcard for your congregation all on his own.
Corporate Emphasized Over Personal
Now consider the member who uses the fact that his congregation does corporate evangelism to salve his conscience about his lack of effort to share his faith personally. That member does not know if his next door neighbor has a church home. That member does not ever try and witness to a fallen-away relative. He thinks to himself, “I spent an hour putting labels on our Christmas mailing. I have done my part for Christ’s mission.”
That member is using his congregation’s corporate outreach effort to excuse his lack of personal effort. He fails to acknowledge that Christ has peppered his life with opportunities to minister to others personally, including through evangelism.
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. – Ephesians 2:10
Synergy Between Corporate and Personal
A healthy congregational evangelism program plans to create synergy between corporate and personal efforts.
Take this Christmas Eve as an example. It is good that your congregation has a plan to reach out to the community: a mass mailing, a Facebook ad, a banner by the road, or all of the above. Corporate outreach. It is just as important that your congregation has a plan to train and encourage members to invite their unchurched friends and relatives to come to Christmas Eve. Personal outreach.
The two will work together. Tim, a member at your church, invites Mark, his unchurched co-worker, to attend Christmas Eve. Tim gives Mark a business-card invitation that the church provides him. It has the A Light in the Darkness image on it. Mark has seen that same image before in a Facebook ad. Maybe he saw it on a banner in front of the church when he drove by. The congregation’s corporate effort is now connected with Tim’s personal effort. Both efforts benefit by the synergy between them.
C18: Bringing Corporate and Personal Efforts Together
- The C18 program offers resources and training for all four aspects of a healthy congregational evangelism program.
- To aid in corporate outreach, we have provided evangelism materials, many of which can be used for free. Low cost outreach postcards and business-card invitations and banners are all available through Echt Printing.
- To help with corporate evangelism, we have provided worship options for your Christmas Eve service, including worship folder templates, that keep the gospel front and center on that special night. We are also providing training resources to help your congregation engage in prompt worship-guest follow-up, which is another opportunity to share law and gospel.
- To encourage personal outreach, C18 offers resources that encourage many different segments of WELS membership—elementary school kids, families, individuals—to identify their unchurched friends and acquaintances and invite them to Christmas Eve.
- To encourage personal witnessing, C18 offers multiple Bible studies based on the final evangelism video, To the Ends of the Earth. There are studies available for use on Sunday mornings and ones that can be done in a small group setting. These studies help us see the mission of the Church. They also provide simple ways to share our faith, and the encouragement to do so.
These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.
What constitutes a healthy evangelism program? Answer: when a congregation does the following.
- The congregation organizes corporate outreach efforts.
- The congregation organizes corporate evangelism efforts.
- The congregation encourages members to engage in personal outreach efforts.
- The congregation equips members to undertake personal evangelism efforts.
Are any of those lacking in your congregation? Now is the perfect time to rectify that.
The Spirit is the only one who can create faith. He typically does that through the efforts of congregations and individual believers, as corporately and personally we attempt to connect people to the life-saving gospel.
May the Spirit use you powerfully to do just that this holiday season!
By Jonathan Hein
Jonathan Hein serves as the director of WELS Commission on Congregational Counseling and the coordinator of WELS Congregational Services. He spent the first twenty years of his ministry serving in Charleston, SC where he helped start two WELS congregations. He served for eight years as chairman of the South Atlantic District Mission Board, overseeing the work of thirty-two different mission congregations.
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