When it comes to how a congregation does corporate evangelism, there are four basic approaches or philosophies a church will take. I’m confident nearly every church will fit one of these four categories. I understand why different church leaders take each approach, but I believe only one of them is gutsy enough to be faithful to Christ. I think the other three are negligent, cowardly, and foolish, in that order.
Here they are – and I’ve even given them names to be extra offensive:
The church that doesn’t evangelize at all
This is the church that does nothing. Yes, you heard me – nothing. This church has no tracts for members. No literature. No training. No programs. No planned events. No mention of the Gospel on its website. No encouragement and exhortation to evangelize.
The pastor might mention evangelism every once and a while, in passing. But, it’s always vague and rather meaningless.
Pastors are pulled in many different directions, and its impossible for one guy to do everything well. I get that. But, still . . . nothing? Really?
The church that’s ashamed of the gospel
This church really, really wants to be your friend. It wants you to know it’s not like that other church; you know the one. These folks are different – they just wanna love on you and show you how nice Christians are. They’ll have public events, but somehow never mention Jesus or His Good News at all. Don’t want to offend, you know!
They’ll likely not distribute evangelistic literature at all. If they do, it’ll be so sanitized and purged of all possible offense so as to be meaningless. The “Gospel” in these presentations is typically more airbrushed than an aging starlet on Instagram.
The unbelievers who do come to these events will leave thinking these Christians are nice people. That’s sweet. The lady at the donut shop is nice, too. So is my cat. These churches have their hearts in the right place, but they’ll likely accomplish nothing positive. Their entire approach is to tiptoe softly, tenderly, and ever so apologetically towards some vague, generic conversation about Jesus.
Though it’s leaders wouldn’t put it quite this way, one must conclude they believe a sinner will come to faith in Jesus through a combination of vague “love,” lots of free food, and by never mentioning the Gospel at all.
The angry church
This church wants you to know you’re goin’ straight to hell. Don’t pass go. Don’t collect $200. Go straight to hell. The flames await, so enjoy your time burning, sucka.
These people are so passionate about the Gospel, they’ll tell you:
- You’re a sinner, and goin’ right to the flames of hell
- God loves you, and Jesus came to save you
- He died for you
- Pray this prayer, and you’ll be saved
- Praise God! You’re saved!
- Bye, now.
As Daniel Strange has observed:
Here there is a tendency when questioned simply to trot out verses like Acts 4: 12 and John 14: 6 with little explanation or apologetic defence (because we don’t have one), or to give the impression of ‘self-righteousness’, implying we have achieved total enlightenment on these issues and that there are simple and easy answers when it comes to this topic. We use a machete to bludgeon when what is needed is a scalpel to subvert. While these approaches may be doctrinally orthodox, none are winsome or persuasive.
Daniel Strange, Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock: A Theology of Religions (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014; Kindle ed.), KL 431-434.
Like deranged Neanderthals, they bludgeon with gusto and frighten everyone away. These are the guys the first group doesn’t ever want to be confused with.
The nice church that isn’t afraid
This church does something really, really crazy. It cares enough to understand the world it operates in, understand the mindset and culture of the people it seeks to reach, tries to show Christian love, and yet still boldly proclaims the Gospel. This approach combines the best intentions of the last two flawed approaches (above), but doesn’t drive off the cliff into madness in the process.
Perhaps a better approach, and one in keeping with the tenor of much apologetic teaching in the New Testament, is one that both defends and proclaims Christian exclusivity with what might be called a ‘bold humility’, a stance that seeks first to understand the world of religion and religions through a biblical worldview before then applying unique and satisfying gospel truth to a world of pseudo-gospels that promise much but can never ultimately deliver. We are to give a reason for the hope that we have, but to do so with gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3: 15). In other words, fortiter in re, suaviter in modo (boldly in action, gently in manner).
Strange, Their Rock is Not Like Our Rock, KL 434-439.
This kind of church plans and executes corporate evangelistic events, and boldly but lovingly proclaims the whole Gospel without caring who is offended. But, it also trains its members to understand theology, understand God, understand the Bible in a deep, meaningful and comprehensive way.
It teaches its people to show real Christian love to unbelievers, so they, too, might come to faith in Christ. But, this love never comes at the expense of a clear and unapologetic proclamation of Gospel truth.
It teaches its people how to share the Gospel. It explains what sin is, what repentance is, who Jesus is, what the building blocks of the Gospel are, and aggressively engages with its community in corporate evangelism. It’s out there, in the marketplace of ideas, pushing Jesus in a winsome way.
Which are you?
I could flesh out more, but I’m not trying to write a biblical theology for corporate evangelism. I’m simply making this point – your church will have to choose which approach it will take:
- It can never do evangelism at all. Eventually, the church will die – and it will be all your fault;
- It can be have benign events, never mention the Gospel at all, and pray that (magically) the person will hear it by accident one day;
- It can be an angry Neanderthal, and bludgeon people with the Gospel without any intellectual reflection or interaction with the people it’s speaking to;
- Or, it can simply tell people the whole Gospel in an unapologetic fashion, while showing Christian love and understanding to people at the same time
In my experience, churches will usually take options #1 – #3. Let’s stop being afraid. Let’s stop being brute Neanderthals. Let’s take option #4 for our churches.