A couple years ago, I first blogged about our mission statement at First Southern Baptist: “to make disciples of Jesus Christ who love God and love people by reaching and teaching everyone.” It’s inspired by the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20), and sums up what Christ has commanded the church to do until His return.
I think all of us at First Southern would agree we’re stronger on the teaching side of this paradigm than on the reaching side. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A church first needs to grow spiritually on the inside before it can reach out effectively to others. By the grace of God, we have matured in doctrine, in love, and in leadership. During this time, we have even seen a few people come to Christ and grow in faith, but honestly, our evangelism still has much room for improvement.
At our annual deacon retreat a couple weeks ago, we agreed that it’s time for us to become more prayerful and purposeful in our evangelism. We really need to move further beyond the four walls of our church. We’ve hosted some good events, but too often, we are still being reactive rather than proactive. God occasionally throws a fish into our boat, but we are doing very little fishing of our own — very little engaging of the culture around us.
There’s no doubt about it. This is a challenging mission field. Consider these statistics: There are 27,000 residents in the immediate Yucca Valley / Joshua Tree community. Yet only 20% of these would say “my faith is really important to me.” Even fewer (15%) consider it “important to attend religious services.” This is pretty representative of California as a whole. Yet how much of our church’s outreach strategy and style of ‘doing ministry’ is targeting that 15% versus the other 85% who don’t even consider their faith important, and couldn’t care less about attending our worship service?
According to Chuck Williams from Gideons International, who recently gave a presentation at our church, there are 100,000 people in our basin, but only 6% of these are attending church (and how many of those are truly evangelical?). I don’t think it would be exaggerating to say only 1 out of 20 (5%) in our community is saved. Jesus did say “the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it” (Mt. 7:13), but this is no excuse for idleness in our evangelism.
So, how do we begin to break down this massive amount of lost people and create an evangelism strategy that is bold yet dependent on the supernatural, regenerative work of God? One thing that we discussed at our deacon retreat is the idea of moving more toward regional home Bible Studies. Something offered on a weeknight that would be a “first contact” with unbelievers. It would be a place where Christians could invite their unchurched friends and where the gospel could be discussed in a relaxed, non-threatening atmosphere. Plus, we would have the benefit of meeting regionally, which means we could host them in Palm Springs or Twentynine Palms, or anywhere in between where our church folks are talking with unsaved friends and co-workers, and want to invite them to a local evangelistic event. We’re not exactly sure what this will look like in the months ahead, but we’re looking very seriously at the Christianity Explored materials as our springboard.
Most importantly, we realize that just adding more evangelistic “programs” to our church calendar is not the solution. Programs and events are often very costly and labor intensive, and somewhat artificial, requiring people to come to us on “our terms.” Instead, we need to incorporate evangelism into the very warp and woof of our ministry. We need to cultivate a burden for the lost and a confidence in sharing the gospel within the heart of every member of our church. We need to begin viewing ourselves as missionaries, and training our people to take the gospel to the people God has placed in their immediate circle of influence.
Father, forgive us for the many times we have failed You in our evangelism. We are weak and inadequate to save the lost. But we believe the Gospel is the power of God which leads to salvation (Rom. 1:16-17). And just as you had many elect in Corinth, we believe you have “many people in this city” (Acts 18:10). Bless our efforts as we try to become more purposeful in our evangelism in the year ahead.