I recently conducted an informal survey where I asked friends to respond with the first thought that came to their mind to finish the statement, “The local church exists to…” I did not want them to think about their answer. I was not looking for the “Sunday School” response. I wanted to know their immediate thought since I felt it would reveal their true understanding about the church. I also used the open-ended approach because I did not want to lead them to a particular response.
- I was pleased to discover that 60% of the responses indicated that the local church exists to share the gospel. These responses included spreading God’s word, making disciples, making Jesus known, reaching the nations, etc. Evangelism and missions was the overall theme of these responses.
- Another 22% stated that the local church exists to serve. For some it was unclear what they meant by serving. They did not elaborate. Others said to serve God by serving others, to be the hands and feet of Jesus, or to serve the community. These responses indicated a clear outward focus.
- 14% of the responses said that the local church exists to worship God. These statements included worship God, glorify God, pray to God, and obey God. These indicated an upward focus.
- Finally, 4% said the local church exists to make them better disciples or to support them in some way.
Here is my favorite response! “The local church exists to love our preacher!” Okay, she also said that the local church exists to spread the gospel and make disciples.
By the way, none of these answers are technically wrong. The local church should be doing all of these things. The issue for me is what do the responses reveal about our focus? Is it primarily outward (evangelism, missions, ministry to others)? Is it primarily upward (worship)? Or is it primarily inward (personal growth, ministry to the church)? Again, all of these are appropriate and necessary, but I keep coming back to the Great Commission. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV).
In this unscientific survey, more than 60% of the people said the church should be outwardly focused, but a 2016 study by Lifeway Research indicated that only 7% of churches would be considered “effective evangelistic churches.” I may not be a mathematical genius, but even I can do the math on this one. If 7% are effective, that means 93% of our churches are not evangelistically effective. Even among growing churches, the growth is largely from swapping sheep rather than evangelism.
There is a huge evangelistic disconnect. Most of us believe the church should be evangelistic, but most of our churches are not. What is the answer?
A renewed understanding of the Great Commission – Jesus told us to make disciples. Not church members. Not converts. Disciples. A renewed understanding of the Great Commission will lead us to be disciples who make disciples who make disciples. That means our churches need to have a clear disciple-making process like the one I wrote about HERE.
A reversed understanding of evangelistic responsibility – While most church members believe that the church should be evangelistic, it has been my observation that most also believe that it is the sole responsibility of pastors and staff to do the work of evangelism. We need to reverse that understanding. Sadly, in too many churches no one is doing evangelism. Not the members. Not the staff. Not the pastors. As pastors and staff members, we need to lead the way and create an evangelistic culture where church members are expected to share the gospel.
A redefined understanding of sharing the gospel – There is more than one way to share the gospel. Some people are extroverts. They can walk up to a complete stranger and share the Roman Road or some other gospel presentation. Some people are introverts. The idea of walking up to a total stranger and asking them if they were to die tonight do they know they would go to heaven is terrifying. But that’s what we have typically taught as the way to share the gospel. The only way. But that’s not true. My own evangelistic style, apart from preaching, is to build relationships, to pray for people, and to look for opportunities to have gospel conversations.
A rediscovered awareness of lost people – Many of our churches have become so inwardly focused that our members don’t know lost people. We spend so much time in holy huddles that we have lost any connection with the outside world. I recently asked a group of church members to identify four lost people: 1. Someone in their family; 2. Someone at work or school; 3. Someone in their circle of friends; 4. Someone in the community. Most of us would struggle to come up with four. We need to rediscover an awareness of lost people. We need to build relationships with them. Pray for them. And look for opportunities to share the gospel with them.
How are you developing relationships with people outside of the church, specifically lost people? How are you sharing the gospel with them?