How to Create a Culture of Evangelism

I was at High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, Texas. The pastor, Juan, had asked me to do a seminar on developing a culture of evangelism. I talked and people asked questions. Then someone asked an elephant-in-the-room type of question: “Many Vietnamese are moving into the community around our church; what is the church going to do to reach out to them?”

evangelization picOn the one hand, this was a wonderful question. A member recognized that she had the privilege and responsibility to reach out with the gospel, and she saw an opportunity to do it. On the other hand, the way the question was phrased seemed to imply that reaching out was the responsibility of the church, not the person who noticed the opportunity.

But in a culture of evangelism the work is grassroots, not top-down. In a culture of evangelism, people understand that the main task of the church is to be the church; they understand that church, just being biblical church, is a witness in and of itself. The church supports and prays for outreach and evangelistic opportunities, but the church’s role is not primarily to run evangelistic programs. The members are sent out from the church to do evangelism, the church does not do evangelism.

I know this point may seem a bit picky, but it’s really important. If you don’t get this point right, you can subvert the church. We want church to be church, and members to be seeker friendly, not the other way around.

Here’s how I responded to the question at High Pointe: “It’s really not the best thing for ‘the church’ to set up programs for Vietnamese outreach, but rather for you to think how you can reach out. So I would recommend you learn something about the Vietnamese culture, maybe by learning some greetings in Vietnamese, trying their food, and learning about the struggles they face living in the majority culture. Reach out and invite the friends you make to come with you to your homes, a small-group Bible study, or church. Then, perhaps, some of you should even think of moving into the Vietnamese community with the purpose of commending the gospel among that community.”

In return I saw from the faces in the room many blank stares and great relief on the face of Pastor Juan, who was grateful that I had not just singlehandedly set up an outreach program for him to run.

That’s a sketch of a culture of evangelism at work. I know it’s a bit radical—and I didn’t even suggest they enroll their kids in the local school with the Vietnamese kids.

What Is a Culture of Evangelism?

Most church leaders understand intuitively what I mean by a culture of evangelism. They, too, long for their churches to be loving communities committed to sharing the gospel as part of an ongoing way of life, not the occasional evangelistic raid. But how do we get there?

Slay the programs and program thinking.

Programs are the leeches that suck the life out of evangelism. When you take a cold, hard look at programs, things just don’t add up. Consider that when people younger than 21 (when most people come to faith) were asked how they came to be born again, only 1 percent said it was through TV or other media, while a whopping 43 percent said they came to faith through a friend or family member. Just think of the cost comparison between a cup of coffee and TV programming. Moms lead more people to Jesus than do programs.

Oddly, it seems evangelistic programs do other things better than evangelism: they produce community among Christians who take part in them, they encourage believers to take a stand for Christ, and they can enable churches to break into new places of ministry. Those are good things, but they don’t do much for evangelism. Still, we seem to have an insatiable hunger for programs to accomplish evangelism. Why? Programs are like sugar—tasty, even addictive. However, it takes away a desire for more healthy food. Though it provides a quick burst of energy, over time it makes you flabby, and a steady diet will kill you.

Make sure you exhibit the gospel in all you do in your church or fellowship. Use what’s there!

Have you ever thought of how many biblical instructions God has built into the fabric of the church that, if done correctly, proclaim the gospel?

In pursuing a healthy culture of evangelism, we don’t remake the church for evangelism. Instead, we allow the things that God has already built into the church to proclaim the gospel. Jesus did not forget the gospel when he built the church.

For instance, baptism pictures the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It shows how his death is our death and his life our life. The Lord’s Supper proclaims the death of Christ until he returns and prompts us to confess our sins and experience forgiveness anew. When we pray, we pray the truths of God. We sing the great things God has done for us through the gospel. We give financially to advance the gospel message. The preaching of the Word brings the gospel.

In fact, the preaching of the Word of God forms the church. And, once formed, the church embraces the task of making disciples, sent out to preach the gospel to form new churches. This cycle has continued since Jesus ascended into heaven and will continue until he returns.

Teach and train your congregation to know and love the gospel message and live out the implications.

Do you know the message through and through? Do you understand its exclusive claims? Are you willing to take a stand in a world that hates exclusivity? If everyone knows this outline—God, man, Christ, response—and the Scripture that goes with it, the culture of evangelism is well on its way.


I mean it. Make sure you pray at every gathering for those who don’t know God. I love the attitude in this quote attributed to Charles H. Spurgeon: “Lord, save the elect, and elect some more!” We don’t know whom God is calling to himself.

I prayed for my sister, Linda, for 20 years, and I almost gave up. But God, in his mercy, drew her to himself. This example gives me hope that other family members and friends whom I’ve prayed for over many years might still come to faith.

Pray about your responsibility in evangelism. I pray regularly, “Lord, don’t let a year go by where I am not directly involved in seeing someone come to you in faith.” God has been faithful to that prayer. If God should grant me more years on earth, when I get to heaven I may see 50 or 60 people with whom I was instrumental in seeing come to faith. What a joy that would be!

Help your congregation see evangelism as a discipline.

Spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, Bible study, and gathering as a church community, are means of grace in our lives. Christians who learn these practices early in their walk with Christ grow in their faith. God uses spiritual disciplines for our spiritual health. We grow when we practice them. Our Christian lives become sloppy when we don’t.

But have you ever thought of evangelism as a spiritual discipline?

Don Whitney has written an excellent book about spiritual disciplines. Here’s what he says on evangelism as a discipline:

Evangelism is a natural overflow of the Christian life. We should all be able to talk about what the Lord has done for us and what he means to us. But evangelism is also a discipline in that we must discipline ourselves to get into the context of evangelism, that is, we must not just wait for witnessing opportunities to happen.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” To “let” your light shine before others means more than simply “Don’t do anything to keep your light from shining.” Think of his exhortation as, “Let there be the light of good works shining in your life, let there be the evidence of God-honoring change radiating from you. Let it begin! Make room for it.”

Later Whitney says, “Unless we discipline ourselves for evangelism, it is very easy to excuse ourselves from ever sharing the gospel with anyone.” Whitney believes that the point of disciplining ourselves for evangelism is to plan for it—for Christians to actually put it into their schedule.

As a leader practice evangelism yourself.

If it is important that the members be “on game,” it is doubly important for the elders and pastors to lead by teaching and modeling evangelism. Then lead by celebrating those who share their faith.

John, who pastors another church in our city, regularly starts a fellowship time by asking for stories from those who had opportunities to speak about Jesus that week. After they share, he invites someone to pray for them.

This practice of celebrating evangelistic efforts is simple and doesn’t take much time, but it’s hugely important in developing a culture of evangelism. There is nothing so discouraging as feeling that a church is more interested in manning the nursery than sharing the faith. And when someone does come to faith, there is great rejoicing knowing that the culture of evangelism is bearing fruit.

Editors’ Note: This article is adapted from Mack Stiles’s forthcoming book Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus (Crossway, 2014).

  • Josh

    I think this article is overall fantastic. You did a great job of identifying the church’s purpose (equipping the saints for the work of the ministry) and the individual’s purpose (carrying out the work). We definitely need to create a better culture of evangelism. Totally spot-on to identify it as a grassroots movement that needs to have the fire kindled in the individuals rather than in programs.

    Having said that, we also need to be a bit more accurate as to what evangelism is. In other words, we not only need to identify “what to do” but also “how to do it.” And from a biblical perspective, the line “reach out and invite the friends you make to come with you to your homes, a small-group Bible study, or church” is not the biblical pattern for evangelism. Inviting unbelievers to Bible studies (studying a book they cannot rightly handle – 1 Cor 2) and inviting them to church (engaging in worship which is blasphemous – Isaiah 1 – and fellowship with believers which is prohibited – 2 Cor 6) are not at all what we see in the biblical pattern of evangelism. Inviting unbelievers to our homes is fine, provided we actually preach the Gospel and call them to repent instead of it simply becoming another means of “friendship evangelism”. So I would simply offer that we need to also direct our fellow believers to the biblical pattern of evangelism which is simply calling men to repent and believe the Gospel, wherever we find them.

  • http://sovgraceto.org Tim Kerr

    What an incredibly helpful post! I’m going to try to get a hard copy of this post into the hands of every one of our church members. Thank you!

  • Gene

    Very well written article. I think you have your finger right on the pulse! How we have loved to give the task of evangelism to the church, and thus, to the pastor. Thank you!

  • http://www.jonstallings.com Jon Stallings

    “The members are sent out from the church to do evangelism, the church does not do evangelism.” – says a lot. This is something I am working hard to teach my church. It has been a big culture shift for a lot of them. Gladly they are starting to grasp the concept.

    On a side note, I understand we need to “slay” the programs but there are times we do outreach as a group. I think it is important that we need to understand that we may not be called to reach every aspect of our community. We can be more effective with a tighter focus.

  • David C

    I think a lot of this can be accounted for by Ephesians 4:11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry.
    I find in my church and in many of the churches I’ve been in that the biggest problem is not that people think that “the church” has to run it, but “the pastor(s).” They think the “professionals” are the ones that have to be in charge of ministry. According to Paul, the Pastor’s part in evangelism is much more just equipping everyone else to do it. But you say “but shouldn’t the pastor have a heart to evangelize the lost himself?” Yes, in every way. And equipping others to do it rather than baring the majority of the responsibility himself is a way that he can see MORE evangelism done. 1. People view pastor as the one who has to do it all. 2. Pastors often view themselves as the ones responsible to do it all. They are often the ones with the greatest passion for evangelism and they want to go out and see people saved. Pastors need to be aware that delegation is more often than not the best way to see more people saved and discipled, thus fulfilling his desires to see people saved and discipled! Equip the saints, don’t just give them a program. Providing a program is not equipping – it is a format. My job is a format. Being in a format does not mean I know how to do the work or even care about the work.

  • Eric F

    It is a problem that evangelism should need cultivating at all. Say you were the owner a very special apple. You went to a group where everyone spoke about that apple and how excellent it was and they said you should sell this apple to people. Then they will say discipline yourself to do it because let me explain to you the characteristics of this apple, it is very tasty to anyone who eats it and there is no other apple like it. They say memorize this phrase, this apple is best no other apple will do….Now you send this man to go out and sell your apples and he does so but only to lose interest. So you see where I am going with this. If the man would just take 1 bite of the apple then he would see what all the fuss is about. He would see and say oh my goodness I didn’t even realize what preciousness I am carrying around, call all my friends they must hear about this apple it is amazing.

    So in summary when there is a lack of evangelism, there is a lack of tasting and seeing that the Lord is good. Discipline and urging and cultivating are not very productive, but if someone would eat then his problem is solved.

    • David C

      If it were that easy then we wouldn’t need edification and equipping, both of which the Bible mandates. Why do we need them? Because we’re human. Being saved does not mean automatically having all the right perspectives and priorities, but growing in them. There is no such thing as “simply eating” and having all our problems solved. Just doesn’t exist. This side of eternity we will always be hindered by a dark cloudy glass and we will always have to deal with carnal distractions.

      • Eric F

        I am talking about how the a man should be motivated by a revelation of Jesus Christ for evangelism. I am not talking about solving all problems. I am talking about the way that faith produces works. Evangelism is considered a gift not because it is exclusive to some, but because it is given by the grace of God. Is it possible to do works that look like evangelism without faith? I would say yes it is. But if someone has faith (tastes the apple) really he sees the value that Jesus is to his own life, and unless Jesus is incredibly valuable to me, I cannot honestly tell someone else that He will be valuable to them. So no not automatic, but a result of faith.

    • Josh

      Great post. That is the essence of Acts 4:20. People definitely need to be trained to do it, and encouraged to overcome fear of man, but the motivation/desire to do it in the first place needs to be inherent to true conversion.

  • http://www.christianvagabond.com Christian Vagabond

    I can relate to a lot of this. I was chair of our church’s Evangelism ministry for about 5 years, and we constantly struggled to get people interested in evangelism. Whenever we held evangelism classes, there were always the same small number of dedicated members take classes. But they already had a heart for evangelism, so we weren’t changing the church culture itself.

    Our problem was twofold: first, many people in our church viewed evangelism as a spiritual gift. If you had a gift for evangelism, then they reasoned that God wanted you to spread the Gospel. But if your gift wasn’t in evangelism, then they believed that you were off the hook.

    The second problem we had was that the people who had a heart for the Gospel did it on their own time without needing prompting or programs. Which was great, except they felt like they were on their own and unsupported by the congregation at large. And because our church was part of a network of evangelical churches that worked hand-in-hand together, the people whom our members led to Christ would end up attending one of the bigger churches in town, so few members ever saw evidence that anyone was making an impact.

    • David C

      I echo much of your grief. I have found that many of our churches are full of people that are doing nothing. And to their defense, many of them are certainly willing to to do something, however they do not feel equipped. On a similar note, a couple years ago I headed up a benevolence outreach for a man who severely needed financial aid and encouragement. When a couple handed me their donation they shook my hand and thanked me for providing the opportunity to be a blessing to this man. I think many people are willing, but they need guidance because they feel inadequate. They need to understand that in Christ, we are adequate to do what God has mandated, and many people need to hear this differently, thus the need for individual accountability and discipleship. There is not one sermon anyone can preach that will hit home to everyone. People need addressed individually if they are going to become all that they can in and for Christ. Ministers lose hope easily when they try to approach everyone’s needs the same. And we must grant them this: not everyone can evangelize as well as someone else. Some people are more gifted at teaching or serving or leading than they are in conversational evangelism. They should still be spreading the Gospel, but we must not expect that everyone should have the same affluence in their evangelistic approach. When we think it, we will make them feel like they should when we preach to them.

    • Josh

      “Evangelism is a spiritual gift.” One of the biggest lies in the modern visible church.

  • Garnett Reid

    I appreciate your excellent suggestions for reaching people through a gospel-driven mindset. However the title presents an unnecessary polarity by pitting against one another two things that can and should be complementary. My wife has ministered in the nursery for over twenty years WITH an evangelistic mindset. This is not an either-or, but a both-and.

    • Clara Nelson

      Thanks for this comment. I was very offended by the title. To suggest that those taking care of children are not doing gospel work is ludicrous.

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  • http://www.redeemedwarrior.com Justin M. Davito

    Thanks for your post! It’s not the church as an organization but the members who comprise the Church to reach out. Thanks!


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  • http://www.factbridge.org Ron Cram

    I’ve been a part of evangelism programs and I’ve seen them tremendous good. I’ve also seen them not. I’m starting a new ministry at my church. It is not a program per se… we are actually calling it an Evangelism Club. The idea is not to teach everyone the same gospel presentation or to memorize an outline. Rather, we are trying to be the church while focusing on evangelism. When we come together, it is to “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” especially in the area of evangelism.

    It is still early but the idea is for people to share their witnessing experience from the prior week so we can learn from each other, be inspired by what God is doing and to hold each other accountable. We also have a short devotional on a passage that relates to evangelism. And finally, we have a book review by rotating group of reviewers. They will tell us about a book on evangelism or apologetics and why it was valuable. This will help other people know if they are interested in reading it. I’m adding Mack Stiles forthcoming book to the list.

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