I asked my good friend and former pastor Aaron Mansfield to do a guest post on evangelism. He rocks at it and is seen in the Kentucky Annual Conference of the UMC as one of the go-to people for evangelism. He is will to do just about anything and has some crazy stories about living in the Holy Spirit. I love the story of his spiritual journey most of all. I count Aaron as a close friend and mentor. He is willing to do ANYTHING to tell people about Jesus. His post challenged me. I hope you enjoy his thoughts as much as I did.-Chad
When Chad asked me to write a guest post on evangelism, not only did I not hesitate to answer “yes,” I was also immediately drawn back to some pleasant memories. Chad worked with me at The Rock La Roca United Methodist Church in Lexington, KY. I remember running him off the first week he came. I said that people should live where they ministered. So Chad and Meredith realized that there was a lot of ministry needed to be done right where they were living, so he came and told me he was leaving! But he also said he would look me up for his supervised ministry. His last year at Asbury, he worked with us and brought many blessings to our church, and to me and my family.
Chad and I did a lot of evangelism on the streets. We tried not to go empty-handed; we usually took the fresh produce we grew in our garden, and the produce that countless gardeners across Lexington were growing to help us give the hungry good food. Chad was there with me in the trenches. We visited all kinds of houses and met all kinds of people. We did a pretty good job of keeping up with Mary, who seemed to have a new place each month. Let me brag on him a little more: Chad was a huge part of a new service we started specifically for the poorest of the poor, who simply would not, did not come on Sundays. Chad managed to help that group settle on a hermeneutic for understanding the Book of Revelation. He was able to communicate that in language that everyone there could easily understand.
It wasn’t all work and no play. We also spent a lot of time talking about Thin Lizzy, zombie flicks bar-b-q, The Derrty, and Bigfoot.
The sanctuary were Aaron and I met. I was privileged to be in ministry at this place for 1 wonderful year.
Ok, so on to the meat of the post! Chad asked me to talk about the evangelism component of church planting, particularly a church plant we have going in Menifee County, Kentucky.
We are crazy to do this plant, but God has favored it so much that we don’t listen to the wisdom of men! Menifee County is a small, rural county in East-Central Kentucky. It’s the foothills of Appalachia. 6,300 people. It’s the 74th poorest county in the US, out of about 3200 total counties. It’s the kind of place you don’t plant churches in. The conventional wisdom says you plant in large, urban settings. But people need Jesus everywhere. And there is a preferential option for the poor.
Scott Wilson, a pastor and friend of mine, came up to me at the 2011 Annual Conference, when I was sent to my current appointment, and said, “There is no Methodist Church in Menifee County.” Our counties book-end Menifee County. I couldn’t sleep that night. I came back next day and Scott and I were agreed, we would plant a church in Menifee County.
Long story short, a terrible tornado devastated Menifee county on Mar 2, 2012. Our churches were the first there and we stayed. We are still there, rebuilding. We had this idea to have a festival for the county, a kind of celebration, a time to have fun and heal. We called it New Hope, the name we intended to give the church.
I have been involved in a number of church plants, but have never seen anything like this. A whole district came around us, to help make the festival happen. 1200 people came. That’s 20% of the county.
So, principle #1: Have big events. Do lots of publicity. Get something that people will really like. At the New Hope Festival, we had games for kids; hundreds of Ale 8s in a horse trough full of ice (it’s a Kentucky thing On a side note, Chad is a genius. He mixes Ale 8 and orange juice to create the Methodist Mimosa); and we had a strong man group come. 14 people gave their life to Christ after the strong man Gospel presentation.
At our Easter Egg Hunt ( first community Easter Egg Hunt they ever had), we put out 5200 eggs and 70% of the school-age children came. We sponsored the back to school bashes and had about 600 total.
Principle #2: At the big events, remember that the reason you are doing it is to make contact with LOTS of people. You have to have a registration system to get names and addresses so you can contact them later. And you have to have some people roving around, asking people if they go to church. If they don’t (and: they don’t go to church if it’s not at least 2 times a month), ask them what they would like a church to be like if they could start it from the ground up. Almost no one we talk to goes to church. What we get when asked what they want a church to be like is: something for the kids, and a church where they can dress how they want and no one looks down on you. Those are almost unanimous answers.
Principle #3: Follow up with people. Don’t assume that just because a lot of people came to an event they are going to come to church. Church is a whole other level of commitment. So follow up with the people you met and talked to. And pay close attention to Principle #4!
Principle #4: Learn to close the deal on evangelism. Right now, can you lead a person to faith in Christ? If you can’t, you need to re-evaluate what you are doing, what your priorities are. Right now, would you ask someone point-blank to give their life to Jesus? You need to be able to explain, simply, what it means to place faith in Jesus Christ. Get a good tract, like the Bridge, with very simple illustrations about repenting of sin and confessing Jesus as Savior. Don’t use “discipleship” as your excuse for not presenting the Gospel quickly, plainly, and asking for a response. You can’t make a disciple until you have a convert. If you wait until you have done a three month Bible Study on Luke-Acts to ask anyone to accept Christ, you have waited too long. No doubt, it might take months of Bible study or coming to worship, but you can and must ask from day one! Imagine how much the Bible study would mean to them after they have been saved! Why wait!?
I have found a kind of squeamishness in Methodist circles about evangelism, and about large events particularly. We think it’s… what? Dishonest? Cheesy? Inauthentic? Let’s be glad Jesus and Wesley weren’t hipsters keepin’ it local. We are throwing out a big net. We don’t keep all the fish.
We are also squeamish about tracts. About asking for a decision. All I can say is you have to get over it.
We get kind of squirrelly when you talk about going door-to-door with the Gospel message. I was in a meeting where a seminary evangelism professor said that door-to-door evangelism does not work. (This always happens to me. I keep getting told over and over I am doing it wrong. Tracts. Door-to-door. Big events with strongmen talking about Hell. Asking for a decision for Christ. Repentance. Fleeing the wrath to come. I know. I’m an idiot. I need to be sealed in glass. Break only in case of rampant pagan revelry. But somehow, the Lord keeps blessing me with helping Him find lost sheep!) I was just keeping quiet, but a friend protested for me and said, “Aaron does it, and he had 26 professions of faith last year.” The gentleman replied that I must be working in a nice neighborhood where everyone feels really safe answering the doors… Chad, were we in a nice, safe neighborhood? (Chad here-nope, it was crazy sketchy) And think about this: if you open the door and see me and Chad, and you still come to Jesus…
Principle #5. This, I guess is church plant-specific. Launch Large. You can save yourself all kinds of trouble and heartache and improve the chances of the success of your church plant if you go all out to get as many people as possible to your first worship service. All that entails is for another post. But imbibe the principle: 3-4 weeks after launch, you will have about half the number who showed up at launch. You can see immediately the difference between launching with 80 versus launching with 200! How do you launch big? Have big events. Make contact with people. Close the deal on evangelism.
So, where do we stand with the launch of New Hope? We are one year out from formal launch. We have a lot of work to do. A few more big events. A lot of contacting people. A lot of deals to close. Catalina Wine Mixer kinda stuff.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me at my blog: www.evangelismstories.blogspot.com
If you are interested in guest posting, check out this post.
Each of us live in a certain place. Some of us settled in it because the home prices were cheap. We might have intentionally moved into a neighborhood for many reasons. Jobs or education brought us to the area and the daily rhythms of life fall into place.
But the way we should be living these rhythms isn’t inconsequential. Evangelism is living where we live.
Where and how we live is important.
I have been on a pretty radical diet for the last month. I weigh in once a week. The funny thing is, I have seen more and more people from my community at my coach’s office. Some of them are people I see in church and others are just folks I have met around the neighborhood. These are relational connections made because I live here. They fill my prayers during the days when I see them driving or when out on errands.
I drink coffee at the same Starbucks almost every morning. I have coffee friends. They too fill my prayer list during the day. After a year of my coffee rhythm, I know most of the regulars and they know me. I am the young pastor with the big beard and loud motorcycle. I have turned into the unofficial chaplain. This wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t committed to living life in the open and being accessible to total strangers.
I have a handful of restaurants I go to regularly. This was something I learned doing mission work in Europe. I have built relationships with those people. They are in my neighborhood and part of my prayer life. I imagine (before my diet) a few of them had learned my rhythms and when they could expect me. My friend at Pizza Hut was known to sit down with me and talk about the Bible. It is fun.
I have had several pastoral counseling sessions on benches outside the Harley Davidson dealership. I am pretty open about my ministry there and it is another place I regularly take prayer requests and meet new people in my larger neighborhood.
Where I live is important to the kingdom of God. It is important because of our calling as Christians (not mine as a pastor) is to be a beacon of the goodness and light of God in the place I live. Every person who claims Jesus has this calling. He came to us in specific ways and we need to realize the power in mirroring that. As a Pastor, I am able to have special relationships with people and my Job just makes this relational evangelism a little easier. However, it is essential we all take part in this task. Understanding how to practice evangelism in our daily lives is important.
We are part of the bride of Christ, serving a God who has truly come to our world. We must then just as intentionally go into our world, the neighborhoods we live in, and bring people Christ. Evangelism is the action of causing the gospel to happen. Evangelism brings the presence of Christ into new places. Evangelism is the life of a Christian. Your neighborhood is the best mission field God will ever give you.
Where and how we live is important.
Evangelism is scary. Well not all evangelism, but the perception many people have about evangelism is scary. The idea of street callers, door to door conversations with strangers and hate speech is pretty jacked up. I experienced the door to door type as a teenager and it never quite sat right with me. But evangelism can’t be ignored.
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)
The final word Christ gave his disciples was to take part in the activity He himself had been leading for 3 years. Bringing others into the reality of God and teaching them what it means to belong to God.
There is one key word and concept we need to remember when we think about evangelism.
The Most Important Word in Evangelism is context.
Context is the idea of people carefully learning and applying what is appropriate in any situation. In the days of John Wesley and George Whitefield field preaching was a super effective method of evangelism. It brought the preachers into a situation to be seen and heard by the most people. A public teaching/speech was a completely normal activity in their culture to both teach people and convince them of something. Folks were used to it. Those first field preachers were working into their context. Each one of us is responsible for finding out what is the best culture of evangelism in the place we live. Some will look different and others will look really similar.
Let me share with you three simple and relational ways you can practice evangelism in your context.
1. Read your Bible in public.
This seems almost simplistic, but I promise you it will lead to conversations. I try to do this several times a week and it rarely fails. I also try to spend my time in the same places over and over and it has led to me serving as a chaplain in several business. Folks know they can come talk and pray.
2. Share with people about your church online.
Did you experience a great time of worship in church? Let people know. Those facebook/twitter/instagram updates are golden for people knowing you are a person that takes faith seriously. It will open you up to relational conversations and make it easier to invite friends to church.
You can also share key status updates from your church with others. Have blanket open invitations to worship. Find out what are key pieces of communication from your church and share share share.
3. Be a public person of prayer.
Pray in public. Another simple one. Pray for your food and when you tell someone you will pray for them do it right then and there. This doesn’t mean you hold an entire prayer meeting in your local Starbucks, but don’t be afraid of a few sentences. I have also found when I tell people I will pray for them I will also write it down and keep up with them. If this is a friend at church it might not surprise them, but if you come back to a co-worker in a couple of weeks it will!
Vacation Bible School was on of my favorite parts of the summer. My Dad was actually thrown out of Vacation Bible School when he was a kid, and I am sure I was close a few times. VBS meant the beginning of summer so I tended to get a little rowdy.
Some people over the last 10 years or so have begun being critical of 20th century evangelical practices. They see certain traditions as having no value, worth and a waste of resources in the 21st century. Many people in ministry today have lists of ministries they think simply aren’t worth it anymore (I admit to having my own at times).
But I would get in the thunderdome with whoever would place VBS on this list. People have different arguments about it. I don’t think any of them are valid. I can’t think of a reason NOT to do VBS.
I love VBS.
When it comes to Vacation Bible School I live by three words: Whatever it takes.
For several years I held the responsibility of being the song leader. The sight of a 300lb man leading kids in singing and motions is a sight to take in. I have gone back in my head and tried to think how many years back I can go and still know the songs and motions.
At St. Paul’s my role has shifted. I help create the environments for the big group meetings, run media and do video. I love it. Kids really dig when they see themselves on a screen, and I am a fan of making these kids happy. This year we built a castle in the sanctuary. I always tell people VBS should be the event in your church were all stops are pulled out. It is the time for your church to shine. It is the best event for your church to show itself off at it’s best.
Here are a few reasons your church should be doing Vacation Bible School:
1. What better way can you introduce kids to Jesus and the story of salvation by a concentrated but approachable week of games, goldfish crackers, songs, stories and fun?
2. It will instantly put your church in communication with families in your area. Some of these won’t be in church and won’t have a relationship with Jesus.
3. Your church will be making itself known in the community as a place of care and a marker of the Kingdom of God. People might walk into a church for the first time to drop their children off and register them. Those 10 minutes might be the icebreaker they need to consider faith in Jesus.
4. VBS is a great way to allow your creative team to flex their muscles and have fun for the week. Your church might not have a 15 ft screen in it’s sanctuary normally (mine doesn’t) and it is a great way to introduce folks into elements of worship and production they would never see.
5. Your congregation will mobilize behind one goal for the week. It is a great opportunity to find new volunteers for children’s ministry, media, greeting and hospitality.
6. VBS is fun. Plain and simple
These are just a few reasons. If you can’t tell, I see VBS as a HUGE opportunity for evangelism in the life of a local church. You never know what seed is being planted in the lives of the people who come into contact with Christians during the week.
Why do you like VBS?
Evangelism has slowly turned into a dirty word among many people in our culture. Even those who follow Christ shirk away from what we consider to be “modern” styles of talking to others about Jesus.
A few weeks ago I asked Facebook to tell me the first thing they think of when they hear the word evangelism. The answers were sobering. Some had a positive view, but many didn’t. You can read the comments here.
While we can try to dance around the idea, I believe we have a Biblical mandate to practice evangelism. Matthew 28 gives us these words of Christ.
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
One thing is unchangeable, the gospel of Jesus Christ. But the vehicle, the medium, is part of an ever moving contextual adventure. The Holy Spirit is with the church has we prayerful discover the best ways to talk with people about the love of Christ. The job of the church is to be part of this task of deliberate sharing of the gospel in ways that resonate with the individual cultures they are part of.
Join us Sunday at 11am. If you are interested in a deeper look into the scripture passages, you can read the rabbit trail posted tomorrow. Below is our sermon preview video. Feel free to share it with your friends.