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.
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.