We must stop thinking of evangelism in individual terms.
“Ideally evangelism is not something to be undertaken in isolation,” quip Chester and Timmis, and they are absolutely right. The work of engagement is best done in the context of community. The good news of the gospel informs us that God has created for himself a unique people. This unique community is expressed in local congregations all over the world. Christ does not simply save us out of something, he also saves us in to something.
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”blue” class=”” size=””]Evangelism should be personal, but that does not make it individual.[/pullquote]For some reason, Americans love going it alone. Our history as a frontier nation has produced a pioneer people. We have individual liberties, and that translates into individual lifestyles. This colors our understanding of evangelism and ministry. A bend toward individual evangelism and outreach is only compounded when we misunderstand the term personal evangelism. Pastors stand in pulpits and call everyone to be personal evangelists, and that is a good call. Evangelism should be personal, but that does not make it individual. In their discussion of evangelism, Chester and Timmis point out that many people are attracted to the Christian community before the message of the gospel. They say, “People need to encounter the church as a network of relationships rather than a meeting you attend or a place you enter. Mission must involve not only contact between unbelievers and individual Christians, but between unbelievers and the Christian community.”
Approaching engagement as a network of relationships is key to reaching people in your area for a number of reasons. Concerning international people groups, many cultures in the world are simply more communal than ours. In fact, most people groups from the unreached areas of the world tend to think with the pronoun “we” instead of “I.” They are group oriented, and are naturally attracted to the community created in the gospel. Many evangelistic efforts with people from these cultures have been frustrated by attempts at explaining the message of the gospel apart from the community it affords the convert.
Whether you are working with internationals or not, evangelizing this way is a lot of work. Having one person in the church responsible to go out and do this alone leaves a lot on his or her shoulders. Instead, enlisting many people to do regular activities with gospel proclamation in mind creates a network of individuals within the church who interact with these various social groups all over your community. Soon, several people from the church have developed relationships with these groups of people. Now that Afghan shop owner knows a group of people who all know and love one another. The baristas at your local Starbucks see a regular stream of people from your church come through, all sharing the gospel. This provides opportunities to demonstrate the Christian community created by the gospel, and it keeps all the responsibility from resting on one individual in the church.
The above is an excerpt from an upcoming resource for local churches and associations by the Peoples Next Door Project. We are currently developing primers, lesson plans, and training materials to help church leaders equip their membership for ministry outside their walls.
And to read more from Chester and Timmis (the guys I quoted in the post) on this issue, check out their book Total Church. You will be glad you did.