What are the main barriers that hold your church members back from evangelism? At the beginning of the year we did a helpful exercise at Christchurch Market Harborough to try to identify why we found evangelism difficult. We asked the members of our Homegroup to write down on a piece of paper the single main obstacle to their personal evangelism. We then shuffled the pieces of paper, handed them back out randomly, and read out what had been written.
As the answers were read out a clear pattern emerged. There were three main categories of obstacle:
“Fear about what others will think” x3
“People won’t like me”
“Not knowing how people will react”
“Don’t think people are interested”
“There is always something else that needs to be done”
“Lack contacts” x2
“Fear my life won’t live up to the testimony I profess”
“Fear I will say something wrong and jump in too quickly”
“Knowing what to say”
“Hard to initiative conversations”
It was a very useful exercise, both for the church members and the pastors. It identified the “elephants in the room” when we speak about evangelism. It made us more able to be open and honest, knowing that others were facing the same struggles. It has helped us to pray more effectively for one another.
It has helped us as pastors to know how we need to teach and encourage the church members in their evangelism, and to equip them to initiate conversations, answer questions and face disappointment and rejection.
It has helped us to recognise the importance of events that build contacts with the community, and of not overloading the programme so that church members find their whole life taken up with church activities leaving no time to be “amongst the pagans.” It provided a great start to our preaching series in 1 Peter and influenced the applications we drew.
Most churches struggle in their evangelism, and I don’t think this is primarily because their members do not care, nor because they are lazy. Individual Christians lack resilience and persistence because they have sought to be evangelistic, but have experienced disappointments and knock-backs as their friends, neighbours and colleagues have responded with disinterest or hostility. Above all they need encouragement and boldness, and to know that they haven’t failed simply because there has been little response when they have tried to share the gospel.
All too often Christians put on a brave face about evangelism, with the result that we fail to understand the real issues and our misguided attempts at motivation fall on deaf ears. Perhaps you might find something similar a helpful exercise to identify the obstacles to evangelism in your church. The answers may be different, but at least you will know what they are, and can begin to address them.
This blog post first appeared on John Steven’s blog on July 10th 2018.