This third article in a series on missional growth focuses on
intentional and strategic church evangelism.
By Ed Stetzer
We've all seen outreach done badly. Maybe a lame newspaper ad with a picture
of the pastor holding a big leather Bible with light shining down from above,
or a church sign announcing "Turn or Burn." I've seen them both-and you
probably have, too. They produce few results. And, besides repelling the
unchurched, this ineffective evangelism can sometimes discourage Christians who
have invested themselves in what turns out to be a pretty half-baked plan.
Developing an effective evangelistic strategy requires a series of
components or stages that help people move from the ranks of the inactive and
unreached toward being active followers of Jesus Christ.
In the Winter issue of On Mission, we looked at how to develop a
God-centered and culturally relevant worship service-a magnetic church that
retains or draws back the people who visit. In this issue, we'll talk about
generating and welcoming guests. In the next issue, we'll discuss ways to
connect guests to Christ and to active membership with the church family.
The entire process looks something like the chart below.
Church visionAs a pastor or on mission
Christian concerned with getting your church into a growth pattern, you're
asking yourself: How do we get started? Consider this model of evangelism as a
journey in community.
Research shows that unreached people are more likely to connect with the
truth of the gospel after engaging in meaningful relationships with believers.
In other words, evangelism occurs best when nonbelievers are already connecting
with a church family that's demonstrating genuine biblical love and
If evangelism best takes place in Christian community, we have to discover a
way for people to find their way to that community. Effective evangelistic
churches find diverse ways to encourage people to visit and then stay. Methods
• Pray intentionally. The book of Acts is filled with
examples of early believers coming together to pray for boldness (Acts
1:14-2:41, 2:42-47, 4:23-31, 6:3-7). After praying, they were empowered by the
Spirit, and people were saved. We can follow that same pattern today. Praying
for boldness and the movement of God's Spirit within the community and in the
lives of the people we want to reach can play a crucial role in any effective
One way to approach this would be to canvass your surrounding community for
prayer requests. Each person who requests prayer could be assigned one or more
prayer partners. After praying for the request, prayer partners can make
another visit for an update on the initial prayer request and receive any new
This process builds relationships, provides opportunities to share the
gospel and taps into the power of prayer.
• Help people bring friends. This is more than a
clichéd "y'all bring someone." Connecting-churches teach their members to
"invest and invite." Members invest time, energy and resources in building
relationships with their unchurched friends and then invite them to consider
the church and the Christ of the church. Many churches find that having people
bring friends to specific events helps them be more intentional about their
Mike Dodson and members of New Hope Community Church planned a Friend Day
around their "Church at the Park Sunday." On that day, they had their worship
celebration at a local amusement park, an ideal setting for including visitors
who might not be comfortable coming into church-at least not yet. The event
required weeks of preparation. Members were encouraged to follow a prayer
strategy for inviting F.R.A.N.s (Friends, Relatives, Associates and Neighbors).
The prayer strategy helped members be more intentional about the guests they
invited. They also used a public display on Sundays leading up to the event to
track the number of people being invited. This resulted in the highest
attendance day of the year and the discovery of several prospects for church
• Know your community. Another key component of
generating guests is to make sure you understand who lives in your community.
What are the values and characteristics of the people or people groups in your
community? Which particular group of people is your church best equipped to
reach? Who are you currently reaching and who would you like to reach in the
Some churches find they need multiple services to make this happen. Ron
Sylvia at Church at the Springs in Ocala, Florida, is leading a Purpose Driven
Church that he planted 10 years ago. Today, 2,000 people attend his church each
week. However, he also found a special need as he looked around his community.
Many in his area were a bit more "country" than his contemporary church. To
meet the need and expand their outreach, Church at the Springs now has a
growing country gospel service.
• Create a special ministry or service. As you survey
your community, you're likely to discover some community needs that aren't
being met. By starting a particular ministry you'll not only help your
community, but you'll build relationships with unreached people who have those
particular needs. Some churches have found that DivorceCare, Celebrate
Recovery, parenting classes and other programs become important points of
connection for their outreach strategy.
• Cast a wider net. Some churches find that
advertising helps cast a wider net and reach people outside of existing
relational networks. Many churches use direct mail, radio, newspaper,
door-to-door surveys and other methods to connect to a large number of people
with one goal-to get them to visit the community of believers. Once in that
safe place, they can consider the dangerous claims of the gospel.
Of course, the most effective long-term strategy, which provides the best
results, is personal invitation. Still, advertising and mass media can be an
effective supplement to this or generate an initial boost of prospects.
Word-of-mouth advertising is usually limited to an existing relational network.
Mass advertising helps expand the horizons of communication. It creates new
relational networks through which the gospel can naturally flow.
Getting people to attend church requires hard work. Making them feel
comfortable also requires a plan. Most churches have ushers, but ushers are for
movie theaters and funeral homes. Churches need greeters-volunteers who
intentionally welcome and encourage guests to connect with the church
For most churches, welcoming guests means an usher at the door to the
worship center-that's expected. But if you want to really connect with your
guests, place greeters at four locations:
Greeters provide a connection with the church that replaces older methods
such as having guests wear special nametags, stand up for introductions or even
remain seated while members stand in "their honor." These methods are sometimes
awkward for guests.
The last important element of welcoming guests involves what happens
immediately following the service. Guests are evaluating the friendliness of
their experience from the moment they arrive until the moment they leave. So,
what happens after the service is just as critical as what happens when they
In many churches, as soon as the service ends, the regulars flock together
and basically ignore guests. Train key leaders to employ the "3-Minute
Rule"-for three minutes after the service, they should focus only on making
sure that guests are properly welcomed. This could mean inviting them to have a
cup of coffee and exchanging small talk for a couple of minutes. Finish the
conversation by saying, "It was great to meet you. Thanks for coming. I hope I
see you again." In addition, you could have greeters posted in the coffee area
to be on the lookout for guests and make sure they feel welcome.
Churches need to develop a way of keeping track of guests. Many churches use
some type of communication card to accomplish this. When people visit, they're
asked to fill in their name, address and other personal information to the
degree that they're comfortable. Within the next several days (best within 48
hours), contact guests by phone, letter or both just to say "thank you for
coming" and encourage them to return. Here is a simple process to follow for
Sunday afternoon: Phone call from a layperson
committed to outreach
Tuesday: Letter from the pastor (mailed
Thursday: Letter from a small group leader
Saturday: Call from the pastor inviting them to
Once this system is established, you have a prospect
database that you can utilize for special events. For example, when I founded
and pastored Millcreek Community Church, we planned a special event around
Easter Sunday. We rented the auditorium of a local school, sent out mailers to
the entire community, called previous guests from our prospect database and
invited friends and family. Our average attendance at the time was 250, but
about 750 came to our Easter service-many of them from our list of past guests.
And, best of all, about 100 new people stayed around each Sunday
Ministry and outreach are about connecting with people-for God so loved the
world… that's people. He sent His Son, and His Son is sending us (John 20:21)
to connect with and reach people. Developing a church-wide evangelistic
strategy is about having the same vision that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
have-to relate to and connect with people.
When people experience the love of God within a genuine, caring and biblical
community of believers, they're more likely to connect not only with the church
family, but also with the Lord of the church.
This process requires faith, hard work and a practical plan to generate and
welcome guests. But the journey doesn't end there. In the next issue, we'll
discuss how to build an effective strategy to connect guests within the
community of faith, assimilate them into active membership and build them into
effective disciples of Jesus Christ. Between now and then, evaluate your
current outreach strategy, develop a new plan based on some of the ideas in
this article and begin implementing that plan. May God give you success in
generating unchurched guests and welcoming them into the community of
Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is director of Research and a missiologist at NAMB.
He is co-author with Eric Ramsey of the manual Strategic Outreach
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