Pastor, are you satisfied with the evangelism in your congregation? Me neither.
I’m sure every pastor wants to see more evangelism—and not just by the professional staff and unusually gifted. We want to see ordinary church people—stay-at-home parents and students, executives and retirees, mechanics and musicians, talking to their friends, co-workers, and family members about Jesus.
So why aren’t they? Could it be that some of them simply don’t know how? They talk to non-Christians every day, but they have no idea how to turn daily conversations into gospel conversations.
And pastors, that’s where we can help. We need to do more than encourage and exhort our people to have gospel conversations. We need to teach them how. Below are six ways I do this in my own congregation. None of them requires elaborate programs, specialized staff, or additional meetings. Each simply requires you, as pastor or leader, to be intentional.
1. Teach them the Gospel
Your church members already know the gospel, right? Not necessarily. Christians have trusted in the gospel, but that doesn’t mean they know how to explain it or connect it to daily life. If we want our people to have gospel conversations, we need to explicitly teach them the gospel. Every sermon I preach explains the content of the gospel as well as its significance.
There are many ways we can summarize the good news. One of the simplest is to use the four categories of God, man, Christ, and response. The gospel tells us something about each of those, so in every sermon, I connect the passage to all four. Don’t assume your people know the gospel. Teach it to them.
2. Ask them to Explain the Gospel to You
If there’s one thing preachers think they’re good at, it’s preaching. But you might be surprised at what’s not getting through. And the only way to know is to ask. My first chance to do this is the membership interview. I ask each prospective member to explain the gospel to me in about a minute. I’m not looking for a treatise, just a summary of the good news. Inside those four categories (God, man, Christ, response) I’m especially alert for things often left out, like substitutionary atonement, the resurrection, and repentance. Sometimes what I hear surprises me.
I once sat in on the first interview a pastor-friend was conducting. He is, without doubt, the best communicator of the gospel I’ve ever heard. But when he asked the prospective member to explain the gospel, which he’d been explaining to her for months, she couldn’t. Not even close! My friend was so surprised and flustered he hastily ended the interview and said they’d have to complete it later.
Don’t take it personally when potential members can’t explain the gospel, even though they are clearly trusting in it. See it as an opportunity to gently teach. This is when I explicitly introduce “God, man, Christ, response” as a way of organizing their thoughts. If it seems they don’t even recognize the gospel and might not be converted, I invite them to spend a few weeks studying the Gospel of Mark with me.
But it’s not just membership interviews. As I interact with church members I look for opportunities to ask the same question. Most of the time I’m really encouraged. But sometimes the conversation allows me to help organize their thoughts or fill in some gaps. Asking them to explain the gospel in a friendly context takes it to a new level. They have a chance to articulate what they believe. You simply don’t know what they know and believe until you ask.
3. Give Away Books
Some of my favourites on the gospel are: What Is the Gospel? and Who Is Jesus? by Greg Gilbert; Speaking of Jesus, Marks of the Messenger, and Evangelism by Mack Stiles; The Reason for God and Making Sense of God by Tim Keller; and The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever.
4. Tell them about Your Gospel Conversations
As pastors, we should be reticent to talk about ourselves, lest we succumb to boasting. But this time it’s okay you should talk about your own evangelism.
Recently I told my congregation a story about a gospel conversation I had with my allergy nurse, who I see every week and another conversation I had with a Lyft driver, who I’ll probably never see again. As far as I know, neither has become a Christian.
But the point wasn’t to show off another notch in my belt. It was to model how I got into such conversations in the first place. The Lyft driver asked me what I did for a living. Rather than assume he knew what it meant to be a pastor, I used that opportunity to explain the gospel to him.
My allergy nurse told me she was engaged and wanted this marriage to go better than the last one. I asked what she thought would help, and before you know it we were talking about what it means to have God at the centre of your marriage. I wanted people to see the difference between conversations with strangers and conversations with people who are a regular part of your life.
I’ve also shared about frustrating conversations with family members, and conversations I cowardly ducked altogether. But good or bad, when they hear about my gospel conversations, it encourages them in theirs. Don’t be afraid to be an imperfect model. Tell them about your own evangelism.
5. Encourage them to Talk about Their Gospel Conversations
It’s one thing for the pastor to do evangelism. It’s another thing when a regular church member does. So, create opportunities for them to tell each other about it. We do this at our Sunday evening prayer meeting. Every few weeks we’ll ask if anyone has an evangelistic relationship or opportunity we can pray for.
One Sunday a teamster who works for a shipping company talked about how he invites some guys to a Bible study when they go on break at 3 a.m. A young mom shared about a gospel conversation she began with another mom at her kid’s school. Two college students shared about conversations with some international students. Then we prayed for them specifically.
My goal is not to put anyone on a pedestal. I simply want people thinking, Wow, if they could do that, so could I. Along the way, gospel conversations seem increasingly normal, and increasingly corporate, as we pray for each other.
6. Talk to Non-Christians in Your Sermons
On any given Sunday there are non-Christians in my church—and they’re at yours, too. Some are teenagers, or a member’s visiting family, or friends who’ve been invited to church. I speak to them directly in every sermon. Usually, I try to honestly raise the questions or objections they might have about the Scripture we’re studying. Sometimes I ask them questions meant to encourage self-reflection.
I almost always ask questions that speak to their longings as well as their objections. I avoid answering every question I raise. I never try to score points or win the argument, but engage them with genuine respect. I am taking the opportunity to share the gospel, and as my congregation listens to me speak to non-Christians, they are learning to do the same thing. You should do this even if you don’t know of a single non-Christian in the room.
So don’t just make gospel appeals; model how to have gospel conversations in your sermons.
The most important thing, of course, is what the Holy Spirit does. Unless the Holy Spirit gives us a heart for the lost and a conviction of the gospel’s power, none of us will open our mouths. We need to pray for our people as well as teach them. But if we teach them by word and example how to have gospel conversations, I have no doubt the Holy Spirit will answer those prayers.
This article was written by Michael Lawrence (PhD, University of Cambridge; MDiv, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; BA, Duke University). He is lead pastor of Hinson Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon, and is a Council member of The Gospel Coalition. He is the author of several books, including Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church, Conversion: How God Creates a People, Ezekiel: A 12-Week Study (Knowing the Bible), and with Mark Dever, It Is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement.
Hallelujah Magazine is committed to publishing reliable, trusted, quality and independent Christian journalism. Our journalism is free from commercial bias and is not influenced by wealthy people, politicians, clerics or shareholders. We value our readers’ feedback, suggestions and opinions. Have something to add to the story? Share it in the comments below.