Five Reasons Many Churches Are Not Growing Evangelistically

This post is not about a new program or a new approach for a church to reach its community.

This post is about you.

It is about you pastors, church staff, and lay leaders. It’s about any of you wondering when someone else will lead the church evangelistically.

It’s for you pastors who are frustrated that the church members are not evangelistic. It’s for you church members who wonder why the pastor does not reach more people. After all, some may surmise, that is why we pay our pastor.

The Crux of the Matter

The primary reason most churches are not evangelistic is because most pastors, staff, and church members are not evangelistic. Our theology may be sound. Our motives may be sound. But we are not personally evangelistic.

Let me be clear before I start looking for specks in your eyes when I have a plank in my own eye.  I fail evangelistically too often. And I fail evangelistically because I fail to be evangelistic.

Five Reasons

What, then, are the reasons we are not evangelistic, which in turn means our churches are not evangelistic? Allow me to suggest five reasons.

  1. We fail to be biblically responsible for doing evangelism ourselves. Instead we think it’s the responsibility of another person, a program, or a denomination.
  2. We fail to put evangelistic opportunities on our calendars. Many of us are evangelistic in theory. But we will never be evangelistic unless we are intentional about it and set aside time each week. It may be as simple as taking a co-worker or neighbor to lunch.
  3. We fail to be consistent in our evangelistic efforts. What if we committed to doing just one thing evangelistically each week? Think about the impact we could have with 52 evangelistic encounters. Think about the impact a church would have if 100 members had 52 evangelistic encounters.
  4. We fail to pray for evangelistic opportunities. What if each of us, whether we are a pastor, church staff member, or church member, prayed each day for the opportunity to share the gospel in word or deed? Imagine what would happen if we combined the power of prayer with intentional evangelism.
  5. We fail to do what is most important because we are busy doing the less important. Church life can keep us very busy, so busy that we neglect our families, and we neglect doing ministry outside the walls of the church. Many of our church members may not be evangelistic because church activities keep them too busy to engage the community around them.

There Is No Such Thing As a Non-evangelistic Church

Let’s not speak about churches not being evangelistic. Let’s be clearer and say that church members and church leaders are not evangelistic.

And before we point fingers at others who are not evangelistic, let’s make certain that we’ve pointed the finger at ourselves first.

I know I can do more. In God’s power, I know I can be more evangelistic.

A church weak in evangelism is a church with members weak in evangelism.

What can we do to do more and do better? What can you do to do more and do better?


  1. Shawn barr says

    One of our church leaders told me last week that our church is becoming too evangelistic. It was the biggest compliment I had received in a long time (backhanded as it was).

    Here are some things I believe can make our leaders and members more evangelistic…

    1. Dispelling myths about evangelism. (We don’t all have to be a Billy Graham or a Paul. ..but we all can share Jesus)

    2. Training…focusing on progressive steps in acquiring evangelistic skills (start with baby steps).

    3. Measure effort…not just fruit. (Hown about measuring as a congregation the number of gospel conversations we had in a week.)

    4. Implement a context in which members talk about their evangelistic efforts.

    5. Schedule intentional servant evangelism events for the church…even if it means canceling a pot-luck.

    Teach people to ask permission to share their faith. (Email me and I’ll tell you more…this is huge).

    6. The pastor HAS to be the lead evangelist and propensity of evangelism…no one else will do it if he doesn’t.

  2. Shawn barr says

    Ooops…there should have been 7 points above. I didn’t number one of the most important concepts. No 6 should have been ” teach people to ask permission to share their faith”…HUGE concept that I have never seen written about.

    • says

      Now that alone no. 6 is it, key to each to listen when it is welcomed, Shawn Barr, Thank you, For as my brother once said to me, whenever I start just talking away about the Gospel, with out first asking if he minds that I share, his mind is turned off and I am speaking to deaf ears
      So you right Sister, absolutely, wait, be patient and be ready when another is ready, whether it is us to listen or speak all in due order from God, thank you through trust to God

  3. says

    For me the biggest hurdle is meeting new people. One way to overcome this hurdle is to partner with someone else and pick an activity that you both can do to meet new people. The young worship pastor and I partnered with each other and started to hang out a local coffee shop. We got to know the other people who hung out at the coffee shop. We helped re-paint the shop and made plans with the owner to revive a weekly gathering at which people recited poetry, played the guitar and song songs of their own composition, and that sort of things. Hurricane Katrina would put an end to our plans. The storm gutted the ground floor of the building in which the coffee shop was located. It never re-opened.

    Jesus sent out the disciples two by two for a reason. When you partner with someone else, you encourage each other just by your presence..

    Among the things I have learned is to listen to people, not be in a hurry to give our testimony or a two-minute presentation of the gospel; to take time to get to know them, to build a relationship with them, and to be there for them when they need someone to be there for them. God will provide opportunities for spiritual conversations. Howard Hanchey wrote that God is working in the lives of everyone around us. Our role is to help them recognize where God is working in their lives. A lot of folks have diodencia, God-incidents. They just don’t recognize them for what they are.

    We all fail evangelistically. This does not mean we should give up. We should learn from our mistakes and put to good use whatever we learn. The ultimate outcome is always in God’s hands. He may be using us to prepare the soil, to plant the seed, to water the seed, to water the young plant, or to weed it. Someone else may do the harvesting.

    • says

      To weed to me is to weed me, not others to weed me as this is why I say this
      Lord there are tares amongst the wheat, what shall we do?
      Let both grow together, for if we pull the tares (weeds) of others, we will harm the wheat
      And to me this fits Luke 6:32

  4. Steve says

    In many churches, it seems that the root of the problem is a philosophical misunderstanding of evangelism. The Church members–and possibly staff–have been “trained” that 1) it is the pastor’s job to evangelize and 2) evangelism takes place during the worship service.

    There are more reasons, of course, but in all my thinking of this issue over the past half year or year, these seem to be the two from which most others stem.

    As Shawn said above, yes, it is the pastor’s job to be a servant leader in this area. But I believe it is a part of the job that must take place in a particular context: discipleship! The pastor shouldn’t just be out evangelizing, the pastor should be modeling that evangelism in a discipling context, whether one-on-one or a group setting.

    Passivity is easily born when outside-the-four-walls outreach is replaced with inner-retreat event evangelism. Whether it is actually implementing events to attract people to come inside the building, or it is configuring a worship service to be pleasurable and appealing to the lost, it is wrong-headed and breeds passivity. There is no Great Commission fulfillment there. All the weight for so-called evangelism falls on the weight of the pastor and the worship pastor/leader for entertaining the people to Jesus.

    I believe there are other reasons, such as:

    1) There is a lack of emphasis of lay leadership in churches. With this, I’d say that there is a mindset that the Great Commission is not for everyone. It is only for “the Called” (aka “The Clergy). So there is no understanding that the Great Commission (and perhaps many other key exhortations) is a universal call; it is part of the Christian life for all who are the Body!

    2) Again, Shawn was hitting on this, but there has been a huge spiritual shift in our country (unfortunately, for the negative) since Billy Graham started doing Crusades and the more popular methods of evangelism were actually effective. Now, evangelism generally requires a relational investment. People are further away than they used to be. For many in the Church, however, they can’t see that a change has occurred. For others, they’ve been initiated into a culture where they’ve learned to be like those who haven’t noticed the change! Bad church legacy tends to continue to breed bad church legacies!

    3) I could be wrong on this, but I think those of us in the younger generations need to be more than told, we need to be shown. Is it because of tv? Something else? I’m not sure. Of course, a disciplistic relationship would address this 😉

    4) As David Platt suggests in “Radical,” we’ve bought in to the idea that we have to do everything in our own power and ability. There is no reliance on or expectation of the power and the work of the Holy Spirit in evangelism. I have to have all the answers to any objection someone might make to me. I, I, I. This is problematic for many reasons, but just a couple of note: a) when “I” don’t convince somebody to believe “ME,” “I” start to view “MYself” as ineffective and/or a failure and begin to dread ever evangelizing again, and b) when someone rejects the Gospel, it isn’t seen as rejecting Christ, it is seen as rejecting “ME.” (Side note: is this why we try to woo people into believing the Gospel? By softening it up and jazzing it up?).

    I believe #3 and #5 kind of go together. Many times we feel overwhelmed and defeated because, as we look at the cultural landscape, the number of lost people is large. We hate feeling insignificant, so we want the biggest bang for our time. If, however, we start out small and focus on just one time a week–especially given busy schedules–we can gain that momentum, that snowball effect.

    Also, #5 can have a huge impact on the pastor evangelizing! I see this is a great obstacle in small or dying churches: the pastor has to be bi-vocational, working full-time at “the other job” while being the only paid staff person at the Church. I call it the “Kitchen Nightmares” Effect.

  5. says

    “The young worship pastor” was a seminary student who served as worship pastor of my previous church. I was going to write “the young worship pastor of my previous church and I…” but somehow omitted it. I neglected to point out that the founding and lead pastor of the church did the same thing when he first came to the community–he hung out at cafes, coffee shops, tea shops, and other places where people regularly gathered in order to meet new people. He continued to do this after he launched the church. He also joined the local voluntary fire department and a number of community organizations. He and his wife invited people they met to their home. His wife worked as a receptionist in a doctor’s office. He was bi-vocational: he cleaned offices at night. He devoted his days to meeting people and building relationships and to preparing his sermon.

  6. says

    The pastor of my previous church was mentored by an older Baptist preacher.. His mentor would visit people at their homes to get to know them and to pray for them if they had a need for prayer. Often as not he got the door slammed in his face. However, he persisted. His congregation was largely made up of people whom he had visited. He had been there for many of them in a time of crisis. They had come to the realization that he had kept coming to their homes because he really cared about them.

  7. says

    Some good comments here. I would add (as a SBC pastor – sort of) that another barrier to Jesus like evangelism is the whole ‘boycott’ mentality. The culture slides more toward a secular reality. Boycotts are not effective or biblical (IMO) but prove more of self-righteousness mentality. Neither are they consistent. Our Christian women can go where our Christian men should not to cast the gospel net in hopes for converts but a boycott will have us go only to Chick-fil-a or the like. There seems to be “taboo” places that we in the Church refuse (maybe because we think it will make us unclean). This gives rise to para-church organizations who will and then the challenge to incorporate new converts into the church from these “taboo” places and backgrounds becomes difficult. Evangelism seems to be ‘whatever we are comfortable with’ and call that good. We are entering a time in history where like minded churches really need each other. We need each other to reach our communities but pride, distrust, and secondary doctrinal issue keep us in cordial mode. This is no time for territory disputes and competition. Thanks Dr. Rainer.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thanks so much, Preston. I am sitting in my study doing finishing touches for my LifeWay board meeting, writing posts for next week, working on a book, and responding to comments on the blog today. In the midst of my multi-tasking, I reviewed many reader comments of the past week. I am blessed by what I learn from the readers. And I am inspired by the community of readers of this blog. You just added to my blessings with your comment.

  8. says

    Frustration with my own lack of evangelism, as well a decline in baptisms in my own church and convention last year, led to a simple initiative that resulted in a third more baptisms this year.

    We called it “One Challenge,” which was simply asking members to commit to sharing their faith with one person within one year. Included in their commitment was attendance in a one hour witnessing class that our staff wrote and taught led for the adults and students. Four hundred attended the training last year and this fall we are offering a “One Challenge Refresh” course.

  9. Mark Dance says

    Another way to “do more and better” is to count all the “Ice Bucket Challenges” as baptisms on your annual report to double their benevolent impact.

  10. says

    I love the additional comments. Some seem to be doing the stuff. Yesterday I was with a group of young businessmen whom I mentor to care for their families and employees as a special calling of ministry. One shared that he and his wife had begun to meet and befriend their neighbors but a church leader became very anxious that their three small children would become “contaminated” by the “unsaved neighbors”.

    I worked with and helped Muslim families and groups for several years. Some of my friends were horrified lest I lose my faith. How can anyone evangelize if we never meet and care for those who need the gospel? We must have something of value to share before we bring up salvation.

    • Thom Rainer says

      May your tribe increase, Gary. Sometimes the greatest opposition we experience in our evangelism comes from other Christians. Keep doing what your doing.

    • says

      Yes and yes. Evangelism may be described as a series of processes that involves a series of events. We are apt to focus on one event or one process to the neglect of the others. We like things tidy but evangelism is not tidy. Here it is useful to keep in mind the stories of the Peter, Nicodemus, Nathaniel, Thomas, Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, and Paul and how they differ from each other. In doing so, we pay careful attention to all the details and not cherry pick those that may support our favorite theory of evangelism. God works through these processes and events and their accumulative effect and in the heart, or inner being, of the one He is calling to himself. Whatever sequence you may wish to see new birth, repentance, and faith, it is ultimately God’s doing.

      I do not know if you are familiar with vine culture in New Testament times. The grape vines were allowed to send out creepers and to start new plants. The creepers were covered with earth. But all the new plants were tied to the mother vine. They were not separate plants. They received life-giving sap and with that sap water and vital nutrients from the mother vine as well as vital nutrients and water from their own roots. When Jesus described himself as the vine and us as the branches, he was very well aware of this fact. The life within us comes from God. It is not our doing. We may draw sustenance from what God provides and God may nourish us in this fashion. But we have no life apart from God. Separated from God like a new plant from its mother vine we wither and die. For a new plant, a new branch, to disconnect itself from the mother vine and its life-giving sap was tantamount to choosing to die.

  11. says

    I’m going to share this article with my staff Thom. It’s what’s been on my heart too. We set a goal for our small church called “100×100″ (One hundred people saved, one hundred people baptized) It’s not to complicated but seriously ambitious for us. This article will help tremendously.

    As a pastor it can be extremely difficult for me to get outside the walls of the church. But it must be done! I love how you talked about putting opportunities on the calendar. Huge!

    Working on tuning up our vision recently I did a study on the early church. If I learned anything I learned the one thing the apostles didn’t do… sit in the office. Lord forgive us for being office sitters!

    Keep writing Thom! We need it!

    • Thom Rainer says

      I love your heart, Zac. God will honor your faith and obedience. This fall I will share through a series of videos the four major steps of churches that are moving toward revitalization. I will give specific details to those on my email list, so if you are not signed up, please consider doing so. I have confidence that one day soon you will be reporting the incredible ways God is working in your church. Keep it going!

  12. Hal says

    I think an important reason that was not listed is that many church leaders and members have forgotten whose church it is to begin with. I have actually heard people (I think mindlessly say) “our church is just the right size that I like”.

    Or…I’ve heard…”Well if OUR church grows any more, then it will be difficult to know every one’s name in the church”.

    It’s absolutely unbelievable that this kind of mindset actually exists in God’s church.

  13. Mark says

    Some churches are a club which, as most clubs do, have explicitly or implicitly controlled membership. Evangelism results in new people coming in and likely having different opinions and may be from families whose entire history isn’t known. Long time members don’t want the club to change and be full of new people. Leadership might have to work harder and deal with new, unfamiliar problems. Also, some people go to a particular church but would be ashamed of what is being said there if they were to invite someone to join them. Some Christians are scared that their personal efforts at evangelism could be reversed in 10 minutes or less by a minister whose sermon went off on a particular group of people. These are tragic but I have seen them first hand.

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