The look on the pastor’s face said it all. He was shocked.
Our team at Church Answers sent him the results of a survey of the members of his church. We use a tool called Know Your Church™ It’s a robust tool with 160 questions. It is a powerful way to see how your church members perceive the health of the church.
But this pastor went to the lowest score. It was in evangelism. The report indicated that the members perceived the church to be “very unhealthy” in evangelism. “Ugh,” he muttered. “We are sick in evangelism and our members know it.”
I give this pastor a lot of credit. He wanted the truth. He wanted to face reality. He knew his church could not get healthy until the members and the leaders admitted the church was sick. This wake-up call to reality was the first step toward health.
The Southern Baptist Convention as a Case Study
Because of the years I spent in leadership positions in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), I watch closely the numbers the SBC reports each year through a report called the Annual Church Profile. The results for 2021 were recently reported. They were not a pretty picture.
Baptisms are seen as a close proxy for evangelism in the SBC. Note the following numbers for baptisms for selected years in the convention:
- 1972: 445,725 (peak)
- 2001: 395,900
- 2019: 235,748 (last pre-COVID year)
- 2020: 123,160 (COVID)
- 2021: 154,701 (first post-COVID year)
The numbers reflect a saddening trend. In 2021, baptisms were down 65% from their peak in 1972. While some people may take solace that the 2021 numbers were better than the previous year, there really is not much good news there. Many churches were not meeting in 2020, so baptisms could not take place. The better comparison is 2021 (first post-COVID year) to 2019 (last pre-COVID year). Using that comparison, baptisms are down 34%.
The trend is bad, and it is getting worse.
This death of evangelism is not limited to the SBC, though. We are seeing it across denominational lines and in non-denominational churches.
Seven Unacceptable Responses
Some church leaders and church members can get defensive about these disturbing trends. Here are seven responses that will only make matters worse.
1. It’s the denomination’s fault. No, it’s not. It’s disobedience among Christians in local churches. While denominations may provide some helpful resources, evangelism is really simple at its core. It’s a Christian telling a non-believer the good news of Christ.
2. Things are really not that bad. Yes, they are, at least in most churches. Until we accept the difficult reality of our anemic evangelistic state, we will do nothing about it.
3. Evangelism is not my gift. Jesus directed the Great Commission to all believers. He did not say, “If you have the spiritual gift of evangelism, go and make disciples.” The only word for non-evangelistic Christians is “disobedience.”
4. I don’t have time to do evangelism. In other words, telling someone how they can have eternal life is just not a priority in your life.
5. I don’t know what to say. You can learn what to say. You can even download an app and let a non-Christian read it. My favorite is the “Life on Mission” app that uses the illustration of “Three Circles.”
6. I don’t know any non-Christians. That means you don’t go shopping. You don’t get a haircut. You never go out to eat. You have no neighbors. You never go to the dry cleaner. Get the point? People who don’t know Christ as their Savior cross our paths every day.
7. If I tell someone Jesus is the only way of salvation, they might be offended. The cross can be offensive. The narrow way can seem narrow minded. But the exclusivity of salvation through Christ is an unequivocal biblical truth. You can’t compromise it.
The Biblical Problem
Perhaps one of the major reasons evangelism is dying is that many of our church members don’t really believe Jesus is the only way of salvation. In the Know Your Church ™ report, we ask several biblical questions. Sadly, we see an increasing number of church members deny that Christ is the only way of salvation when we get the results of the report.
There will be zero motivation and conviction to share the gospel if you don’t really believe people need to hear it to be saved.
Evangelism is dying in many churches. Evangelism is dying in most churches in North America.
I pray I will be an obedient Christian, not a disobedient Christian. I pray I will share the gospel with discipline, hope, and conviction. I want to be able to say the words of Peter and John in Acts 4:20: “We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard” (NLT).