ECON speakers share thoughts on evangelism challenges 

The Statewide Conference on Evangelism and Church Health (ECON) took place on January 24-25, 2022 at Geyer Springs First Baptist Church in Little Rock. The following speakers took time to sit down with the Arkansas Baptist Newsmagazine (ABN) to offer their thoughts on the current state of evangelism and give insight into the future of evangelism in our churches.  

Shane Pruitt serves as the National Next Gen Director for the North American Mission Board (NAMB).  

Tom Richter serves as the pastor of First Baptist Church in Cullman, Alabama.  

Michael Catt is an author, former pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia where he served as executive producer and co-creator of Sherwood Pictures,  

JJ Washington serves as the Evangelism Catalyst at the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.  

Jim Henry has held various positions within the Southern Baptist Convention and is currently Pastor Emeritus of First Baptist Church in Orlando, Florida.   

ABN: How have you seen the role and methods of evangelism change and what are some challenges to traditional methods of evangelism? 

Pruitt: 
I think specifically in areas of Gen Z. Statistically it’s the least religious generation. A lot of them don’t have a church background. So, we need to share the Gospel with them, but if we’re going to use words like “grace” or “mercy” or “forgiveness” or “sin,” we have to explain the meaning of those words. 

Richter: 

When I thought about all the uncertainty, my mind kind of went the other direction to what hasn’t changed. The theme of the message I just preached was, in uncertain times, you can trust a certain God. I think in terms of evangelism, we can say that God hasn’t changed, the word of God hasn’t changed, the Gospel of Jesus is still the good news, the Holy Spirit is still convicting, and the Great Commission hasn’t changed. So, I think churches are just figuring out how to continue focusing on what hasn’t changed when maybe a lot of other things have.  

Catt:  

We’ve got all these methods of evangelism out there, but I think many times someone tries one method and if it doesn’t work, they quit. I think we’ve given up. We’ve let the darkness encroach on our borders and we’re playing defense instead of offense. Jesus said storm the gates of hell, He didn’t say let the people behind the gates of hell storm you.  

Washington: 

A recent Barna report revealed that 51% of US (United States) church members are unfamiliar with the term “Great Commission.” Another report says that 47% of Christian millennials agree, at least somewhat, that it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone in hopes that they will one day share the same faith. So, with just those two stats alone, one of the things that I’m realizing that we need to do is teach people not only how, but why we need to share Jesus. 

Henry:  

I would say in one way it was easier when I first began, there was a kind of Christian background and general Bible knowledge. People were more open to talk about spiritual things, even if they didn’t agree. As time has gone by, fewer people knew the Gospel and the culture gradually became hardened. In education, media, other things, the church began to be seen as the enemy and not the friend of the marginalized.  

 
ABN: What adjustments do you believe are needed for effective evangelism in the future? 

Pruitt:  
Traditionally, collegiate and student ministry depended a lot on getting into the schools. Access to schools is limited in many places now. So, I think it requires taking a different approach. We must start with servant evangelism. We’ve got to ask, ‘what do you need?’ No agenda, just serving, building relationships and sharing the Gospel.  

Also with college ministry, it used to be you would share the Gospel, they would believe, and then belong to your community. Now they may belong first before they start believing in what you believe. And that’s okay. I think it starts with inviting them to be a part of your relational community. And then through that, sharing the Gospel truth.   

Richter:  

Of course, the great need of every human heart is the Gospel, but I think there may be an opportunity in the midst of a pandemic where people feel that need now more than they have before. They are not afraid to talk about life, death and real issues. So maybe we should be tapping more into the felt need of right now. I’m hearing from people that anxiety and loneliness are through the roof. Those are both needs that the Gospel certainly addresses.  

Catt:  

We often think the method is the cure-all, but the method is about finding what people can relate to, what is best for them. Part of what a church has to do is train people in multiple methods and help them, especially introverts, help them say, “oh, I could do that.”  

Teach people to share the Gospel. I retired in May and Paul Gotthardt became the pastor in June. His goal is that every member of this church has heard the Gospel enough that they can repeat it. So, he takes about two minutes in every sermon to share the Gospel. We do this with church vision statements and with mission statements. We need to do this with the Gospel and challenge people to just learn it. 

Washington: 

We’re going to have to spend a lot of time giving a theological foundation for evangelism. Just helping people to understand the “why.” Then we teach them the “how-to,” because if we just give the “how” without the “why,” that’s where the miss is. 

Most of the time, there is no prayer emphasis on reaching the lost. We must make sure it’s a part of the culture of the church past the moment when you’re up there before the offering. Pray during the service for the lost in your community. Pray that God will move on hearts, and that God will use us to be a light here for the Gospel. Weave evangelistic prayer into the culture of your church. 

 Henry:  

I can’t speak authoritatively, but I wonder how much evangelistic preaching we’re doing. I don’t think that the whole sermon has to be evangelistic, but there’s got to be more emphasis on evangelism in our preaching. 

 Also, we must put more emphasis on training people in evangelism. Every pastor should at least take a Sunday and go through the Gospel. Teach people how they can share the Gospel. Even though they’ve never shared before, show them that they can do it. 

ABN: What are some practical helps that can be shared to assist pastors and churches in evangelism? 

Pruitt:  

Don’t overthink it. I think we’re always looking for the thing that’s going to work or the new thing that everybody’s doing. Remember, you’re empowered by the Holy Spirit. Use the Gospel, use the scriptures. These things that have worked for a long time still work today. 

Also, and I’m not just saying this because I’m at NAMB, I really like the Who’s Your One strategy. When we look at the lostness in the world, you’re thinking billions of people. That can be overwhelming. I think individual believers don’t do anything sometimes because they’re so overwhelmed by that. But everybody knows at least one spiritually lost person. Just start with one, praying for them by name every day, praying for opportunities to share the Gospel with them and then praying for boldness when those opportunities come.  

Richter: 

I’m imagining maybe a church doing a workshop on anxiety where you bring in panels of experts, and then you use that. And close with a Gospel presentation, kind of an open door to talk about peace, but really tapping into those felt needs.”  

It’s probably too much to say to throw out the metrics all together, but maybe just rethink which metrics we use and how. If you’re not careful, you will look at your metrics and go “here’s where we were in 2019 and here’s where we are now.” Then you become discouraged and distracted instead of ministering to the people right in front of you right now.  

Catt: 

I think we should use social media to share the Gospel instead of attacking our brothers. If somebody stumbles across your Twitter account, they ought to be able to find something about the Gospel on it. God has given us the greatest communication in the world through social media to touch people around the world and I don’t think we’re using it effectively. 

I think serving the community is the best open door to evangelism. That’s what Jesus did. He built bridges. He went to where the people were. I think we expect them to come, but Jesus said go. We’re good at saying come, but we’re not good at saying go.   

Washington: 

Lots of our churches are in need of a turnaround. They are hurting. What we are trying to do is help that pastor raise the temperature for evangelism. There is no evangelistic church without an evangelistic leader. So, it starts with the leader, him personally, in his own life. Then out of that overflow of his leadership and preaching, what you’ll find is not everybody’s going to come, but you’ll see God begin to turn some and they’ll respond. They’ll want to follow you. They want to come with you, and you just move with the movers. And then you see the culture begin to change. God is always going to honor a commitment to the Gospel. 

Henry: 

Share testimonies during worship service. People need to hear stories of how others came to faith in Christ. 

Help your church members reach their neighbors and people they work with. Jeanette and I encouraged church members to ask neighbors and coworkers to lunch and let us join them. We weren’t there to push anything on them, we just wanted to get to know them. Our people jumped all over that. We went to businesses and homes all over Orlando. One guy invited three families; all three families ended up joining the church. 

 
Editor’s note: To listen to the recorded sermons from ECON,  click here 

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