Today’s Guest post is “Top 10 Evangelism Mistakes, Number Four” from Shawn Anderson’s Living Dangerously blog (no longer online).[Read more…] about Personal Evangelism Mistake #4
Beyond Belief by Patrick McElroy is subtitled Live a Consistent, Spiritually Powerful life.
From the back cover:
“a book about breaking free from a spiritually weak life to achieve the consistently powerful one that is available to every believer.
It’s a Bible Study 101 that guides reader to a greater revelation of God.”
This weekend in my devotional time, I spent time pondering how Paul planted a church in a foreign city, particularly Corinth, from Acts 18.
I found several parallels to my current church planting work.
1. He connected with the local people
When he came to the town, “he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla,” (18:2).
Paul went to see them, and “because he was a tent maker as they were, he stayed and worked with them” (v.3)
Here is an example of relationship building. They had something in common – tent making, and that formed the basis of their relationship. They were local, even though they were transplants from another city.
At this point in the story, we do not know if Aquila and/or Priscilla are believers. We know that eventually they are, because of their role in discipling Apollos when they all meet him for the first time in Ephesus.
I recalled reading about the Luke 10 principles from The Rabbit and the Elephant (see review of The Rabbit and the Elephant). There, the authors remind us of how Jesus sent out the people ahead of him, to find the “person of peace” and to stay with that person. We see this pattern in Paul’s work here in Athens. Aquila and Priscilla were those persons of peace.”
2. He worked among them
While staying at the house of Aquila and Priscilla, Paul used that as a base for his outreach every Sabbath. Verse 4 reads “Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.”
During the rest of the week, Paul was likely making his tents and setting up his business. Costs were likely low as his lodging was covered, and he wasn’t supporting a family.
3. He devoted himself full time
Verse 5 reads: “When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching.” This suggests some possible growth in Paul’s business – either
- Paul had made enough funds from selling tents that he was free, or
- Silas and Timothy took over business operations, or
- Business had grown to the point where a manager was in charge, or
- Aquila and Priscilla were running the business to support Paul (All three go to Ephesus).
Once they arrived, Paul was able to devote himself full time to the ministry of teaching. As was his pattern, first to the Jews, and then to the Gentiles. Verse 6 shows his opposition from the Jews, so he setup his teaching base next door.
Paul was busy doing good work. Building relationships, conversing with people, and doing the basics of evangelistic work. Yet even he was afraid of those who mocked, ridiculed, and opposed him.
The Lord gave Paul a vision one night: “Do not be afraid.” At first, I thought this was the common greeting of angelic visitors, but as I peered into first Corinthians, I read “I came to you in weakness and with much trembling” (1 Cor 2:3).
Then there is guidance: “For I am with you, . . . .because I have many people in this city.”
Elijah had a similar fear – when he thought he was the only one – the Lord reminded him that there were others.
When one faces that kind of fear in personal evangelism, it can be emotionally draining. When one thinks of all the other fears that hinder personal evangelism, we have this reminder that Paul faced similar fears.
How did the Lord comfort him?
“keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you”
In other words, God reminded Paul of his presence, and the presence of others in that city who could help him.
If you are a church planter, perhaps one prayer could be “Lord, where are the other people in this city who are called to help us?”
The question that stirs in my mind – what are my fears?
This missionary work wasn’t setup and funded overnight.
In this case, Paul lives among his initial contacts in Corinth and then sets up and runs his business. He grows it to the point where he can hand it off, likely using the proceeds to fund his own church planting or missionary activity.
In receiving comfort from God about his fear in the face of rejection, he likely begins to pray, “Lord, where are the other people.” We see that new relationships develop in the next 18 months while Paul remains:
- Titius Justus, a worshipper of God.
- Crispus, the synagogue ruler and his household.
- Sostehenes, the next synagogue ruler (v.17), who helped write 1 Corinthians (1:1)
- Cloe’s household (1 Cor 1:11)
We can see how the Lord answered Paul’s prayer.
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Each week, I send out new articles to help you grow your church through personal evangelism, invitations, improving your greeter ministry, and refreshing your vision for church hospitality. You’ll usually find a gem that you can use each week or at least every other week. Join our community and share your thoughts.
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As the author, I get to hear various reasons why people buy my book on church hospitality, How to Welcome Church Visitors.
Why are church hospitality committees (Read: What do Church Hospitality Committees do?) looking to improve their hospitality ministry in their church by buying my book?
- Fear that a visitor to their church will come a few times and still not feel welcome.
- Fear that a church visitor will be overlooked.
- Fear that a first time church visitors will not welcomed because of the actions of untrained church greeters.
- Fear that their church greeters will be too overzealous and drive visitors away.
Readers find that these fears are calmed somewhat by this practical “how to book.”
In it they find over 60 practical hospitality ideas for new church visitors and how to organize their church hospitality.
Results not guaranteed
You might be thinking – If I buy your book, will I see results?
Yes, but with qualification.
The risk is assuming that the church hospitality ideas found inside this book are a formula that will guarantee the results.
“If I perfect the system, I’ll get the results. .. ”
That’s flawed thinking.
This thinking might work for weight loss, making money on line or fixing your golf swing, but not building your church.
Churches come in different sizes, shapes, local cultures, and different theological traditions.
Hospitality ideas in the church may works in one place, but the same church hospitality idea may not work in another context.
For example, a personal visit to the home of a first time visitor that Sunday afternoon, unannounced, may still work in some places, but would be considered intrusive in others.
Identifying visitors by making them stand up, wear a visitor badge, or sign a guest book might work in some places, but fail miserably in others. (By the way, I don’t recommend any of these ideas).
The point is, technique doesn’t automatically build relationship.
The goal of your hospitality is a second visit
The goal of your church hospitality ministry is to facilitate emotional and relational connections with the church family.
The goal of your greeting ministry is to remove easy barriers to making that happen.
Hospitality ministries are one of many pieces – ministry events, small groups, etc — to help that process happen.
Techniques help, but if your congregation isn’t truly friendly to your guests, you still won’t get the result you are looking for — growth.
Think of the goal first.
Then work backwards and ask yourself –
- Does this hospitality practice help or hinder that goal?
- What additional practices can we do to facilitate relational connections with the congregation?
Order your copy of How to Welcome Church Visitors.
Several years ago, I was challenged as a youth pastor to give my leadership away — delegate, delegate, and delegate.
The challenger warned me that I could only reach so many people, but if I delegated and empowered, I could lead larger ministries with longer reaches and greater sustainability.
The challenger mentioned that my personal limit of people I could effectively influence was likely around 120-150.
If I could influence leaders, the ministry could grow beyond my personal limits.
One blog I read (ChrisBrogan.com) shares the source behind the social limit of real relationships that a person can maintain.
There’s a theory called Dunbar’s Number that suggests there’s an upper limit to the amount of relationships we can maintain. If you’re interested in networking, this should be an issue. That number, for the record, is 150.
Implications for pastors
I know of a church plant that started about nearly 10 years ago. I checked in on it recently, and the pastor reports that it has plateaued about 125-135 people for the past five years and that the turnover rate is about 45% each year.
New people come in, other people leave after about a year or two. The net effect is that the congregation has remained numerically stable.
This church is a single pastorate, and the pastor has a leadership style where his hand is in everything.
Pastor sets the direction (with a board of government), pastor runs the small groups, pastor runs the worship service and no ministry gets started without the pastor’s initiative. Recently pastor split up the small groups into different areas, but he still maintains a pretty tight involvement with the leaders.
Pastor lovingly leads it all. There is joy in the congregation, no complaints, and for this church this type of leadership functions.
It’s not a dictatorship and pastor is not a control freak. He gets joy out of being involved.
Now, before you agree with me that this is
- Not healthy, or
- A recipe for burnout or
- Effective in a small church, or
- Leadership style that hinders further growth
let me connect it to the point.
1. The church will not grow any larger.
If Dunbar’s number holds true, the limit of a single pastor who feels the need to be involved in everything will be about 150.
It seems to me that the congregation has reached the practical end of its growth unless the pastor gives and empowers leadership to raise up their own networks.
2. Leaders leave because they can’t serve or lead.
This church leadership model does not delegate and empower leadership of other ministry. It doesn’t effectively raise up others to lead their own network of 150.
Not having a place to serve or contribute their gifts after a while, solid believers leave for a place where they can serve.
This particular congregation is at a stage of church growth. If it wants to continue its dream of fulfilling its particular calling, one thing that must change is the leadership style.
Implications for Church Planting
I know it’s not as simple as waving a wand to make a solution, but if you are wondering why your church isn’t growing — perhaps you’ve maxed out the social limit of your leaders?
How much leadership can you give away to trusted and respected leaders?
With regards to evangelism training in your church’s DNA, is the pastor in charge of it all, or is that delegated as well to empowered leaders?
One church planting coach that I have gotten to know uses Jethro’s advice to Moses — delegate and empower. Put people in charges of 50s, 100s, and 1000s.
Implications for Church Visitor Retention Rates
There are practical implications here as well to keeping church visitors in your midst.
In the church I describe, the back door is as big as the front door.
People come and perhaps stay connected for a little while, but without the empowerment to lead and serve in ministries, they may likely take their gifting elsewhere where they are needed.
Your church is working hard at retaining visitors and building connections, but the leadership DNA won’t let it grow.
Could this issue — 150 people per pastor — be part of the reason? Take a look and think about it for a while. Add your comments below.
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Each week, I send out new articles that might help your evangelism committee grow your church through personal evangelism, church invitations, and leading your congregation in evangelistic outreach. You’ll usually find a gem that you can use each week in or at least every other week. Join our community and share your thoughts.
A moment with strangers
Have you ever been with a group of people and felt like you just needed to talk to that person over there?
A sense that God was pointing out that particular person?
Phillip (in the story of Phillip and the Ethiopian Eunuch) was prompted to “Go Stand next to THAT chariot.”
Of all the chariots on the road that day, he was prompted to go next to one.
A moment with Friends
Maybe been with a friend, visiting in the coffee shop, and you have this unmistakable sense that they want to talk with you about their faith or yours?
Or maybe a friend has surprised you and started opening up about their faith struggle and search for God?
What are these moments?
These moments have the potential to become kairos moments, moments where we as Christians are aware of the gentle prompting of the Holy Spirit to pay attention and likely talk about faith.
The are moments that are full of possibilities for a persons spiritual journey towards Christ, where the person who are talking with may make more steps closer in their relationship with Jesus.
Some might call these divine appointments.
I call them kairos moments.
Here are some examples:
- God’s presence is with us. – My tutor hears the gospel
- Seminar Testimony – a wrong phone number
- Is he a PC USA Pastor? – Divine moment in Cracker Barrel
- What is an Evangelist? – Student wants a definition
- Reflections from Enfield CT – Wal-Mart Stories
- Evangelism Motives: Why bother? – taxi driver shares Jesus
Each conversation moment has been prepared and thanks to the working of the Holy Spirit another person makes another step forward towards discovering their relationship with Christ.
Some people search for God
Luke 19:1-10, the familiar story of Zacchaeus shows that noticing people and these divine appointments turns out to be more art than science.
Verse one says; “Jesus entered and walked through Jericho.”
Luke transitions from story to story with phrases letting you know that Christ was on the move.
On this particular day he came across a shunned tax collector named Zacchaeus whom we would place in the category of lost.
Nevertheless, verse 3 says that Zacchaeus “wanted desperately to see Jesus” (The Message).
The Greek rendering of the word “desperately” is zateo.
Zateo carries with it a meaning of a frantic pursuit. This is a very dramatic and passionate verb that Luke uses.
If you lost your child in a crowded public space, “zateo” describes the desperate search.
If your passport is missing the night before your international flight, zateo is the word to express the intensity of searching.
Do we believe that some people zateo Jesus?
They have been prepared and are so full of spiritual thirst they will do anything to find the water of life?
Jesus looks for them, rewarding their search.
Here’s what’s remarkable about Jesus. As he’s traveling along, he comes upon an ordinary tree and then does something extraordinary; he stops and notices! Jesus is busy, the religious crowd wants his attention and yet he stops and stares up at a tree. Go figure!
With all the travel language in the book of Luke, when Jesus stops it’s a big deal. What really happened at that tree could not be seen, the beauty is in the unseen.
When Jesus stopped at the tree of Zacchaeus, he ascribed worth to him and said that Zacchaeus mattered.
This was Jesus’ paradigm for letting people know that he cared about them—he stopped and noticed them. It wasn’t what Jesus said that was so compelling but what he did. In the economy of Jesus, Zaccheus had high value.
Others may grumble because you don’t do it right.
Verse 7 says, “Everyone who saw the incident was indignant and grumped, ‘What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?’ ”
Jesus was not playing the part correctly.
He was supposed to let Zacchaeus know how much he didn’t approve of his sin and share “the gospel” with him, which starts with an explanation of his failures.
Instead, Jesus stopped, noticed, called him by name and had a conversation with him on his turf.
The story ends with Jesus making this statement, “For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost.”
The Greek verb that is translated ‘find and restore’ is none other than zateo.
The art of Noticing People
Apparently, Jesus is passionately pursuing the people formerly known as lost. Pursuing Jesus was his business, his passion, his reason for existence.
Jesus profoundly impacted Zacchaeus not by sharing good news with him, but by being good news to him on that day. He stopped and noticed.
If we want to be on mission with Jesus, we’ll need to relearn the lost art of noticing.
Some of those conversations will go deep.
Some of those conversations that happen will go deep. Others will remain shallow.
I have experienced lots of moments where after noticing people as in the Zaccheus text, the opportunity to offer a piece of the gospel happens.
Sometimes I get to harvest what others have sown, other times I get to water what was already there. Sometimes I get to plant a seed for the first time.
It all starts with noticing those promptings of the Holy Spirit.
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