by Rod D. Martin
July 29, 2017
Last month in the Florida Baptist Witness, I sketched out an idea I called “An Entrepreneur’s Plan to Double the SBC in 20 Years”. That essay received a great deal of feedback, nearly all of it positive. I’m most grateful for that.
One point, though, which was received with at least some degree of misunderstanding, was my call for churches to hire a full-time staff evangelist. I said:
“We could deploy up to 50,000 new North American missionaries – ten times the current number – just by adding a full-time evangelism director (call that position whatever you will) to each church’s staff.
“This approach maximizes existing infrastructure, existing budgets and local control; it also greatly improves the discipleship and engagement of existing congregations, by properly prioritizing the lost and dying over the many other things we think of as “needs.”
“Adding an evangelism director is not about delegation: it’s about division of labor. Pastors can’t do everything, and frequently aren’t gifted evangelists. Someone who is – and who can devote 100% of his time to it – should train, motivate and organize each church to reach its city for Christ.
“If we can afford paid nursery workers, paid song leaders, paid youth ministers and a growing constellation of paid ministers of fill-in-the-blank – positions many churches considered luxuries 40 years ago if they’d heard of them at all – surely we can afford a trained specialist whose sole job is preventing our neighbors from going to Hell. It is, after all, a question of priorities.”
Now it will not surprise you that those paragraphs meant different things to different readers. Some heard delegation of all evangelism to a staffer, the precise opposite of my intent. Others heard a challenge to their differing ecclesiological views, something I deliberately sought to avoid: the New Testament provides plenty of warrant for the engagement and payment of missionaries, which is all we’re really discussing. Still others correctly noted that not all of our churches can afford such an expense, which I have no doubt is true, but which also very much misses the point.
So let’s talk about what I’m going to call the Evangelist-Organizer.
The need for more evangelists should be obvious to all, after seven years of declining numbers in the SBC and the seemingly unending cultural decline throughout our lifetime. And that last bit cannot be adequately stressed: the cultural evils we face are not random, nor “just the way things are,” but the direct consequence of our failure to reach our own lost neighbors.
No, reaching one lost soul will not make Planned Parenthood stop killing children, nor the Supreme Court ban them from doing so, any more than one paycheck will eliminate your mortgage. But over time, those paychecks – and those souls – add up.
God thinks about the long game. So should we.
But even when we do, Christians tend to be overwhelmed by the immensity of the task of reaching a neighborhood, much less a city or our nation. They tend to manifest this in failure to create any logical plans to reach the goals they rarely set. They then over-spiritualize their excuses for this failure, pointing out (correctly, so far as it goes) that “only God can bring the harvest.”
They conveniently neglect that before that harvest, Paul planted, and Apollos watered.
My proposed Evangelist-Organizers will have precisely one task: to train, motivate and lead our church members to systematically win their city to Christ. They will literally focus on nothing else.
In my earlier essay, I noted as inspiration the 75,000 Mormon missionaries who, at any given time, are giving two years of their young lives to go two-by-two, door-to-door, across the world. Their effectiveness is all too obvious, and their model is something to which we should aspire.
But that model is not my model for the Evangelist-Organizer. Rather, for that position, we must look to politics: labor unions, political parties, even Barack Obama and ACORN.
Why? Because unlike the modern church, all of these have mastered the creation of volunteer organizations that can and regularly do canvass entire cities. With one or more paid field operatives training and leading, they divide whole metropolitan areas into precincts, recruit and train laymen to take responsibility for those areas and the people within them, and motivate their troops to walk those neighborhoods again and again and again.
Has your church even once walked your entire city? Your own neighborhood?
Obviously, this sort of organizing is time-consuming hard work. It also requires a measure of specialized knowledge that not just any deacon or church staffer is going to have.
But it’s equally clear that, for a worthy cause – indeed, causes a lot less worthy than yours – large numbers of people from all walks of life regularly engage in exactly this sort of volunteer behavior, year after year across this country. So why not your church members?
Your Evangelist-Organizer will slowly but surely train your church members in evangelism and build an army of volunteers. That army will divide your town or city into precincts, repeatedly canvass those neighborhoods, and genuinely get to know everyone in their assigned areas.
They will be given reason to canvass/visit repeatedly: explicit evangelism always, but also your church’s own Welcome Wagon-style kindness toward newcomers, checking in on the sick and elderly, organizing backyard Bible clubs, bringing kids to VBS, inviting everyone to revivals and special Sundays, whatever seems appropriate to your church.
The important point is not the reason for contact, but the repetition of contact. Ideally, your church members will fully canvass your entire city, or such subsection of it as you are able to handle, six times per year. And the more your neighbors know of your church and know your individual church members, the more likely they’ll actually come to your church, or even join them in reaching their neighbors too.
We know that 83% of unchurched Americans say they would accept an invitation to church from someone they trust. We also know that barely 2% of church members actually invite them. So our task is clear: greatly increase the number of church members inviting, as well as the number of people who know and trust them. This not only isn’t rocket science: it’s something the Republicans and Democrats do every day.
Why should political parties care more about your neighbors than your church does?
Repeated contact with everyone in your city – always including an evangelistic component – will transform both your city and your church. Not everyone will get involved, but all will be affected. Those who do engage will learn to witness, and will see and themselves have successes. They will begin to disciple others, and those will disciple more. Your church and your church members will begin to have an outward focus and purpose, where in many cases they presently have neither focus nor purpose. And all of that will center on Christ alone.
We need to be honest: what we’re doing isn’t working. We need big goals, sufficiently worthy to motivate busy people to meaningful, regular, sacrificial action. We need to take clear, concrete steps toward those goals, just as we would in anything else – our jobs, our politics – to attain them. We know only God can bring us success, but that’s true in those other things as well.
This position is a key institutional step toward a massive institutional change. It will not be enough in itself. But without it, these things will not happen absent a miracle. And if we’re waiting for God to do our work for us, we might as well shut down IMB, NAMB, and frankly our local churches, now.