I would wager that a church entirely comprised of introverts could be more evangelistic than a church entirely comprised of extroverts. Why? Because they love people, and they aren’t the center of their own constellation. Not that this is necessarily true, but I want to do away with the idea that you need to be an ‘in-your-face’ type of person in order to love your neighbour.
A couple months ago I discussed the problem with all the evangelism training seminars. Now I want to ask: what does an evangelistic church look like?
I would define an evangelistic church as a church that is characterized by the good news. If you get to know people in the congregation, you might meet a young man who has overcome the sin of pornography. You might meet a family with 8 children. There may be a number of old age home and disability ministries in the congregation. You meet a young lady or an older man who entered the church later in life. An older couple likes to invite the youth group over on the odd occasion. The church financially supports a local Christian school. This congregation lives in a way characterized by the fact that the message of the gospel has taken root in their lives. They minister to sinners, knowing that Jesus Christ has ministered to them. They listen to the preaching, they worship God, they use the sacraments, they live together as a Christian community.
Well, you respond that none of this is evangelism proper. You may say that Reformed Churches are unevangelistic because they aren’t telling the gospel out on the streets. I would then argue that you are defining evangelism by a particular branch of evangelism, street evangelism. I would agree, street evangelism is a fine way of doing evangelism, and it should be encouraged and developed in Reformed Churches. I would promote good street preaching as well, but preaching isn’t defined by being out on the street.
I was once told that making friends with co-workers outside the church isn’t evangelism. I was kind of surprised by such a statement. I guess the entire task of evangelism isn’t bound up into this one little aspect, and you don’t want to see work as an evangelistic project. But how is this not evangelism? If you are living in a way characterized by the gospel, if you are talking to people about how deep your gospel roots go and how they can find hope in Jesus as well, how is this not evangelistic?
I find the claim that Reformed Churches are unevangelistic to be a sweeping generalization. I know that you can always find certain unevangelistic points to point out, and evangelism can definitely be developed further. But in my experience I have seen a lot of initiative to reach out in the churches that I have worked in. I have seen evangelism explored, evangelists, old age home ministries, disability home ministries, and students and families bringing friends to church. I personally grew up in a mission church plant. I know many people who have been baptized in Reformed Churches.
I agree that evangelism must be preached, and Christians must also be rebuked in that preaching. We could develop ministries to those caught in sex-trafficking or the abortion industry, we could develop our hospitality, and our involvement in communities or our knowledge of eastern religions. But if it is possible to take an analogy from parenting, you don’t help a child grow by always pointing out their flaws. Yes, a good parent will point out issues, but it is with the aim to build them up. Of course, churching is different than parenting, but I do believe that the point transfers over.
I once critiqued a church that I was in to the pastor, for not having enough evangelistic projects. He pointed out to me that at that point in life I was unhindered by marriage or children, and that I had the gifts and the advantage at that point in life to go out and meet people. The families that had children had the advantage of being more financially established, while being busy, and so they might have more opportunities to be hospitable. So if I could use my gifts to connect people into the church community, I might see a lot more of what I wanted to see. I liked his advice. He made me take responsibility rather than trying to change everybody else first. It was also clear that everyone in the body has their own gifts and position.
So what does an evangelistic church look like? I can’t tell you exactly. I know that there will be love, hospitality, selflessness, courage, continual reformation. Those points are vague. But I believe that a group of people start to develop as they pursue a goal. If we were looking at the dynamics of a particular church (how do people get along with each other in the church?), its geography (is it country or city?), its surrounding cultures (is it an immigrant community, an underprivileged community, a wealthy community?), we could get into more specifics.
I do believe that love for God must drive love for neighbour. If we watch and listen, we will understand more of the needs of our community. We will then know how to apply the Word of God to the needs in our community (that is, if we are also listening to Him). But for that we need to be humble and above all take personal responsibility. A church will never be evangelistic if it specializes in sweeping generalizations and/or if it seeks to change every other church before it seeks to change itself. And change in a local church often starts with individuals making changes to themselves.