Church Planting vs Evangelism

Had an interesting conversation, yesterday, about church planting and evangelism.

A strong financial supporter of my Mission Hope ministry overseas challenged me to include evangelism in the things I write. In my mind, I always do. However, he made a valid point.

I assume that church planting is all about evangelism, but that isn’t necessarily always true. You can plant a church among disgruntled saints and then equip them to evangelize. You can plant a church by offering a nice entertainment, family services package and then equip whoever shows up to evangelize. Or, you can do both and slip into complacency while your world misses out on Jesus.

Who is Supposed to “Lift Jesus?”

Jesus told us that if he is lifted up, he’ll draw people to himself. But, we need to do the lifting.

Here is where I think we can miss the boat. It’s part of western church culture to expect the pastor to draw in the evangelism net during weekend services. We used to do this by asking people to leave their seat and meet someone for prayer, usually in the front of an auditorium. During the 1970s this morphed into asking someone to lift a hand or stare at the pastor while the congregation bowed in prayer. Today, the pastor says a simple prayer, trusting those who need to invite Jesus into their lives will follow along with no outward indication of the act.

While we’ve made is easier to take that first step, I wonder if we aren’t training out people to think that evangelism is something you do in church and that it belongs in the pastor’s purview?

The reason I don’t write much (or not enough) about evangelism is that I assume that disciplemaking begins with evangelism and that evangelism begins when we establish relationships in the world outside of the church.

Equipping Saints to Make Disciples

Jesus told us to make disciples, not converts. Conversion is, therefore, a by-product of disciplemaking. We got it seriously wrong when we turned disciplemaking into a program where you attend classes of fill in blanks in little books. Disciplemaking is about sharing the life of Christ between two persons. It’s a huge step up from mentoring.

I’ve always taught congregations that I pastored to pray with their not-yet-believing friends whenever possible. If they are courageous I teach them to pray on the spot when a friend complains about anything. If not so brave, “ask your friend for permission to pray during your private prayer time at home.” Either way, prayer gets the unbeliever looking to God for a possible answer. It even positions an agnostic to challenge God to show himself. The good news is that God answers prayer.

Aside from prayer I want out people to know scripture well enough to answer questions or at least to google for answers. Evangelism belongs in their bailiwick, not mine. I’ll still draw the net, but only in concert with the labors of our people.

I Repent…

Back to the “church planting vs evangelism” discussion I had with my friend. I assume that healthy church planting is predicated on what I’ve just written. After yesterday’s conversation I won’t take that for granted.

What are your thoughts? Are your people equipped to take their faith to the streets? Do you feel any tension between pastoring in today’s church climate and equipping people to make disciples? Is pressure to run programs helping or hindering you in your efforts? We’d love to hear from you in the comments box below.



7 thoughts on “Church Planting vs Evangelism”

  1. It seems to me that larger churches have the ability to offer an impressive experience. Good music, a great children’s church, maybe even free food afterwards is a big draw. I’ll certainly admit that I have invited people to my church in hopes that the pastor would preach Jesus convincingly enough that I’d be off the hook for evangelism, and if the person wanted to learn or grow in their faith, I could point them toward one of the classes or events that might assist them toward that end. In any case, I’d be off the hook. Now being part of a smaller church, we don’t have as much to offer to impress people with our service. Don’t get me wrong, our worship is passionate, our musicians are talented, the preaching is good, but we’re rough around the edges and don’t have much to offer to kids. We occasionally have a course for those wanting to grow in leadership, but ultimately, discipleship falls on me. I bare more responsibility for everything in a small church and I’m realizing that’s how it is supposed to be.

  2. A fascinating piece. Allow me to offer my opinion. I see the challenge before the wider church community as both discipleship and evangelism.

    1) Discipleship.
    I’m a missionary in Japan. It’s heartbreaking to see church planters in Japan investing 20 to 30 years of their lives planting a 200-strong church, then handing over to the locals and only to see the church dwindled to 30 – 40 worshippers ten years on. I think the lesson to be learned here is that the Great Commission is not just about church planting. It’s about discipleship. A disciple is simply one who goes on to duplicate what he/she has learned. Therefore, the success of a mission should be measured by the success of discipleship because the disciples will continue the work of multiplication long after the missionaries have left. Two thousand years ago, the Lord raised 12 disciples. Today, there are an estimated 3.1 billion Christians in the world. That is the power of discipleship!

    2) Evangelism.
    Too often local churches are so engrossed in their little turf and do not take on broader responsibility for the entire nation. Imagine this scenario in Japan. There are about 8,000 churches and 300,000 born-again believers in Japan. That approximates to an average church size of 37. With a population of 216 million, the church to population ratio comes to approximately 1:16,000. A church of 37 members can hardly support a pastor, pay for the rent and utilities of church premise, let alone do anything outside the four walls of the church. In this dire situation, one can see why the critical task of taking the Gospel to the entire nation can so often get easily neglected. I’m aware of the irony of expecting anything more from those churches. Unfortunately, the reality is, the bottom line of the Great Commission is to get the Gospel to every nation of the world, including Japan. Given the odds against the church at large, unless every church in their respective country has a vision of reaching the entire nation, the Lord will continue to be hindered in his returning. Therefore, my second point is that the role of evangelism is crucial in completing the task of the Great Commission.

    The above is just my two cents worth of opinion.

  3. Steve Von Hoff

    Thank you, Ralph, for a thoughtful evaluation of our broad commission to reach the world with the good news of Jesus. I truly appreciate your writing and challenge to us all. We’re in ongoing prayer for a broader outreach, stronger witness, greater fulfillment of our Lord’s command to “Go…” Lots of love to you and Ruby

  4. Steve Von Hoff

    Thank you, Ralph for the evaluation and insight regarding the balance between church planting and evangelism. Your observation that we tend towards a “Pastoral net…” or that it is just a go-to-church-thing that marks our evangelism is spot-on. I like how you encourage us to “pray on the spot” for anything and everything so that people will include God in their thinking when they need resolution for problems. And…knowing the word of God is vital as God intends for us to pray “according to His will” and will, indeed answer prayer. God bless and strengthen you and Ruby as you continue forward in ministry to far-flung places!

  5. I believe you’re spot on. I tend to say “evangelistic disciple-making” because for many people I know (mostly from living my adult life in the South) disciple-making is a relatively new term. Evangelism, or proclaiming the good news, is a part of making a disciple. Unfortunately, as you stated so clearly, planting churches seems to have lost its mooring in making disciples. I’ve heard Jo Saxton of 3dm say often at Exponential, essentially, “You can plant a church, but you may not be making disciples. However, when you are making disciples, you will always end up with a church!” I agree.

  6. Hi Ralph,
    You said ‘ disciple making is sharing the life of Christ between two people & that it is a huge step up from mentoring’. I know mentoring is a more modern,current term as well as coaching.But what is the difference in your concept of disciple making & mentoring,I thought it was basically the same thing.? (Of course going beyond filling out a workbook with blank answer lines lol)

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