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From Personal Evangelism to Community Engagement

by Zach Below

What do you think of when you hear the word “evangelism”?

Maybe it brings up the image of someone walking door to door and asking if they can come in and talk to you about Jesus. It could be the image of the man on the street passing out tracts or the person shouting into a megaphone about sin and fornication on your college campus.

Hopefully, it is a gentler image. It could be the image of a person giving money to a homeless person. It could be thinking about how you are representing Christ at your workplace, school, etc. Or it’s the powerful image of someone like Billy Graham who preached to thousands of people.

While there is a huge range of thoughts and images both positive and negative that comes to mind when we think of the word evangelism, there always seems to be a common theme…evangelism is singular, personal.

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Maybe I am wrong, but I would guess the idea of “personal evangelism” is the default setting for most Christians. It makes sense. That is normally the way the church frames the discussion. In fact, I had to take a class on it in college. It was called D.O.P.E. (which is funny) and it stood for dynamics of personal evangelism.

Now, I have no intention of downplaying or shaming personal evangelism. There is no doubt that people should represent God personally. However, I can’t help but think that when our teaching, language, and focus within the church is on personal evangelism, we are “benching” our greatest asset…Christ’s church, active and engaged in the community around us!

In Christ we are many parts, but make up one body. This is not just my story or your story. What is truly amazing is that it is our collective story. Our churches are full of small groups made up of Christ-followers who need to be shown the power of their collective story and released to be an active and engaged presence within the community. So…how do we teach our groups to think beyond personal evangelism and be the community of Christ wherever they go?

1. Redefine Evangelism

First and foremost we have to begin making it very clear that evangelism is more than a personal endeavor. That it is more than a verbal presentation of the gospel. It is also the long game, taking time to build presence and relationships and letting the world see what grace, peace, joy, and celebration look like. It is the collective people of Christ being Christ in their community.

2. Remove the secular/sacred talk

Church leaders (myself included) have the tendency to unintentionally give off the vibe that things done in the church building are holy and things done outside of the church building are secular. We have even designated jobs and vocations as one or the other. We have to remove that language from our minds. I love how A.W. Tozer puts it in his book The Pursuit of God.

“Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act. All he does is good and acceptable to God through Christ Jesus. For such a man, living itself will be sacramental and the whole world a sanctuary.”

3. Help them find their story

We need to help people know the “Big Story” of God and how it intersects with their life. At the same time, we need to help our groups make the mental shift and see that they are evangelizing any time they display collective grace, collective peace, collective joy, collective celebration, etc. to the world.

4. Resource them

Sorry church, if we’re going to call people to bless and minister to their community then we’re going to have to help resource their projects one way or another.

5. Give them Space and Send them out

This is a tough one. We have to trust that God is doing and will continue to do an active work in people’s lives beyond what the church programs for them. This means giving our groups space to live out their faith in a real and natural way, even if the church can’t take credit for the results.

Think of one thing your group could do within the next three months to positively engage your community. We’d love for you to share your action steps in the comments below.

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