This statement encapsulates the problem with the form of evangelism practiced in far too many congregations.
Preacher-centered evangelism is where the preacher is the sum total of the evangelistic efforts of the congregation. It falls on him to find all the prospects, teach them, immerse them and foster their spiritual growth.
If this growth fails to materialize, then he is replaced by another man and the cycle begins anew.
This flawed system fails to account for community knowledge. The congregation hires a new preacher and instructs him to help the congregation grow. He begins to settle into the work and to the community. For several months he learns the new system and the people around him.
Slowly, he begins to connect with some people in the community. Two years into his tenure, he is told to move on and another man is brought in and the cycle continues. The next man lasts three years and is replaced. The third man also stays three years.
This congregation has three preachers in eight years. Each of these three men starts from zero and has to build up his knowledge of the brethren and the community. It is unlikely these men even had a chance to impact a community they knew little about.
Each new man that arrives in a community starts from nothing in reference to knowing anything of the people or ways of the town. As he settles in, he gains a rudimentary knowledge of the people at the stores, bank, restaurants, etc.
He makes some friends and works on meeting people, but this is a long way from knowing people well enough to impact their lives spiritually.
The people in the congregation are waiting on the new man to draw these strangers into the assembly while forgetting the obvious. They know everyone in the community and have for decades!
- Why should a man who barely knows anyone be solely responsible for bringing in the friends and family members of the congregation?
- Why should he be the only one approaching people in the community for studies, when he is the stranger?
Reaching people for Christ is a delicate operation based on familiarity and opportunity. It takes time to develop this kind of bond with people.
A preacher who is barely familiar with the prospect is at a decided disadvantage. He lacks the requisite knowledge to have casual conversations with them. If the prospect is heavily involved in family or local politics, local construction or growth then the preacher will have very little to talk to him about while the native will find it easy to converse.
In many smaller communities, there is a basic distrust of strangers. This simple fact puts the preacher at an even greater disadvantage.
This is in addition to the natural “force-field” people erect when around preachers. Local members don’t have these liabilities. They are known to the people and can easily dialogue with them. They know their personalities and the best ways of approaching them.
These are nuances that a newcomer cannot hope to grasp immediately.
The local member should naturally be able to depend on the preacher to be a leader in the evangelism program. Yet, the members must be the most valuable source of securing prospects and reaching out to them as he grows in the eyes of the community.
The preacher, once paired with a new prospect can carry them forward through a study. This is a much healthier approach.
The preacher’s workload is another factor. Having the rapid familiarity with strangers outlined above is further complicated by the workload placed on him. The workload isn’t the problem. It is an accepted part of serving God in the ministry. It is what most preachers love doing.
Learning a community in an accelerated fashion, though, requires time and focus. Coupled with his preparation of sermons, classes, bulletins and articles, cleaning the building, maintaining a church website, church visiting and running office errands, preaching on radio/television, going to hospitals and nursing homes, he is at an even greater disadvantage in turning strangers into prospects in a short amount of time.
When he finishes all of his responsibilities each week, he begins his own time of personal evangelism. The common perception is that since “he doesn’t work,” he has plenty of time to evangelize. This is a naive attitude.
He has a full week’s worth of duties in addition to his family just like the person at a factory. They both have the same amount of time to spread the gospel in their personal evangelism.
Congregations must rethink their evangelistic efforts. A holistic approach is much more effective. Everyone finds a way to get involved. The congregation provides the preacher with the names of prospects and they help foster them and, if possible, lead them to Christ, personally.
He, as an individual in the congregation, works alongside the congregation to also find prospects. Preachers are to work with [not instead of] a congregation to help them accomplish the most they are able to do.
In Acts 2, the church begins upon the foundation of the Word of God and the leadership of the Apostles (Acts 2:42-47). The infant church thrives in doctrine (2:42), fellowship (2:42), worship (2:46) and evangelism (2:47). But, if we look carefully we see that in 2:42-47, nothing is said about the apostles other than the people’s constant attention to the “apostle’s doctrine.”
“They” do the work and spread the gospel and great success comes.
- Were the apostles there? Yes.
- Were there others who proclaimed the gospel? Yes.
Yet, “they” are the only ones mentioned. And “they” are identified in 2:41 as “they” that were baptized and “they” that believed. If we would restore this spirit, the church would prosper just as much as it did then.