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The Evaporation of Evangelism & Dearth of Discipleship

The Evaporation of Evangelism & Dearth of Discipleship

The 5th and final “blind spot” in this series is also the most concerning.  Over these past few weeks, we’ve unpacked the reasons why churches have developed “blind spots”, largely ignoring their God-given responsibilities to care for persecuted brothers and sisters, orphans, widows and the poor.  Yet our modern-day redefinitions of “church” and its intended “customer” have obstructed the vision of most pastors and churchgoers to two other, far more critical mandates – sharing our faith and making disciples.

Evaporation of Evangelism

A study conducted by LifeWay Research in 2012 found:

  • Of eight biblical attributes most evident in the lives of mature believers, “Sharing Christ” had the lowest average score among Protestant churchgoers
  • 61 percent had not told another person about how to become a Christian in the prior six months
  • 25 percent said they shared their faith once or twice
  • Only 4 percent shared the Gospel three or more times over the last six months

A Barna survery in 2013 came to similar conclusions.  While a high percentage of born again Christians said they should share their faith with non-believers, only 52% said they had actually witnessed to someone at least once in the past year.

In this case, as with our other “blind spots”, there is a striking dichotomy between conviction and execution.  A cursory review of Scriptures should compel Christians to reach out not only to those who are persecuted, abandoned, lonely and impoverished – but also “lost”.  Yet just as churches spend less than 2% of their budgets on local and international missions, individual believers invest obscenely little of their time and energy leading others to Christ.

Where the breakdown between belief and action occurs is again at the very beginning – the definition of “church” itself.  Permitting churchgoers to view “church” as a place (and not as the ekklesia, i.e. themselves) may keep them coming back (by alleviating their responsibilities to BE the church), but it stifles personal evangelism and discipleship.  Pastors would feel at liberty to hold church members accountable for the Great Commission if those in the pews rightly saw themselves as the embodiment of “church”, as the Bible repeatedly contends:

  • And now you have become living building-stones for God’s use in building his house. What’s more, you are his holy priests;(1 Peter 2:5)
  • “But Christ, God’s faithful Son, is in complete charge of God’s house. And we Christians are God’s house…” (Hebrews 3:6)
  • “And to the church, composed of all those registered in heaven;” (Hebrews 12:23)

Dearth of Discipleship

Another Barna survey of pastors revealed that:

  • Only 1% said “today’s churches are doing very well at discipling new and young believers”
  • 60% felt that churches are discipling “not too well”
  • 8% believed their own church was discipling “very well”
  • 56% thought their church was doing “somewhat well at discipling new and young believers”

Church leaders give other churches lower marks but admit their churches aren’t excelling in discipleship either.  At the same time, the majority (52%) rely primarily on small groups as their preferred disciple-making format.  Again we see a dichotomy between conviction and execution.  Pastors realize they should do better at discipleship but fear for the institution’s survival if they reverted to the intensive, personalized discipleship method used by Jesus, Paul and the early church.  That form of discipleship is:

  • Hard Work – Much more time consuming than attending Sunday services or small groups
  • Costly – Luke 9 points out how much hardship being a disciple of Jesus entails
  • Risky – “Go and make disciples” may take people far from a predictable, secure existence

So leaders compromise, choosing institution-building over disciple-building by launching optional and occasional small groups that breed “sticky” fellowship rather than transformative discipleship.

Pastors also don’t act as though discipleship and evangelism training are critical today because they no longer see those outside the “4 walls” as their church’s biblical “customer”.  There’s a clear, compelling linkage between discipleship and local missions.  Why prepare troops for battle if they’re not being deployed into the mission field?  In other words, if members’ personal responsibilities to live out the Great Commission have been reassigned to the “professionals” who work for a place called “church”, then why train them to do more than invite people to a service next Sunday.  And without adequate discipleship, churchgoers lack the inspiration, motivation and preparation to impact those around them for Christ.

As a result, studies show that churches and Christians come across to society as distant and judgmental, not engaged and compassionate.  Faith without works is dead.  Jesus modeled the power of works in demonstrating faith.  Yet society sees a Church that talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk.  We’ve largely separated words from actions – and the consequences are predictable and detrimental.

It’s Your Turn…

Over the years you’ve been a Christ-follower, how have you seen evangelism and discipleship diminish among Christians in the U.S. and in your city?


3 Responses

  1. Thank you, Jim, for the good article. A few years ago the Lord brought me to parallel conclusions. That the Great Commission was given to His Body, the Church, seems to have become obscured. I believe the modern church has adopted the secular educational model, which seems to be “efficient”, but very ineffective. Churches are “adding”, when they should be “multiplying”. The acceptance of your premises is a hard sale to the vast majority of church leaders who I believe gauge their success “on the curve”. “If all my peers are basically doing the same as I’m doing, why should I change?” Like I heard at a Man In The Mirror workshop, “The system you have in place is perfectly designed for the results you are getting”. Blessings!

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Root cause for the Church's decline & its path to Revitalization

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