Building an evangelistic culture

By Ken Whitten

One day I read a blog from the Gospel Coalition written by Mack Stiles. Mack is a member of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville. He was asked by High Pointe Church in Austin, Texas to lead a seminar on building an evangelistic culture. When it came time for the Q&A time one lady asked this question, “There are many Vietnamese moving into the community around our church. What is the church going to do to reach out to them?” Mack commented it was good the member recognized the responsibility and opportunity to reach out with the gospel, but the way the question was phrased reveals the heart of many members of our churches. When it comes to evangelism don’t we too often think the question is, “What is the church going to do to reach out to the lost in the community?”

We all know evangelism is more caught than taught in our churches. But the question is how do we teach our people to “catch” the spirit of evangelism rather than wait for the next program of evangelism to reach our friends?

Let me give you four practical ways we at Idlewild are trying to do that. We haven’t arrived, but we’re on a great journey.

  • Develop an Upper Room Mentality
  • Purpose the Church to be the Church and Your Members to be Seeker-Friendly, not the other way around
  • Celebrate Life Change Often
  • Trust God’s Word to be Sufficient, Not Just Inerrant

About two years ago, Will Mancini, from Auxano in Houston, Texas, led our leaders and pastors to rethink how we develop and communicate vision. He observed when you ask anyone why do they come to church, 99% of the people will give you one of four answers.

  • I come because of the pastor
  • I come because of the place
  • I come because of the people
  • I come because of the programs

That is a lower room identity. These are not bad answers, but they are not the best answers. What if, instead of talking about your programs, your buildings or your pastor, people actually talked about the church’s mission statement, your values, your measurements and your strategy? What if you built a common language whereby every member knew exactly what the mission is and how you go about accomplishing it? Programs aren’t bad, and surely you want to be excited about hearing your pastor each week, but why not lead your people to understand your church’s mission of evangelism, discipleship and life change.

Our Mission Statement at Idlewild is — “Giving ourselves daily to help each one live in the rescuing power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” That is not the staff’s mission statement; it is the members’ mission statement.

We have five values. We value…..

  • Truth over tradition
  • Intimacy over activity
  • Service over self
  • Unity over uniformity
  • Going over staying

We have measurements and a strategy as well. The point is we no longer see the church, meaning the pastors and staff, responsible for creating and implementing programs for evangelism. It is every member’s responsibility and calling to “…give themselves daily to help each one live in the rescuing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

I like what Dean Inserra, Pastor of City Church in Tallahassee says, “We try to attract unbelievers by cultivating a church culture among our members that is in some ways attractive, even to the unbelievers.”

Isn’t that good? What he is saying, and it is so true is — it’s the members who are seeker-friendly, not the church. The church is the church: immovable in her standards, speaking hard truth, unashamed about the gospel and the glory of Jesus Christ, has convictions and doesn’t lower those truths to be accommodating. We climb up; she doesn’t lower down.

Now, does that mean we can’t help create atmosphere for the lost when they come? Absolutely not. Visitors size up whether they will be back in the first 10 minutes of their visit. Preschool rooms need to smell good. Greeters should be genuine in their smile. There needs to be, and can be, an atmosphere of expectancy, joy and hospitality that says, “You don’t have to be perfect to be here. Come as you are, but we pray you’ll see a perfect Savior and leave different than when you came.”

There needs to be a feeling in your church where people are saying…

  • Is something going on here?
  • Why are people so excited?
  • I have to come back for more of this.

We replicate what we celebrate. Are you celebrating life change in your church? Are you telling stories of how Jesus Christ is restoring marriages, reconciling friends, breaking strongholds and addictions? And are you celebrating that through baptisms, videos and testimonies in large community and small groups alike?

People love being a part of a winner, and life change says to your people — Satan is not winning here, Jesus is!

I believe Southern Baptists won the battle years ago on the subject of God’s Word…the inerrancy issue. Is it the infallible, full plenary Word of God? Yes, it is. But while we say we believe in its inerrancy (it is truthful without any mixture of error), do we also believe in the sufficiency of God’s Word?

Preach it! Preach it expositorily, exponentially. Preach the whole counsel of God. Trust that when you do, God’s Spirit — not our humor, not our “cool lights” and not our stage props — will be the catalyst for life-change in our pews. God’s Word: a light, a sword, a hammer, a salve. That’s what God will use and bless. I have heard good men who preach, and I know they believe God’s Word is infallible, inerrant and inspired. Inerrancy is not the question. But 20 minutes into the sermon, when God’s Word is never referred to, never explained, never highlighted; but rather stories, videos and illustrations are, I wonder — does he really believe in the sufficiency of God’s Word? Building a culture takes time, but intentionality with longevity will be the key.

It starts before anyone arrives, and it continues after everyone leaves. May God build His Church. He didn’t say, “I’ll build you a Church” or “I want you to build Me a Church.” He said, “I will build My Church, and the gates of hell can never defeat it.”

I’m sure glad He said it that way because that takes the pressure off. May we see His Church being built for the Glory of God and see evangelism as that by-product whereby one beggar tells another beggar where food is.

Published May 30, 2018

Ken Whitten

Ken Whitten is the Pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida. Idlewild Baptist Church was among the top 100 evangelistic churches in the country in 2014.