Does Your Church Have an Evangelist?


Evangelism is probably the most difficult area of the Christian life.

I say that even though, for the last 25 years, I’ve worked as a full-time evangelist for a church in the Philadelphia area. With the culture growing increasingly hostile to Christianity, it’s much easier to avoid this awkward calling, to give in to fear and keep the good news to ourselves.

This pressure results in many churches adding members almost exclusively through transfer growth (Christians leaving one church for another), as opposed to conversion growth (non-Christians coming to Christ). We know that God wants the church to reach the lost, but how can we change?

Encouragement from Paul

Paul gives us one way in Ephesians 4: prioritize the role of an evangelist.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Eph. 4:11–14)

In my travels to many different churches throughout the U.S. and beyond, I’ve noticed that most don’t have an evangelist or even an elder leading evangelism. I believe this lack prevents the growth we long for in spreading the gospel. The evangelist is meant to equip the members of our churches to reach the lost, so that the body of Christ will be built up.

What Can This Look Like in My Local Church?

If you’re a pastor who wants your church to grow in reaching unbelievers, I would strongly encourage you to identify an evangelist—someone who can dedicate at least five to eight hours a week to this area. Ideally, this is an elder, but a gifted deacon or church member can lead this for you too.

One church that I am working with in Arizona has one full-time elder and two bi-vocational elders. They recently asked one of the bi-vocational elders to be their evangelist and to dedicate the bulk of his time to leading their church in this area. This man called me to ask for suggestions, and I gave him some books, messages, and ideas about what strategies and methodologies might be best. In a short time, he has done an amazing job jumping into the role, and his church has already seen fruit from these initial efforts.

Another church in Texas decided their evangelistic investment was too small, so they rearranged their staff to enable one of their three elders to dedicate 40 percent of his job description to evangelism. When churches invest time, prayer, resources, and finances into reaching the lost, God loves to bless those efforts with fruit.

One reason we have seen consistent conversion growth at Covenant Fellowship Church is that the elders have made evangelism a priority. They have set me apart so I can give most of my time to reaching the lost and equipping our church to do the same. I have invested countless hours in reading, strategizing, developing programs, and spending time with unbelievers, and God has seen fit to bless these efforts, bringing us the lost and renewing our joy in the gospel.

I’ve heard pastors tell me that evangelists are very rare and hard to find, but I don’t think that’s true. We don’t have to find the next Billy Graham. If any pastor spends the kind of time that I do in evangelism, I’m confident he would see fruit, most likely in conversion growth. Only God can save, but each of us is called to share the good news in the power of the Spirit, and we can do it in joy, leaving the results to him.

It can be difficult to find time for evangelism in our workloads of preaching and counseling and administration and caring, but it is not a secondary issue. Andreas Köstenberger and Peter O’Brien remind us that “the divine plan of extending salvation to the ends of the earth is the major thrust of the Scriptures from beginning to end.”

Where Do I Begin?

You could begin by making sure one of your elders runs point for evangelism. Write it in his job description. Or maybe you are the only full-time elder and you can only give two hours a week to the task. That’s okay! In those two hours, you could read a book one week, spend time having coffee with a non-Christian the next week, have lunch with your evangelistic lay point-person the next week, and spend time in prayer the fourth week. That will make a difference!

You may not feel uniquely gifted in the area, but you can “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5) by bringing leadership, resources, and encouragement to your point person who may be more gifted. Just as importantly, your church will follow your example as you prioritize reaching the lost.

If your church has the resources to hire a full-time evangelist, I encourage you to consider that. Pastors often ask me about my job description, and I explain that we run a course at our church called the Bridge Course which is a ten-week introduction to Christianity that includes a meal, a message, and an open discussion. God has used this course to bring many unbelievers to Christ. Each week, I lead this course and try to grab lunch or coffee with someone there who doesn’t know Christ. I also read and pray regularly about evangelism. When it comes to equipping our church, I teach, train, lead evangelistic discipleship groups, develop curriculum, and take people out to show them how to share the gospel.

Pastors, let me be honest with one last thought about evangelists. We can be hard to handle. We tend to be bold, black and white, and not strong on self-awareness and subtle pastoral sensibilities. We can be a bit scary, and there can be a tendency to want to lock us in a closet so we don’t do too much damage.

But God has gifted us to love and reach the lost. He’s designed us for the task. The truth is that you need us and we need you. Our job is to help you and our churches be faithful in reaching out, and your job is to be patient with us and position us well. It may feel a little risky, but following Jesus often is.

Jim Donohue

Jim Donohue is pastor of evangelism at Covenant Fellowship Church in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. He is the founder of the Bridge Course and the Proclaim Course, as well as other evangelistic resources.

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