Spurgeon on Building a Culture of Evangelism
As effective of an evangelistic preacher as C. H. Spurgeon was, he knew that he could not evangelize his community alone. He needed his congregation alongside him.
Ephesians 4, too, presents the risen Christ giving gifts to the church of pastors and teachers to equip the body for the work of ministry. Ephesians 6 then says that this ministry includes wielding the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. The church, in other words, is an army advancing onto enemy territory with sword in hand.
This is what C. H. Spurgeon longed to see in his day.
We ought to regard the Christian Church, not as a luxurious hostelry where Christians may each one dwell at his ease in his own inn, but as a barracks in which soldiers are gathered together to be drilled and trained for war. We should regard the Christian church, not as an association for mutual admiration and comfort, but as an army with banners, marching to the fray, to achieve victories for Christ, to storm the strongholds of the foe, and to add province after province to the Redeemer’s kingdom.
Spurgeon viewed the church as an army engaged in the same fight that he was in, namely, proclaiming the gospel and pushing back the dominion of Satan through the salvation of sinners.
How did he mobilize this army for evangelism? And what can we learn from him for building a culture of evangelism in our churches? In one of his lectures to his pastoral students, entitled “How to Induce our People to Win Souls,” Spurgeon gives three basic principles for building a culture of evangelism: Patience, Pastoring, and Prayer.
He says to his students,
Do not expect to get in the first year of your pastorate, that result which is the reward of twenty years’ continuous toil in one place. . . I should certainly say to you, do not expect all this [i.e., a culture of evangelism] at least for some months after you settle down to work. Revivals, if they are genuine, do not always come the moment we whistle for them. Try and whistle for the wind, and see if it will come. The great rain was given in answer to Elijah’s prayers; but not even then the first time he prayed, and we must pray again, and again, and again, and at last the cloud will appear, and the showers out of the cloud. Wait awhile, work on, plod on, plead on, and in due time the blessing will be given, and you shall find that you have the church after your own ideal, but it will not come to you all at once.
In giving us a “How To”, Spurgeon begins with patience. He says it could take many months. Or it could take twenty years. Either way we must be patient. Why? Because building a culture of evangelism is ultimately the Spirit’s work. He refers to it as a kind of revival, which means that it must be wrought by the Spirit, rather than by our pragmatic methods. We can’t manipulate our way to it. We can’t force it. No, we must look to God for it. That’s why we must be patient.
What so many of our people need in evangelism is not simply better skills or tools to evangelize (though such training can be helpful). Rather, they most need a heart set on fire for the gospel. That’s something only God can do through his Word and by his Spirit.
Patience flows out of a humble dependence on the Spirit. The truth is that church leaders are not able to “build a culture of evangelism.” God must do that in our people. Certainly, pastors must teach and disciple and pray, but at the end of the day, it is God who gives the spiritual growth. So, the first thing Spurgeon urged for in his young students was patience. And as you seek to engage your people in evangelism, don’t expect transformation overnight. There’s a lot of work to be done before the growth comes.
While we wait, we must work. That is Spurgeon’s second instruction: pastoring, or the patient work of teaching, discipling, and equipping. There’s no place for passivity when it comes to building a culture of evangelism.
Your work, brethren, is to set your church on fire somehow. You may do it by speaking to the whole of the members, or you may do it by speaking to the few choice spirits, but you must do it somehow.
As a preacher in the church, you have a weekly opportunity to address the whole congregation, and this may go a long way in cultivating a culture of evangelism. As you prepare excellent, gospel-rich sermons, as you organize edifying, Christ-exalting gatherings, and as you urge your people to join you in the work of the gospel, the Lord can take those efforts and spark new life in the congregation.
Sometimes, the very best plan would be to call all the members of the church together, tell them what you would like to see, and plead earnestly with them that each one should become for God a soul-winner. Say to them, “I do not want to be your pastor simply that I may preach to you; but I long to see souls saved, and to see those who are saved seeking to win others for the Lord Jesus Christ. . .” That might succeed in arousing them.
And yet, often, the people may be appreciative of your ministry and yet go on unchanged. In such a situation, Spurgeon urged his students to look for smaller contexts to shepherd their people. As a pastor, you have to figure out what works best for your people. There is no one-stop method to building a culture of evangelism. Spurgeon tells his students:
In order to secure this end of gathering around you a band of Christians who will themselves be soul-winners, I should recommend you not to go to work according to any set rule, for what would be right at one time might not be wise at another, and that which would be best for one place would not be so good elsewhere.
His students were all members of Spurgeon’s church. They were eager to see God replicate the Metropolitan Tabernacle in some distant place. But Spurgeon warns them that what worked at the Tabernacle might not work in another context. There are guiding principles, but there is no formula for revival. Building a culture of evangelism will likely be a multi-pronged approach. It will require prayer. It will require knowing your people and understanding their specific context and challenges.
As pragmatically-minded Americans, we are always on the lookout for the latest plug-and-play program to inspire our people. We want immediate results. We want evident fruit right away. But Spurgeon advises, be willing to start small. Beyond the gatherings of the church, look for one or two to disciple.
There is usually some “choice young man” in each congregation; and as you notice deeper spirituality in him than in the rest of the members, you might say to him, “Will you come down to my house on such-and-such an evening that we may have a little prayer together?” You can gradually increase the number to two or three, godly young men if possible, or you may begin with some gracious matron, who perhaps lives nearer to God than any of the men, and whose prayers would help you more than theirs. Having secured their sympathy, you might say to them, “Now we will see if we cannot influence [others in] the whole church. . .”
This is the role of the pastor: waiting and working, plodding and pleading, praying that God would multiply your efforts.
While you patiently teach, you need to pray, not only on your own but with your people. If you want to build a culture of evangelism in your church, rally your people to prayer. Spurgeon says to his students,
If I were you, I would make the prayer meeting a special feature of my ministry; let it be such a prayer meeting that there is not the like of it within seven thousand miles. . . Keep up the prayer meeting, whatever else flags; it is the great business evening of the week, the best service between Sabbaths; be you sure to make it so.
Prayer is what God uses to shape the hearts of his people. He uses it to lift our perspective from the world up to heaven.
Prayer and evangelism go hand in hand. You say you believe that salvation belongs to the Lord, but if you don’t pray alongside all your evangelistic efforts, it suggests you really believe salvation belongs to you. And if your people think that, no wonder they’re discouraged in their evangelism!
But if salvation belongs to the Lord, then we have every promise of God that the gospel is powerful to save even the worst of sinners. So, cultivate confidence in God by giving yourself to prayer and leading your people in prayer. If your church doesn’t have a regular prayer meeting, then start one. If your pastor won’t start one, then begin one with others in the church.
Gather people to pray for the lost around you, for lost loved ones, for neighbors, for coworkers, for the nations. Pray that God would have mercy and would save. Pray that God would raise up workers for the field. And as your people pray, some will begin to wonder, “Might the Lord be willing to use even us?”
Then follow Paul’s example in Colossians 4, where he prays not only for the salvation of the lost, but for open doors for the gospel and for his own boldness and clarity to share the gospel. Pray the same for yourselves, and you’ll be amazed at how God answers those prayers. And as your people share the gospel, give them opportunities to share their stories, and continue to pray.
Let evangelistic prayer become the culture of your church. When A.T. Pierson preached for Spurgeon, he commented,
This Metropolitan Tabernacle is a house of prayer most emphatically. . . prayer is almost ceaselessly going up. When one meeting is not in progress, another one is. . . there are prayer meetings before preaching, and others after preaching. . . No marvel that Mr. Spurgeon’s preaching has been so blessed. He himself attributes it mainly to the prevailing prayers of his people.
Whether you’re a pastor or a faithful church member, here’s a basic guide for building a culture of evangelism: Patience, Pastoring, Prayer.
In other words, there is no magic formula. We pray. We teach. We wait on the Spirit. And knowing that God is faithful, we do not lose heart:
Anticipate that you will have to do it yourself and do it alone. And begin doing it alone: sow the seed, tramp up and down the field, always looking to the Lord of the harvest to bless your labour, and also looking forward to the time when through your efforts, under the divine blessing, instead of a plot of land that is covered with nettles or full of stones. . . you shall have a well-tilled farm in which you may sow the seed to the best advantage, and on which you shall have a little army of fellow-laborers to aid you in the service.
Editor’s note: This has been adapted from Geoff Chang’s 2023 talk at the 9Marks Conference at Midwestern.
* * * * *
 C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Sermons Preached and Revised by C. H. Spurgeon. Vols. 7-63. (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1970-2006), 22:254.
 C. H. Spurgeon, The Soul Winner; Or, How to Lead Sinners to the Saviour. (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1895), 120, 122.
 Soul Winner, 124.
 Soul Winner, 122-123.
 Soul Winner, 122.
 Ibid., 123.
 Soul Winner, 125-126.
 Hannah Wyncoll, ed., Wonders of Grace: Original Testimonies of Converts during Spurgeon’s Early Years (London: The Wakeman Trust, 2016), 14-15.
 Soul Winner, 121-122.