Reaching the lost in our cities
One of the big mistakes church planters have made in North America has been shifting our mentality from starting churches to starting church services as so many planters have gone into new communities to share the gospel.
Oftentimes, the first thing a planter will do is look for a storefront, movie theater, school, or some other place to meet. The launch team will often send out a mailer and take steps toward starting their service. From there, they will try to attract people to this worship service. However, when you look at New Testament missiology, Paul never went in and started a service; instead, he went in and began engaging communities with the gospel. He and the early believers focused on disciple-making, and out of their efforts, Jesus birthed His church. This resulted from the overflow of His disciples going and engaging cities with the gospel.
So, let’s talk about what it looks like to begin just as they did. How do we birth churches out of evangelism, too? How do we plant churches and build them with the goal of reaching lost people for Christ?
Leading for lives changed
The pitch for evangelism doesn’t have to be complex. We can call to our fellow believers, “Hey! Come help me make this city the hardest place to go to hell.” We can inform our people of the revival that is breaking out all over the world, bringing to their attention that the United States of America is one of the largest–if not the largest–countries that’s receiving missionaries in the entire world.
Say to the believers we know, “Jesus is Lord, but His bride isn’t looking the way she should right now.” Jesus doesn’t need us to save His bride; He can do that all by Himself. However, missiologists tell us that the most strategic way to bring revival back to our continent is by reaching lost people for Christ.
Tell those in your community, “Hey, we’re not just starting a church. We want to be the living proof of a loving God. We don’t want to just take from this city, but rather give and be a blessing.” Share that your mission isn’t just to fill the church; it’s to empty the prisons and the foster care system. It’s to eliminate the divorce rate. All of this is because it’s what revival does. It doesn’t just fill up churches. It makes a difference in the areas where it’s from. Our mission isn’t just to get people to come warm our seats and laugh at our jokes. It’s to get people to not come, but to go to our neighbors and to the nations. So, let’s get others on board to join us as we plant churches.
We’re inviting our people and our communities to be a part of this brand-new work our God is doing.
Think like a missionary
We’re not calling our people to think like members of churches, but to think as missionaries in our cities. We get to join in God’s activity by being His missionaries, but we get to do it in a place with less of a language or cultural barrier.
So, we move to the city to think like missionaries, and that’s a big shift for many church and core team members. They immediately want to start thinking about church: church membership, church programs, and church strategies. To get them to think like missionaries, though, means utilizing their jobs, skills, and passions where they live, work, and play. It means joining in the mission of God.
And every believer can do that. We can all use our vocations, past experiences, and hobbies as leverage for the sake of the kingdom. In this way, we can build relationships with non-believers, and in doing so, we can create relational equity that allows us to have heart-to-heart discussions that lead to gospel conversations. That’s what living like a missionary looks like.
All things to all people
One thing to keep in mind is that if we look too different, talk too different, and truly are too different from the people we’re ministering to, it will become difficult to build relational equity. Without the foundation of a relationship, it becomes too easy for others to dismiss what we’re saying because of our differences. This is one of the key things in Paul’s missiology and missionary mindset. Paul said, “I want to be a Jew to win a Jew.” One of the things that’s super important as we begin to communicate the gospel to skeptics is that we have to be like the skeptics to win the skeptics.
Oftentimes, Christians—especially as pastors and communicators—have not adequately expressed the skeptic’s viewpoint to their satisfaction before presenting their own defense. We don’t understand how the things we say might rub people the wrong way. Jesus said, “From now on, I will make you a fisher of men.” We automatically accept this saying as Christians who may have grown up hearing such words. However, we would need to address these words to those who do not understand their context. Say, “You might be tempted to think that God is commanding us to treat people like projects. Have you ever felt as though another person were trying to treat you like a project?” Well, Jesus was speaking their language, and we must learn how to do the same.
Scratch the itch
We want to edify the believer while also inviting the skeptic to sit at the table and have an intellectual conversation around the Word. If we’re going to engage our communities with the gospel, we as church planters have to remember that many of the cities in our nation are not looking for a church service outside of the Bible Belt. So, when we go into new communities and the first thing we do is start a church service, we’re scratching where they’re not itching.
Therefore, it’s important that we remember what those outside the church are looking for. Every human being is looking for relationships and community. So, don’t go into the city to simply start a church service. Instead, start things that engage your community in a way that allows for relationships and community to be cultivated and established. These are the things that everyone is looking for. When we accomplish this goal, we build the relational equity that allows for gospel conversations to happen.
Bring the challenge
How do we challenge our people to keep up their engagement with the city through evangelism and one-on-one gospel conversations that reach people where they are? There’s an age-old adage that says if we want other people to feel something, then we have to bleed something. So, if we want to be able to consistently engage the gospel and build an evangelistic fire within our churches, it has to start with us as pastors and as leaders within the church.
The greatest victory that happens in our churches is when we collectively take on the heart of an evangelist. We all want to reach the lost, but I think we secretly want other people to be the ones to do it. However, if we as leaders don’t have hearts committed to engaging the lost, then how can we expect our people to do the same?
We don’t always naturally excel in this area of evangelism, but it’s something that God still calls us to. The thing that is going to break down walls in our communities is relationships. So, we must do what we can to get out into the community. We must be on fire for the gospel, and we have to take on the heart of an evangelist if we want the church to have a chance at replicating these same actions throughout our communities.
No exclusions here
What we’re articulating is an issue of Christlikeness because when you look at Jesus’ life in the gospels, His life revolved around three relationships: His relationship with the Father, His disciples, and then thirdly, with those who were far from God. So many of us as Christians get too caught up in our relationships with our Father and fellow disciples, and our actions reveal our hope that somebody else will reach the lost for us, without us.
We think we may need to have a special gifting for evangelism, but evangelism is simply who Jesus is being fleshed out in our lives. This outreach is Christ living in and through us in authentic ways. When we talk about the gifts of evangelism, we somehow create this category that people feel like they’re excluded from. However, what we’re really talking about is Christlikeness, and the Holy Spirit is abiding and empowering us to do this work from within.
God calls us to plant churches. And while some may have greater giftings as evangelists, we all have Christ alive in us who is seeking and saving the lost. He’s still doing that through our lives today. When we talk about maintaining this culture of evangelism, it’s about continuing to relay this passion to our people and then creating opportunities for engagement within our churches. We must create space for our people to live it out because many will never choose it on their own.
Who’s at your table?
The goal of discipleship and community engagement is this question: When I sit at my table, who else am I inviting there with me? So often throughout human history, the table has been used to oppress and divide people. However, Jesus was always inviting tax collectors and people unlike Himself to the table. So, challenge yourself. Who doesn’t look like you? Who doesn’t think like you do? Who doesn’t talk like you or have the same sexual orientation as you? Because that’s the life that we’re called to live around the table.
Many people in your community know your community much better than you do. So, the way to get to know your community is through getting to know the ones who already know it better than you do! You don’t have to start from ground zero. Consider how you can get to know the mayor, your city council, and the school administrators because they know this city better than you do. As a church planter, you may have to work through the insecurity involved with that. We must work past our pride and reach out to those key leaders. See if they will make time for us, engage them, and leverage their knowledge of the city.
So often, everything in our communities may seem like it’s going fine from the outside. However, once we start to dig past the surface, we’ll be able to recognize the real hurts and needs of our communities. Tapping into the knowledge of those who better understand our cities helps us get to know and engage the heartbeat of our cities that much more.
Live as you lead
Remember: you can’t lead what you don’t live long-term. Make sure you are leading people to Christ, that there are people being baptized into your fellowship, and that you are building relationships within your congregation and all throughout your community. When you baptize new believers, tell their stories of how Jesus is seeking and saving the lost in your midst. Our people need to hear us talk about those whom we’ve led to Christ.
It’s not just the sermons we preach, but what we lead and model throughout our day-to-day lives. These are the principles that will be caught by our people. So, go forth, engaging your city with the soul-saving hope of the Jesus’ gospel… and bring your people along for the ride.
Adapted from Episode 740: Build Your Church Plant Through Evangelism of the New Churches Podcast.
Published July 12, 2023