One of the highlights of my first trip to Greece came when I read aloud the account in Acts 17 where Paul first came to Thessalonica. I read it at the very place Paul entered the city, where his hearers proclaimed, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here too” (Acts 17:6 HCSB).
Some time later Paul wrote his first epistle addressed to the Thessalonians. After his initial greeting, here’s the first thing Paul said: “Our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake” (1 Thess. 1:5 ESV).
Paul helps us see how to plant a church that’s intentionally and continually evangelistic. He observed how the gospel first came there, and not only in word. Although the gospel was proclaimed, the message did not stand alone. It came in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and with much conviction. In addition, those who brought the gospel lived in such a way they “proved” the gospel by their lives.
“Be careful to see that your teaching on evangelism encourages people.”
Paul commends these first Thessalonian believers and their own witness (1 Thess. 1:7–8). Just as Paul took the gospel to this major Roman city of the first century, we want to be effective in our context in the twenty-first century.
How do you plant and grow a church that intentionally shares the gospel and plants churches? Here are three keys.
1. Teach Well and Consistently the Vital Place of Evangelism
Before you start with how, you have to consistently teach the why. Why are you planting this church? Why do you seek to reach people? Why are you here? Paul had a radiantly clear why: to know Christ and to make him known.
Notice Paul said he brought the gospel in word, but he also did more. Read 1 Thessalonians and see how much Paul talked about the gospel, treasured the gospel, and shared the gospel. A continual focus on Jesus and his work in the gospel matters because people quickly drift away from evangelism; it’s typically the first thing to go. A key aspect of leadership is defining reality, and you want to be like Paul, who from the start of his epistle focused on the gospel.
“A continual focus on Jesus and his work in the gospel matters because people quickly drift away from evangelism.”
Be careful to see that your teaching on evangelism encourages people. Too many who mean well tend to guilt-trip believers for not sharing Christ rather than encouraging them to live, love, and speak of Christ. There are two main ways to motivate. I call one way the “Do this because you are supposed to” motivation. It’s not bad; God gives commands and expects us to obey. But there is a better motivation: “Do this because you were born to do it.”
Don’t teach a one-size-fits-all presentation, but teach the beauty and the glory of the gospel story and encourage believers to share that story in their everyday lives. At Southeastern Seminary we teach the Story and the 3 Circles, both of which share the grand narrative of the gospel. But first and foremost, teach people the beauty and wonder of the gospel and give ways to share Christ.
2. Set the Example
“You became imitators of us,” Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 1:6. Here’s the truth: The people we lead will over time become like us. It’s vital that you and other leaders talk about your witnessing weekly or at least regularly.
I’ve watched this happen again and again with my students. When they become a pastor, those who regularly talk about sharing their faith seem to find a lot of their people talk about that also. Evangelism is caught more than taught.
“Evangelism is caught more than taught.”
Give examples of failure, of missed opportunities, and of times you did share. Let them hear your burden for souls and let them see that lived out. You don’t have to be perfect, but you do need to be consistent in your example. There is great potency in simple, faithful consistency.
Where do you regularly share Christ? What places are most comfortable and consistent? Who are the people you seek to know to help them know Christ? Do those you lead know this?
3. Structure All You Do to Be Consistent with 1 and 2
This may be the hardest part. Your ministry is currently structured to get the results you now achieve. Does the way your ministry is put together demonstrate the first two points? For example, churches who build international missions into their culture and budget, and who regularly prioritize missions in meetings and communications, are the churches who send a lot of members on trips and have many members surrender to international missions.
“Paul didn’t only plant churches. He planted a new culture in those churches.”
If you’re a pastor or church leader, take a look at your church calendar the past six months. Look at any major events and emphases, but also focus on the daily things. Look at your budget and see what you spend the most on and whether that matches your conviction about evangelism. Do you see a consistency in how you structure what you teach and the example you set?
We structure our lives and our ministries based on what we really believe, truly value, and actually do. It’s vital all these convey the same message.
Peter Drucker, the management theorist, famously observed how culture will eat strategy for breakfast. Paul didn’t only plant churches. He planted a new culture in those churches. These simple steps can help you do the same.
Alvin L. Reid serves as senior professor of evangelism and student ministry and holds the Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He is the author of Sharing Jesus without Freaking Out: Evangelism the Way You Were Born to Do It.