By: Karla Hovde
This article is part of a multi-part series that will take place throughout 2020-21 in conjunction with the virtual Reach! webinar series. Learn about future Reach! webinars here.
“Evangelism is hospitality to people who aren’t here yet,” said Rev. Matt Miofsky, speaking to church leaders from the Dakotas-Minnesota Area at a September 10 Reach! webinar. Miofsky is lead pastor of The Gathering UMC in St. Louis, one of the fastest-growing United Methodist Churches in the U.S.
In his 90-minute presentation, he covered six characteristics of evangelism and shared practical advice about creating a culture of evangelism, where people are comfortable sharing their testimonies with those curious about our faith.
Many Christians don’t talk about their faith in public, at work, or with friends. Miofsky compared evangelism to a muscle that has atrophied after months of having a cast on, and he encouraged church leaders to reclaim evangelism as a central part of the Methodist tradition.
“In some of our churches, it may have been years or even decades since we really had a strong passion for evangelism,” he said. “What that means is that we're going to have to exercise that muscle over and over and over again.”
Evangelism is invitational
One of the top barriers Christians, and even pastors, name to practicing evangelism is that they are nervous that they're going to start talking about faith and someone will ask a question or challenge them and they won’t know how to respond.
He pointed out that it isn’t the person doing the evangelism who is responsible for converting or convincing a person to follow Jesus. Jesus will do that. It’s our role to simply invite.
“We have this idea that we need to take people from zero to 60 in a day or two, like we need to take them from unbeliever to confessing Jesus or praying the believer’s prayer,” Miofsky said. It’s no wonder people in our churches don’t want to try evangelism, if that’s the expectation.
We don’t need to have the perfect response to every question, know the Bible cover to cover, or do the work of converting people. To be an inviter, only two things are necessary: something compelling to invite people to and a few friends. Miofsky advises church leaders to weave the language of invitation into everything the church does. Make it easy and natural for people to invite their friends to check out church.
Evangelism is relational
Miofsky said reluctance to talk to strangers is the second biggest obstacle to practicing evangelism. However, evangelism starts with people we already know.
“These are people who care what we think, and would trust something if we told it to them,” he said. “They would listen if we actually offered an invitation to something we find meaningful. Don’t overlook the networks God has already put around you.”
Another reason people feel reluctant inviting a friend is concern that their friend won’t find their church compelling.
“To put it more bluntly, they don't want to risk their reputation inviting their friends to something that's kind of lame,” Miofsky said.
If church leaders put passion into each worship service, people are going to be glad they invited their friends to come. On the other hand, if it is a poor experience, not only is the friend likely to never come back, but the inviter will never try inviting a friend again.
“There's a relationship between our people's willingness to invite friends and the quality and the excellence and the passion with which we do ministry inside the walls,” he said.
Evangelism points to Jesus
Evangelism isn’t just about invitation and relationship; it’s about an invitation to Jesus specifically.
Miofsky asked participants to think carefully about what they consider a successful event in their church. For example, if 500 kids come to your church’s trunk-or-treat, is that a success if none of them were invited to a second event that would put them in contact with Jesus?
Miofsky pointed to a sermon series on parenting as an example of a useful and relevant second event after a trunk-or-treat event.
Evangelism is transformational
We practice evangelism because we think Jesus can do amazing things in the lives of the people we invite. If we don’t often notice how Jesus has made a difference in our life, it's hard to remember how powerful Jesus can be in the lives of other people.
Miofsky says evangelism works best when the person doing the inviting has had their own extraordinary experience of how Jesus has impacted their life.
This leads back to the idea of evangelism as an atrophied muscle we need to exercise to make stronger. When we encourage people in our church to practice sharing in small groups or worship services simple testimonies of how Jesus made a difference in their life in the past week, we gradually strengthen that muscle. The more people can practice, the better they get at noticing ways Jesus is at work in their daily lives, and the more comfortable they feel sharing that with people outside of the congregation.
Evangelism is incarnational
The evangelism we do has to make sense for our particular mission field. If God has done something in our lives, are we expressing that in terms that people can understand and relate to?
Miofsky pushed church leaders to remember that evangelism isn’t about what worked to bring us to Jesus.
“We can’t present the gospel to others in the same way that it was presented to us,” he said. “We can't confuse the strategies, or tactics, or the form in which the gospel came to us with the essence of the gospel itself.”
Today in Miofsky’s own church, incarnational evangelism looks like Bar Church, where worship is held inside a bar while it is open for business.
“We talk about Jesus, and it absolutely changed the lives of the people who ended up there,” especially people who wouldn’t otherwise set foot in a church because of past negative experiences, he said.
Evangelism is missional
Evangelism is less about what happens inside church walls and more about what happens outside, when people leave those walls and feel comfortable talking about faith wherever they are.
Mature faith isn’t about knowing everything about scripture or theology. It’s about disciples sharing their faith with others.
“A mature disciple is one who finally answers that call to be sent out,” Miofsky said.
Watch the full webinar for more advice from Miofsky, including how to start conversations with someone who dislikes religion or has been burned by the church. Then save the date for future Reach! webinars.
Karla Hovde is the communications specialist for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church