Evangelism – A Priority in Your Parish?

by Neil Prott

There is nothing more wonderful we can do for anyone than introduce them to Jesus Christ.

However, this is not reflected in the programme of many parishes today.

No doubt there are numerous reasons for the current state of affairs. Our analysis should take in the Scriptural factors as well as the obvious ones.

Firstly, churches easily lose sight of the need to proclaim the gospel to the world. Whereas evangelism has often been regarded as a fringe activity, the Bible portrays it as a top priority involving every congregation, and every Christian. In a real sense, when God sent His Son into the world, He set our agenda.

Paul says,

“We proclaim Him, admonishing every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28)

Secondly, there is supernatural opposition to Biblical evangelism. When the seventy returned to Jesus He said, (Luke 10:18) “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning.” When the seed of the Word of God is sown, Satan is the one who “comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they may not believe and be saved.” (Luke 8:12)

Those who make evangelism a priority are at war! We dare not underestimate the enemy. We need to familiarise ourselves with his tactics, and with the powerful weapons that ensure his defeat.

Thirdly, effective evangelism requires prayer, commitment, training, spiritual toughness and resilience. Those who expect a comfortable, costless, and conflict-free experience, are not prepared to be the light of the earth.

It is worth asking whether our parishes are addressing these issues in their teaching and planning. Unless the leadership is aware of the real situation and taking steps to improve it, it is unlikely that it will change for the better.



Recognition of evangelism as a parish priority is a starting-point. Then we must resist the temptation to adopt a ‘quick-fix’ solution. Too often, church leaders latch onto ideas and implement programmes without considering the reasons and the content. Bible principles are primary. The methods are secondary.

It is helpful to think of evangelism as a mindset before it is anything else. Unless the activity is based on informed conviction, it will not continue. It is through careful and accurate Bible teaching that men and women become committed to the task.



This question must be answered accurately to avoid the pitfalls.

If evangelism is presenting the Christian message in such a way that people will find it appealing and decide for Jesus, that will indicate a certain kind of strategy. If success and effectiveness is to be measured by numbers of decisions, we will gear our programme accordingly. Rather, we should understand that evangelism is the clear and faithful proclamation of the gospel to people where they are. This should govern our outlook, our training, and our programme.

To many in our generation, “evangelism” is an emotive word. Many put it in the same category as “indoctrination”, “propaganda” and “brainwashing”. Even among churchgoers, the idea of evangelism can bring on an attack of nerves. They have set ideas about what it is and how it is done. Such ideas are not always accurate.

Instead of assuming that everyone understands the concept, parish leaders should ensure that careful teaching is given. In Sunday services and other meetings it is necessary to spell out what evangelism is, and what it is not.



In the Bible, the local church – the Body of Christ – is a living organism whose members affect one another’s lives. It is an assembly of diverse but united people who have a common responsibility: “to declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvellous light”.

Some think of it as a kind of static religious association. Others put the chief emphasis on “worship”, or on nurture of the members. The Bible portrays “worship” as a life of grateful service. A major responsibility is the proclamation of the gospel. One of the chief reasons for nurture ministry is that Christians are being made strong for service. Therefore the local church is also a training-ground for those who have “the work of ministry”.

We need to remember that evangelism is God’s idea. It challenges the common assumptions in the church as well as the community. Only through the Word are Christians constantly reminded of their need to evangelise. Too often, church groups and activities go on year after year without evangelistic emphasis. This only encourages ‘survival mentality’.

Every Christian should be able to explain the faith to those who ask (1 Peter 3:15). Teachers need to be recruited and trained – 2 Timothy 2:12. Here the pattern is not ‘the minister’ adding to the congregation one-by-one, but members of the congregation being trained so that they in turn become trainers. In the instruction of the congregation there is a built-in principle of evangelism by extension. 



Much church activity has been ineffective because it was not well founded. Each one of us needs to get the order right. If the presuppositions are wrong, we must expect the final results to reflect that.

A given activity or a whole church programme may be evaluated by the following points. They are in order.

  1. Submission to, and right understanding of the Bible.
  2. Clear convictions.
  3. Careful analysis of the situation. Formulation of policy.
  4. Determination on long-range strategy.
  5. Goal setting and detailed planning.
  6. Choice of method.
  7. Action.

As we go through this process we must expect to take risks. If we do not, it is unlikely that we are exercising faith!

There must be a review of current activity and a willingness to make changes. In order to do something new and additional, we must relinquish something already in the programme. Fresh initiatives are seldom possible without sacrifice of some existing commitments.

The value of the new work may not be obvious for some time. We can expect a ‘tunnel period’ when it will seem to many that the parish is ‘winding down’. It is important to explain the situation and to labour on faithfully.

There should be special input to the core group. We must teach, encourage, enthuse, and support them. (The old Chinese proverb says: “If you are planning for ten years, plant trees. If you are planning for a hundred years, plant men.”)



Thought and encouragement should be given as to how Christians can reach out to others. Bridge-building ideas can be shared around. Individual efforts can be complemented by corporate projects designed to bring together Christians and their neighbours (e.g. “Focus on the Family” film series).

The Bible indicates that hospitality is everyone’s ministry. It is easy! Anyone can serve coffee and cake. Some have made it their specialty by inviting newcomers and visitors for lunch on Sunday. Who is looking for the opportunities in our church? Why worry about outreach strategies when we aren’t relating to the people who come under their own steam? 



In general we think of evangelism as being either intense and short-term (confrontational), or long-term and less intense (relational). Most parishes cannot sustain confrontational evangelism. (e.g. you cannot visit the same houses every three months, or have a parish mission every six months.) In any case, the effectiveness of special evangelistic efforts is heavily influenced by the ongoing ‘climate’ in a given parish. When the special ‘one-off’ effort is over, it is important to maintain the momentum by putting the emphasis on relational evangelism. 



History shows that whenever groups and organisations become absorbed in their own interests, they hinder evangelism in the church. The evangelistic emphasis in the preaching ministry must be echoed in the various groups that meet from week to week. Otherwise we will see the development of pockets of comfortable, introverted Christians. Eventually these effectively work against outreach.

In a church that is serious about evangelism, administration needs to be streamlined to release key people for outreach.

Too many or too large committees have the troops stagnating in the trenches when they should be on the spiritual offensive. A routine, long-standing committee can be vague and time-wasting. By contrast, the short-term committee with a specific purpose will often deliver the goods more efficiently. We need to use people-resources wisely.

At the same time we must make allowance for evangelism as an item of parish expenditure.

We can make great decisions and uphold evangelism as one of our top priorities. The Parish Council may come under heavy conviction about the importance of evangelism, but if it doesn’t feature in the budget, it is not seen to be important in the scheme of things. Literature, stationery, gifts to guest speakers, training films and booklets, and follow-up materials, all cost money.



Opinion varies as to whether evangelistic services are appropriate. Few would question the likelihood of unbelievers attending from time to time. What do they find? For many of them, a Sunday service is like another world. Those who have recently come to Christ through personal evangelism may also have reservations.

There is no virtue in unnecessarily complicated services. We should be at pains to encourage those who have been evangelised to feel welcome in the congregation. The welcome at the door is significant. We should have some of our best people doing this. There should be a personal expression of gladness and welcome. Thought should be given to minimising the number of books used by attenders. One should not need to be a librarian in order to follow and enjoy a service.

There should be a real desire to make the service intelligible to all present. As far as possible, ordinary language should be used in songs, sermons and prayers. Unnecessary jargon should be avoided and technical words briefly explained. Regulars should be ready to help those around them in finding their way through the prayer book. The use of overhead projectors can minimise the problem of finding song words.

We need to develop the habit of putting ourselves in the shoes of the ‘outsider’ who ‘just dropped in’. Preachers need to use suitable illustrations and generally sharpen communications skills. The effectiveness of communication might be checked with suitable people from time to time. Whenever a large number of visitors is expected, special attention should be given to the content and style of the service.

An evangelistic emphasis should often be evident in the Sunday services. We can never assume that all present are in the kingdom. The challenge is to present the gospel in a variety of ways so that those who need to repent will be encouraged to do so.

Sunday services should be relevant – as addressing real issues and needs. They should involve the whole person: mind, will, body, and emotions. Our meeting together should be a significant occasion marked by quality in content and personal demeanour. We should avoid the mundane at all costs.

Perhaps the greatest challenge in evangelism is not in discovering or devising suitable methods, but developing that compassion that will inevitably find ways of reaching men, women, and young people with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

– Neil Prott

Neil Prott was Rector of the parish of Kurrajong in Sydney and in his retirement continued to be active in encouraging ministers of the gospel across NSW.

Published in ACL News, February 1989 – and still relevant.