Why doesn't the church grow? The same reason we have so few elders-a lack of faithful children! The role of a parent is not merely to teach his children the gospel but rather to teach his children to teach the gospel to their children. We haven't successfully taught our children the gospel, let alone taught them how to teach their children. We are losing another generation of young people. With the loss of the young people, we lose another generation of qualified men for the eldership. Both problems are symptoms of the same cause.
If the track record with our physical children is poor, it is even worse with our spiritual children (new converts). With our spiritual children, we "dunk'em and leave'em". No follow-up. As parents, we rely too much on educating our physical children through the public school system to the neglect of individual spiritual training in the home. In the church, we do the same with our spiritual babes; we rely upon the church's public school system (weekly sermons and classes) to the neglect of personalized one-on-one training. And we wonder why the few souls we win to Christ soon fall away! If we are indifferent to merely teaching the gospel, how will we ever accomplish the more difficult task of training new converts to teach the gospel? The job before us is not merely to reproduce but to produce producers! What we have produced is a generation of mules in the church- stubborn when it comes to getting personally involved in the Lord's work, and like the mule, unable to reproduce!
Christianity is a taught religion. Paul's instruction to Timothy was, "The things you have learned from me entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others" (2 Tim. 2:2). Paul was concerned with four generations of reproduction, and we have trouble with just one! How can we achieve growth? Here is how two churches went about it. One church centered its evangelistic efforts around great pulpit preaching and only the preacher contacting and teaching non-Christians. The results were poor. The other church focused on the training and equipping of each willing member to contact and teach the gospel to the lost. Results were good, with a steady increase. Clearly, the New Testament example is closer to the latter. If the church is going to grow, we will need to equip the saints for this great and noble work of service.
The role and attitude of the evangelist is important. The evangelist can choose one of two basic roles when working with the members. He can choose the denominational pastor system where the preacher runs the whole show. Or, he can take the role of an assistant and co-worker. In business, these two roles could be compared to being the boss or being the sales manager. For illustration, let's parallel the church to an automobile dealership. The sales manager is a man with a proven record of sales and an intimate knowledge of the selling process. He is a skilled salesman who can outsell anyone else two-to-one. That's why he's the manager. In a 40-hour workweek, he can sell 20 cars. But if he spends that same 40 hours training, supporting, and advising his team of 10 salesmen, who will be able to sell 10 cars each, his total sales volume will then be 100 instead of 20. Get the illustration? That's a five-fold increase in return for the same amount of time! Now, if you were the boss, where would you direct the sales manager to spend his time- selling or training?
Unfortunately, some evangelists want to be the boss rather than the sales manager. They want to be in the driver's seat rather than take the backseat and encourage the members to teach the gospel. The fireball evangelist will convert 10 persons a year; but if he spent his time training the members to reach the lost, the church would double every year regardless of its size. It's almost guaranteed! When it comes to church growth, I believe the evangelist should view the members as his sales team. His time is best spent training, supporting, and advising the members as they seek the lost. When prospects walk into our showroom on Sunday morning, he should give the resulting study to one of the sales team members.
Unfortunately, an evangelist can do and say all the right things to equip the church, but those mule members are apathetic, stubborn, and resistant to his efforts. They don't want to get involved. They are only interested in the status quo. Unless Christians make the decision to personally get involved and be committed to the plan, the whole effort will degenerate into a series of pep talks. Often, the end result is the preacher quits or is fired. Christians must make the decision to work together with the evangelist as a team to teach the gospel.
Many churches don't have a full-time evangelist. This shouldn't be a hindrance to growth. Committed members are the key ingredient to the plan. Christians who make a personal effort to reach the lost without a full-time evangelist is a very attractive opportunity that many evangelists can't resist. So, there is no reason to wait until you get a full-time evangelist.
There are several ways of teaching the gospel. Besides the Jule Miller series, various outlines are available in one-shot approaches and multi-lesson series. I only use the Miller series in special cases where I want to break the ice a bit. However, to convict them of the finer gospel truths, I use a written multi-lesson outline.
Soul winning is a skill that requires flexibility and a personal touch, two things that do not come naturally from a filmstrip machine or VCR. Four things should be kept in mind when equipping the saints with study outlines: 1) borrow ideas from the work of others and come up with your own set of outlines: 2) outlines must be user friendly. That is, they must be easy to learn to use. Incorporating pictures, charts, and illustrations will make the outlines easy to teach and interesting to non-Christians. Many of the existing outlines are so complex that they require memorization, which is not practical for general church use. Also, many existing outlines were prepared for use by preachers and not the average member. Your goal is for the members to be able to teach new Christians how to use the outlines with little difficulty. A big challenge! 3) Prepare a specific outline that will actually be used in the study. It is impractical to expect every member to draft their own. Outlines should be photocopy-ready for efficient reproduction. This preparation will require some effort on the part of the evangelist. 4) Improvements in the outlines should be made periodically by using the feedback comments of the users. Preparing a study outline for your church is a big challenge and one that is long overdue. It is the central focus of a growing church. Without one, training the saints will be very difficult.
No teaching situation is complete without students. Suppose you have trained and equipped 25 Christians to teach the gospel. Where will you get the prospects for these trained Christians to teach? Unless the members can see that they will actually be teaching what they have learned, they won't give their whole heart to learning the outlines. You finish 10 weeks of training and have 25 people ready to teach, but no prospects! Interest in the whole effort will fizzle. This is a critical link that I will discuss in future articles.
A specific plan should include the following points. 1) Show them why they need a plan and include the members in the designing of the plan. 2) Motivate the members to want to participate in the plan. 3) Set a series of target dates for every aspect of the plan. (For ex.: Will there be any prospects to teach after the members have completed their training?) 4) Select or write a study outline for the church to use. 5) Decide how and from where you will get the necessary prospects. 6) Make provisions to ground and train new converts to teach the gospel. All these things must be taken into account before you begin. Look at the local church where you attend. You know what will come easy and what will require extra work. You will need a specific plan tailored for the local church.
Equipping the saints for the work of service does hold the promise of growth if we remember that we are the workmen and God causes the growth. We need to work as if everything depends on us and pray as of everything depends on God!
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