Consider these statistics:
- 85% of all evangelical churches have "evangelism" in their mission statement. (Evangelical churches can be broadly defined as churches that have a high regard of scripture, believe converts should demonstrate conversion with changed lives, believe faith should be spread by converts, and believe the cross is central to the gospel. (http://www.nae.net/church-and-faith-partners/what-is-an-evangelical)
- Less than 5% of Christians in a typical church are personally involved in evangelism.
- A typical church spends less than 2% of their budget on local evangelism.
I have no idea how those statistics play out in your particular congregation, but just think about this to evaluate how true it is for your situation...as more and more people bemoan the shrinking of churches, consider what would happen if just half of the members of a congregation converted just one person in the course of 5 years. I'm not a numbers guy so I won't try to figure out the details on how much growth we would see in the church compared to members moving away and dying, but I do feel confident that we would see growth!
Why is personal sharing of faith (evangelism) such a rare thing among professing Christians?
I believe it might possibly be due to one more statistic from the same source as above:
Only 9% of pastors and 2% of lay people say they are gifted and most do not feel adequately trained in evangelism.
In other words, our church buildings are filled (or only partially filled depending on how you are using the word) with followers of Christ who believe and know they should be sharing their faith with others, but they feel completely incapable and inadequate to actually do so. I don't know about you, but if there is something I don't really feel comfortable doing, I tend to just call someone else and let them do it! (That's why so many fix-it jobs around my house stay un-fixed for so long!)
I took a high school group to Evangelism University last week. EU is a youth rally that is designed specifically to train teens to share their faith. I was discussing all of the training with one of the dads (Michael Hansen...check out his online ministry here) on the bus. We lamented the fact that evangelism has become such a complicated and formal process and discussed that one of the possible reasons for having to have formal training is that there is not much true discipleship (mentoring) going on and that even if there were, we are currently at a spot where it seems like almost no one is evangelizing or even knows how. So even if there were discipleship going on and evangelism was brought up, it would be a very real potential case of the blind leading the blind! (I'm including myself in that indictment!)
But as I read this passage in Acts this morning, I immediately remembered our conversation and I thought again about the actual simplicity of what Christ asks us to do.
We are called to be witnesses of what we have seen. Yes, the apostles were given some extraordinary things that they saw. They saw and touched the risen Christ. Three of them saw his transfigured state on the mountain. They saw blind people given sight, deaf people given hearing, lame people walk, and dead people live. And they were commanded to tell people what they had seen. To be witnesses.
The truth of the matter, is that we are asked to do no more and no less...and it doesn't matte whether what we have seen personally is a paralyzed leg changed or a habitual liar made truthful. We are called to be witnesses. We are not called to sway the jury of someone else's mind and soul. We are called to testify to what we have seen God do in us and around us through Christ. Anyone can tell a story. True, some are better storytellers than others, but anyone can tell a story. It takes no training. It takes no special miraculous gift of the Spirit. It simply takes someone who is devoted enough to Christ and His kingdom to testify to where they have been in the past and where God in Christ has brought them to now.
But that still doesn't speak to the power of Jesus' instructions because we have not yet mentioned the power that He promised them to be His witnesses.
Before he told them to be witnesses, He told them to wait. To wait for the power of the Holy Spirit. And it was the power of that Spirit that would enable them to be witnesses to the ends of the earth. Can you imagine the increase in the numbers of evangelists in the church today if we really understood the power of the Spirit the way the first-century church did!? Maybe I should make that a stronger statement...can you imagine the increase in the numbers of evangelists in the church today if we really believed in the power of the Spirit the way the first century church did!?
My prayer is that as we walk through the book of Acts, we will be awakened to the power of the Spirit that was and is alive if we only have eyes of faith. My prayer is that we will turn the world upside down once again not because we have the right method or find enough talented men to fill pulpits, but because we have the right motivation (direct command from an infinitely loving Christ) and re-find the power of the Spirit that fills our lives.
Maybe in our rush to figure out how to fill our pews once again, we need to simply pause and wait for the Spirit again. And while we are waiting...maybe we can just start being witnesses and telling stories about the Christ who promises us resurrection because of His resurrection.