The #1 Strategy for seeing more souls saved through your church.
Okay, the truth is that even I am dubious when an article claims to offer "the #1 reason" or "#1 key to success". So why did I choose this heading?
I chose this heading as a way of introducing the importance of clear, consistent, and compelling messaging when it comes to engaging the lost.
The #1 strategic mistake most churches make is that they fail to give priority to a clear, consistent, and compelling invitation to the gospel.
Opp's...seems can't help myself dishing out #1's!
Traditionally this argument for prioritizing a 'clear, consistent, and compelling invite to the gospel' has centred around the traditional altar call. There are many pastors who strongly advocate that a minister should give an invitation to follow Jesus in every pubic service with a response via hand raising, prayer of salvation, walk to the front, or go to a desk.
It is argued that this should be done every service because (a) you never know who is there and who the Holy Spirit is convicting, (b) it is our responsibility to 'do the work of an evangelist', and (c) it encourages the members to invite non believers because they know that there will be a moment in the public service for salvation. I appreciate the way pastors stick to the altar call to honour the core mission of the church to share the gospel. I used to listen to Joel Osteen (primarily because he is a very gifted communicator and I was fascinated with his method) and even he gives a 30 sec invite to follow Christ at the end of his otherwise gospel-lite messages.
I think one of the reasons the Baptists and Pentecostals did so well, for so long, was that it was drilled into their pastors to do a gospel presentation and invitation every week. The repetitive nature of it meant that an expectation for salvations became a core part of church life and measurement. More historical denominations have taken a low key 'salvation through assimilation' approach which has resulted in far fewer salvations and declining churches.
I agree 100% with the altar call argument regarding the need for consistency and mission. It's just that I am not that keen on the altar call method.
I don't think in a post modern, intellectually but biblically illiterate generation, that a short 1 to 2 minute explanation and invitation to put your faith in Christ 'there and then' will result in much genuine fruit.** Besides, the altar call was not instituted by Jesus but rather is a modern evangelical construct. Instead, Jesus had people follow his message over time, ask questions, and then call them to make a life long decision that was witnessed publicly through baptism.
**Obviously, in the case of a unique move of the Spirit OR when the five fold gift of the evangelist is in operation, the 'gift of faith' for salvation flows more freely resulting in amazing moments of 'instant ingathering'.
At Recalibrate Ministries I advocate that a better and more effective method in this season is for churches to have a set time and place for an anointed, engaging, and a 'ready to go' gospel presentation outside of the Sunday service (i.e. 'Why Jesus?'). This becomes the focus of the in-service invite rather than an altar call.
The invite to the gospel presentation needs to have the same dedication and priority from the church that the altar call traditionally did! The church traditionally dedicated a specific moment in every service to invite people to Christ. In the same way a church that is using the approach of a gospel presentation or class equally should be dedicating a moment in every public service to give a compelling invitation to people to attend that presentation.
By giving time in every public service for a compelling invite to attend the gospel presentation (a) you give opportunity and direction for someone on whom Holy Spirit is presently convicting, (b) we are fulfilling the mission of the church to share the good news and (c) it encourages the members to invite non believers in the hope they might investigate more.
Keeping the missional message the priority message.
This all probably seems quite straight forward yet it's when it comes to execution that things quickly get muddy. The competing priorities in a church, if you are not careful, soon water down or muddy the messaging. Equally, because so many of us are trained in the attraction model we struggle internally with priorities and what we value.
Here are some things to watch out for.
1. Failing to distinguish the invitation from other announcements.
Adding the gospel invite into the video announcements, like every other announcement, can potentially weaken your messaging. You are now placing your mission on the same level as the purposes and programs of your church. I advocate for a specific moment in a service, outside of general announcements', where an invitation to come and learn about the gospel presentation is given.
One idea is to designate a moment in the service where someone, who has prayed and prepared for this, takes two minutes to speak of Christ (or gives short testimony) and invites people to consider the class. This is actually a great way to train up new leaders and young ministers with this focused responsibility.
Of course, smaller churches do all the announcements live and but I would still advocate another person for the 'invite' role. And as an aside, I think most churches have way too many announcements on things that should be communicated via social media, electronically, on paper, or directly to those involved.
The only thing that fundamentally changes lives on every level (emotional, spiritual, physical) is hearing the gospel to the point you put your faith in it. We are driven to give people an opportunity to hear it above every other program or ministry of the church.
2. Not being consistent.
Things come up in church that suddenly become the priority in the service and take all the time. It could be a dedication, a guest speaker, or some other element. The 'invite' gets dropped to save time or 'reprioritize'.
I would advocate, however, that the invite is the last thing that should be dropped as it is the #1 (there I go again) mission of the church. Shorten up the songs or cut announcements right down. But whatever you do make sure you stay on mission!
3. Limiting the messaging to the Sunday Morning
The ultimate outcome from your messaging is that members of your church start inviting people to the gospel presentation in a holistic and organic way. In other words, they have fully grasped that this is where our church presents the gospel in an effective way and so this is what I want my friends and family to attend.
This means that effective messaging regarding your gospel presentation should go throughout the church. The programs that have non believers, like Celebrate Recovery or Freedom Sessions, or Mum and Tots, or Hockey Club Night etc should have a defined strategy for explaining and inviting people to your gospel presentation sessions. These ministries and locations are where the fish are so this is where the hook and line need to be deliberately placed.