Relational Evangelism in the Local Church

relationalevangelism2We launched our church in Chillicothe, OH just over 3-years ago and like many who have gone before us, we had no money, no people and no real idea what we were doing. What’s even more humorous was that we actually thought we had this church planting thing all figured out. We are still a work in progress and despite what we didn’t have when we started, what we did have were our core values. These values came from our beliefs and convictions about God and they continue to shape the way we do church.

Among those core beliefs was the idea that people would grow spiritually by growing relationally. John Maxwell famously said that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Growing up I feel like my father repeated this quote constantly. He said it so much that I actually used to think it originated from him. Now, years later, I find myself repeating this quote constantly and I think those of us in ministry are the ones who need to hear these words the most.

In the context of many faith-based communities I believe we’ve forgotten the power of relational evangelism. We can preach tremendous sermons from beautiful stages with inspiring music that moves people to the altar. That’s all well and good but we must remember that conversion is not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). In the midst of telling people what we know about God, and what we think they should know, we fail to realize that without creating a relational environment inside our churches their growth may start and end at the altar.

One of the constants in our church has been the priority we place on accepting people as they are and creating a space for them to build relationships. Creating a relational environment will look different for everyone but I believe we have learned some overarching principles at Centerpoint that can help you evaluate and re-think your process.

1)  Value every guest who walks through your doors.

Hebrews 13:2 reminds us to be hospitable to strangers reminding us we might never know the true impact of our hospitality. Every week God entrusts us with guests who enter our churches. This is the opportunity of a lifetime and we should always go over and above to make sure everyone feels and sees the love of Jesus. Open doors. Serve unconditionally. Honor your guests by giving them a gift. Replace the reserved parking spot for the pastor with a reserved parking spot for your guests. Outsiders mattered to Jesus and they should matter to us.

2)  Find a place for everyone to serve.

Jesus chose a diverse group of broken, imperfect sinners to become His disciples. Somewhere along the way we seem to have forgotten this and decided that people needed to clean up their act before they could serve in our churches. I have watched people grow in their faith as they serve and for that reason, we shouldn’t make serving difficult. Not everybody will be fit for the leadership but everyone can do something and when you give people a place they build relationships, and when they build relationships, they grow.

3)  Make small groups a priority.

In Matthew 16 we catch up with Jesus and the disciples shortly after Jesus has been on a marathon run of teaching and preaching. In the middle of that He’s also miraculously fed a crowd of 5,000 people. You’d think the large crowds and miracles would grow the Disciples relationship with Jesus but their growth seems to be more profound during their small group conversations with Him after the noise was gone. Sundays are great but they only get us so far. Small groups create a space for people to do life together and it can become an essential part of discipleship if you’ll take it seriously.

Whatever your thoughts on relational evangelism, I would challenge all of us as pastors and leaders to ensure it’s an intentional part of our discipleship process. Jesus exemplified it and our churches will be stronger if we follow His lead.

Chris VanBuskirk is the Lead Pastor of Centerpoint Church in Chillicothe, OH and a graduate of Greenville College. He loves his wife, his 3 children and a good cup of coffee.

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