As followers of Jesus, our absolute number one priority in regard to the people around us is evangelism. It’s what we are made for. And just about anything really important takes some planning. Intentionally setting some goals for evangelism can be an incredibly helpful tool to take us from wanting to share the gospel more to actually doing it.
If you look around much, you’ll find lots of support for this idea. You can find it in a really excellent talk about developing a multiplying culture, called “Born to Reproduce,” by a guy named Dawson Trotman. As a disclaimer, I’ll say that Dawson gave this talk in the 1950s, and when you listen to it today, it sounds a bit dated. But if you can get past the dated language, it’s just brilliant (you can listen to it or read the transcript here), and all about making evangelism a primary goal.
You can find it in psychology. In the 1960s, a psychologist named Edwin Locke began to develop goal-setting theory, as he found that setting specific, significant, challenging goals helps people focus better, work harder, give up less easily, and change their habits. And you can find it in the words of Jesus. In Matthew 28, he sets the ultimate challenging goal—go and make disciples of all nations. This is the big task Jesus has set us, and it’s what Multiply Vineyard is all about—we want to help you make disciples everywhere.
On a personal level, you can find it in God’s response to you as you pray. The Vineyard prayer model has a high emphasis on asking God what to pray for, as well as asking him for things that we can measure—say you pray for a person to be healed of back pain. You might ask them to rate their pain before and after praying to see if they were healed or not.
Michael Gatlin talks about being dissatisfied with the number of people who were coming to know Jesus for the first time in the Duluth Vineyard. From year to year, even as the church grew, that number wasn’t budging. So he spent time praying about what to do. “As I began to pray about it every day, I felt like I heard God say ‘How many do you want?’” When God asks a question like that, of course, like Jesus said, we want them all. But since you probably won’t be able to make disciples of your whole city in one year, maybe think about how many you do want to shoot for in the next year.
Michael’s story is that he prayed about how many to ask for, “and as I prayed about it, I felt like the number God gave me was 100. In one way, it’s simple, but in another, it takes a lot of guts to pray that prayer. I had been praying about it for a number of weeks, and as I’m preaching, all of a sudden that goal of 100 came out, and immediately I wished I could pull it back. I’m like, ‘oh no, what if it doesn’t happen?’”
This is where actually setting the goal is helpful, though. As psychologists have discovered in the last 50 years, when you set a goal and communicate it to others, it is actually incredibly motivating to overcome obstacles, face fears, increase effort, and change behaviors in order to make that goal a reality. And that’s what happened at the Duluth Vineyard.
Michael described the process like this:
We had the goal of 100 people beginning to follow Jesus through our community in one year. First, we talked about it. We cast the vision over and over again. People were hearing about it at every level. Then, we examined everything we were doing to figure out what was preventing or slowing down the process of people coming to know Christ, and we made changes to address those problem areas. We also made it an issue of daily prayer. We asked the Father to allow us to recognize and participate in the many opportunities each day to help people begin a relationship with him. We prayed for the whole church to catch the vision. And we modeled this kind of prayer publicly.
From there, we worked strategically to root out the behaviors and structures that were holding us back and to put better ones into place. We examined our weekend services for things that might be off-putting or confusing to unchurched newcomers. We worked to anticipate people’s doubts and objections to the gospel so we could address them. We read and studied what strategies were working well and the characteristics of an evangelistic church. We encouraged and trained the church to think and act evangelistically. We wanted it to become an expectation for those who were growing in spiritual maturity to be practicing evangelism. And it worked. As we made evangelism a high priority, we began to see more than 100 people a year surrender to Christ and be baptized on a regular basis.
So we encourage you to try this for yourself. What would it look like for you to set some goals like this in your church? Here are some steps you could try:
- Take stock. Ask, “what fruit have I already seen in the last year? The last month? The last week? How many people have come to know Christ as a result of what we are doing?” First of all, celebrate the fruit you do see. It’s important to recognize God’s work, even as you long to see more of it.
- Prayerfully consider how you want to grow. This is an opportunity for you to be challenged and to develop deeper trust in Him. God wants them all. We can trust that he will be faithful to help us find them.
- Set a long-term goal. If you don’t already have one, set a challenging goal for a year from now.
- Set a few short-term goals. In order to achieve your long-term goal, you’ll need to set a few milestone goals along the way. Pick a shorter amount of time—a month, perhaps—and think backward from your big goal. What kind of progress will you need to make in a month to be on target for your year goal? Think about the changes you will need to make in different areas—weekend service, sensitivity to unchurched visitors, how you spend your time, etc.—and think about when you can reasonably make these changes.
- Plan out the steps you will take to reach your goals and put them into action. At this point, don’t spend too long worrying about trying to do things perfectly. Come up with a few reasonable ideas, and try a few of them. If something doesn’t work, try something else. You may experience a few failures before you find something that works, but you are more likely to see the fruit you are looking for when you are in motion than if you stay frozen in the planning stage.
Change is difficult. It takes intention, effort, and sacrifice. But if we want to see more fruit from our outreach, the secret sauce is that we have the power of the Holy Spirit helping us. So we encourage you to let God challenge you to set some goals.
What tips do you have for growing in evangelism? What are the biggest challenges in introducing people to Jesus where you are? Comment below or start a conversation on our forum.