HEARTLAND | The average Southern Baptist church in the Midwest has 54 people in worship on Sunday mornings, and baptized three last year. But a North American Mission Board study found the top evangelistic churches in the region are charting a different course, said Joel Southerland, NAMB’s executive director of evangelism strategies.
The Midwest’s top evangelistic churches with less than 250 in worship attendance averaged 119 in worship and had 23 baptisms. Churches with more than 250 in worship averaged 71 baptisms.
Southerland shared findings from the NAMB study of the top 20 evangelizing churches in every U.S. state at the Illinois Baptist State Association’s Evangelism Conference in March, and in a breakout session at the Midwest Leadership Summit earlier this year. The study resulted in a list of “7 Secrets of Top Evangelistic Churches in the SBC.”
- It has a lot to do with the pastor. NAMB studied the pastors of top evangelistic churches and found that the majority described their leadership style as “charismatic” or “transformational,” outranking innovative, command and control, servant, situational, laissez-faire and pace setter.
The pastors they studied were at the churches 10-plus years on average, Southerland said, and 70% of them preach a sermon series on evangelism every year. More than half (55%) put more emphasis on evangelism than discipleship, and 90% share the gospel outside the church at least once a month.
- Top evangelistic churches are really good at the Sunday morning experience. Of the pastors surveyed, 93% described their worship as lively and celebratory, 95% were contemporary or blended in worship style, and 96% said they intentionally cultivate a guest-friendly atmosphere. And 70% give an invitation at the end of the service.
Southerland outlined several worship takeaways: make church exciting, work on the quality, be intentionally evangelistic on Sunday morning, and aim for something better than “friendly.” People aren’t looking for friendly, he said, they’re looking for friends.
- These churches are actively engaged and serving the community, no matter the size of the congregation. Of the pastors surveyed, 88% said they were well engaged in the community. Of mid-sized top evangelistic churches, 30% attempt service-based ministry efforts to share the gospel regularly, as do 37% of large churches.
It’s OK to start small with community engagement, Southerland counseled, just start somewhere. And preferably not in a vacuum. Talk to community leaders about the needs are, and how your church can help. Involve non-Christians, using the service as an opportunity to share the gospel with them.
- Top evangelistic churches communicate well, internally and externally. The average pastor makes too many assumptions about how much people know, Southerland said. They assume the congregation knows the church’s vision, that members are as passionate about reaching people as the pastor, and that they don’t need constant motivation.
But all of those things—and more—need to be communicated. Luckily, more avenues for communication exist now than ever before. Of the top evangelistic church pastors surveyed, 97% use a church Facebook account regularly, Southerland cited. Half of pastors and staff intentionally “friend” guests on Facebook.
- Virtually all top evangelistic churches make a big deal out of baptisms—97%, the NAMB survey reported. And 79% of pastors of churches in the mid-size church category preach a yearly sermon on baptism, as do 74% of large-church pastors.
The takeaways, Southerland said, are to preach at least once on baptism every year, provide a forum for people to give their own, recorded testimonies, help baptismal candidates invite family and friends to the service, and train your church to celebrate new spiritual life.
- They treat guests really well. In non-evangelistic churches, Southerland said, the service is for the members and guests just happen to be there. Evangelistic churches are the opposite; of the congregations NAMB surveyed 67% of mid-size churches and 85% of large churches had a person responsible for “first impressions” ministry targeted to visitors.
A large majority (70%) emailed, called and sent written mail to a guest within seven days of their visit.
- Top evangelistic churches emphasize inviting and personal evangelism. The pastors of the churches NAMB studied were very busy mobilizing their church members to be a witness in the community; 50% offered evangelism training, and 70% of their guests came to church as a result of a personal invitation from a member. Among mid-sized churches, 62% have visitation or organized outreach at least once a month, and 58% of large churches do the same.
Churches that train members in personal evangelism, Southerland said, baptize two-and-a-half times more people than those that don’t.
The value of a verbal witness cannot be underestimated, he said during a message at the IBSA conference. Especially when most people are broken and looking for a solution to their problems.
“We are far too timid when it comes to sharing the gospel. We are too scared of the culture.” But, “The culture is not near as bad as it could be or will be someday. We’re to take the gospel to the culture and change the culture with Jesus Christ.”