Blog Post by
Rev. Alexandra Lysdahl
First United Presbyterian Church, Belleville, Illinois
“If we build it, they will come.” That was something I heard growing up in the church. Sometimes it was said with sadness as large church buildings sat mostly empty, struggling with shrinking membership. Sometimes with disdain, as if the secret to ministry had been found and of course it wasn’t building more…buildings! Let’s be clear, a golden ticket to church growth and vibrancy has not and will not be found. However, Matthew 28 is clear, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them.” The calling seems simple, but usually, the execution is not so simple. As pastors all over struggle to “grow the church,” their focus often falls on programming, buildings, and gimmicks. We do need to make our marketing, advertisements, social media posts, etc. attractive and relevant. That is important. What is most important, though, is effective evangelism. The e-word, evangelism, that Presbyterians shudder at is actually…our charge in Matthew: to share the good news of the gospel with others. We can all agree that sharing the good news of Christ with others is good, right, and part of our calling as Christians. It is good news after all. The struggle seems to be in the method through which Christians evangelize that ruffles feathers.
The research on evangelism is clear. Evangelism happens through relationships. Casual one-on-one conversations. Not cool buildings. Not flashy programming. Not door-to-door conversations with strangers. Relationships. Seems almost too simple, doesn’t it? We can spend a lot of dollars on making a space look and feel modern and get zero visitors. Or we can invest in and encourage church members to invite friends, neighbors, coworkers, people they are in a relationship with to check out our church and get a much larger return on our “investment.” The investment needed is not money, but time. Time spent discipling congregation members, teaching them, and empowering them to own the calling we have as Christians to share the good news. We know this in our hearts. We feel the Holy Spirit at work when we have one-on-one conversations focused on discipling our people. We see it on our attendance sheets; visitors are usually connected to someone in the congregation. Sure, there are random visitors, but our own church data shows us that we reach new people through the people we already have. However, we are presbyterian, too frozen to talk about faith. How do we get our congregations talking to other people about faith and church? There is no perfect answer to that, but I believe that people will not feel comfortable talking to people outside the church about faith and church if they aren’t talking to people inside the church about it. It makes sense, right? So that means we need to think of ways and places and times for our people to talk about faith and church, and then give them that opportunity and encouragement. Those opportunities help them stop and think about how and what they would say, then actually say it. In this way, they gain words and practice. Then, they have words for sharing their faith and church experience with friends, neighbors, coworkers, etc. It may seem simple, but research shows evangelism happens through relationships. It does not take financial investment, but an investment of time and that is time well spent.
 Barna. Reviving Evangelism (Barna, 2019), 44, 81.
Rev. Alexandra Lysdahl
First United Presbyterian Church