Evangelism vs. Church Planting at the Coliseum

It’s dark, musty and noisy. All eyes are focused on the boxing ring in the center of the arena. The spectators’ bloodlust permeates the air as they anticipate the ring of the fight bell. In one corner stands the well-promoted fighter Church Planting. In the other corner stands the scrappy street fighter Evangelism. The fighters stand ready, muscles twitching, gloves cinched tight, and eyes locked onto each other with laser focus. Who will win the match? Ding goes the fight bell.

Whether intended or not, the ministry world in the past few years has pitted Church Planting against Evangelism and vice versa. The inherent tension is felt at the national, state convention, associational, and local church levels. Which fighter do we root for in the ring? Which ministry do we fund in our church budget? The answer is … both.

Go to any ministry-minded conference, and church planting is the exciting, cool thing to be involved with, and for good reason. Church planting is important. Church planting is exciting, sitting at the intersection of ecclesiology, missiology and a pioneering spirit. It is the mechanism God provides to create and edify a community of believers so they can, in turn, reach the lost and reproduce. Paul describes church planting as a vital component of the model in Romans 15:18-25. To be sure, the Great Commission is virtually impossible to carry out without church planting. We rejoice in the 985 new church plants that the North American Mission Board (NAMB) assisted with last year [1] and the more than 13,800 new churches started overseas through the International Mission Board [2]. We pray for further multiplication of reproducing churches.

Church planting may be what is currently emphasized at conferences, but church planting cannot occur without personal evangelism. In the book of Acts, wherever evangelism occurs, churches are created [3]. Evangelism is that Spirit-empowered activity in which the disciples of Jesus Christ give a complete and intentional witness to the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, calling unbelievers to become disciples of Jesus Christ by repenting of their sins and placing their faith in Jesus Christ alone [4]. Frank Page, president and CEO of the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, recently stated that he “is deeply concerned that we have so emphasized certain aspects of our ministry to the almost exclusion of personal evangelism” [5]. The lack of personal evangelism leads to results that are apparent, namely the continuing decreases in the number of baptisms and weekly worship attendance [6]. Ott and Wilson define church planting as “that ministry which through evangelism and discipleship establishes reproducing kingdom communities of believers in Jesus Christ who are committed to fulfilling biblical purposes under local spiritual leaders” [7]. That is, evangelism is one of the necessary drivers of church planting. So much so that both evangelism and church planting are explicitly stated in NAMB’s mission statement [8]. This makes logical sense—if church planters are not personally evangelizing, their new church plants will not grow or survive. Roughly three percent of all lost people come to church on their own initiative, leaving 97 percent to be reached by personal evangelism and invitation [9]. Effective personal evangelism is critical for engaging a city.

So, ding goes the fight bell. The fighters circle and move toward each other. However, the spectators are shocked into silence. Instead of fighting, we see Church Planting and Evangelism embrace each other in a “man hug,” part the ropes, leave the ring, and exit together to fight the real opponent—the Prince of Darkness.

[1] http://www.namb.net/annualreport/
[2] http://www.imb.org/about-us/1307.aspx#.Vdx9mZfYirg
[3] Craig Ott and Gene Wilson, Global Church Planting: Biblical Principles and Best Practices for Multiplication (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 23.
[4] Matt Queen, Everyday Evangelism (Fort Worth: Seminary Hill Press, 2014), 15.
[5] http://bpnews.net/45353/sbc-entity-heads-address-young-leaders
[6] Executive Committee, Southern Baptist Convention, Annual of the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention (Nashville, SBC, 2015), 134.
[7] Ott and Wilson, 8.
[8] http://www.namb.net/about-namb/
[9] North American Mission Board, Tool for Locating and Cultivating Evangelistic Prospects (Alpharetta: NAMB, 2000), 3.