Overcoming Barriers to Evangelism

We often wonder what the Lord feels about his church when it is so often inward-looking. 

Israel was meant to be a blessing to the nations, but became introverted and exclusive. Even today, Judaism is not a missionary religion. Then on the Day of Pentecost the Lord poured out his Spirit in power and began to graft the Gentiles into the church.

But much of the time, down to the present day, the church has not been a dynamic missionary agency. Our conviction is that if each local church had witnessed to its ‘Jerusalem, Judaea, Samaria and the ends of the earth’, the world could have been evangelised long before now.

The failure of Christians contrasts starkly with God’s love and concern for the world outside the church. He is ‘not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to some to repentance'(2 Peter 3:9). He ‘wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth'(1Tim. 2:4).


Jesus had compassion on the crowds ‘because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, ‘so he urged the disciples to pray that God would sent out workers (Matt. 9:36-38), He wept over Jerusalem because it was rejecting its salvation (Luke 19:41-42).

By contrast, the church has often erected various effective barriers to non-Christians being reached with the gospel. 

One is a maintenance complex – constant discussion of action on internal church matters. Another is the fear which our complicated services engender in the uninitiated. Some ministers don’t even announce page numbers for fear of upsetting the regulars! Sadly many services are boring and irrelevant to newcomers. 

Modern man is often fascinated by the supernatural, but won’t expect to experience it in church. Too often it is a religious (and rather exclusive) club with little manifestation of supernatural power. 

Not every Englishman wishes to be pounced on by eager church members, but people do respond to a genuinely caring, welcoming fellowship. Certainly, we’ve often attended church incognito on holiday and been chilled by the total lack of warmth we’ve found there. 

And one of the more subtle barriers to evangelism can be an evangelism committee. Discussing the subject can help salve one’s conscience about not doing it. 

So how do we overcome these barriers and make our churches genuinely evangelistic agencies? 

The first step is to be honest. If there is no concern for evangelism, we need to face up to that and discover the reasons for it. And this is best done in the context of prayer. 

Some years ago we were going through a rather unfruitful time in our evangelism. So we gathered the church’s membership together for some special days of prayer. We asked God to show us what the problem was.


Unexpectedly, he focused our attention on our lack of heart belief that those who do persist in not trusting in Christ will be separated from God in eternity. Oh yes, we believed this intellectually. But our hearts didn’t ache for those without Christ. Such concern was seriously lacking. So we reminded ourselves that Jesus believed in Hell. 

Of the 17 New Testament references to Hell as a place of punishment, 15 are from the lips of Jesus. It was he who told the story of the rich man and Lazarus and described the judgement of the ‘sheep and goats’.

We need to be reminded that if people do not choose Christ in this life they choose to be without him in the next life. 

Eventually we were convicted by this and a time of repentance led to greater effectiveness in evangelism. 


We had also come to realise that, as Jesus said in his prayer in John 17, true unity in the church has an evangelistic impact. In so far as such unity is lacking, the power of God is dissipated in disputes or strained relationships.So we aimed to be united inside the church in order to fight battles outside and win people from the kingdom of darkness. 

The action we took was outlined in the article ‘Unity in Diversity‘. We would not describe our method as a blueprint, but one tool in the hands of the Spirit which is proving effective. 


Then again, if we were going to achieve every-member-ministry in general and every-member-evangelism in particular, we felt the housegroup programme was vital. So in addition to two fellowship and teaching evenings and one intercessory evening per month, we asked the groups to have an evangelistic evening. 

On this occasion, the group would either pray and prepare for its next evangelistic outreach or be involved in actual evangelism. We made suggestions to the groups, but left them freedom to plan their own strategies. 

Each group had a ‘mini-parish’ which is a defined area within the parish. They visited homes – either delivering leaflets, door-to-door visiting or following up specific pastoral contacts. They dealt with requests for baptism and followed up bereaved families after initial visits by the clergy,

Other housegroup evangelistic events include harvest suppers and epilogues (in a home); carol singing and mince-pie evenings with epilogues; video evenings etc. The result is that the whole church was involved in evangelism.


After all that had been established, we felt it right to do a ‘Teach and Reach’ (Evangelism Explosion) programme again, This was a centralised programme, not related to housegroups. Back in 1976, when we first started doing ‘Teach and Reach’, we came to the conclusion that our morning services were fairly dreary. Evangelism therefore led to change.


Later we developed a two-hour morning service. But then we realised this was great for insiders, but too much for newcomers. So we cut down the time and made greater allowances for unbelievers.

This did not meant constant evangelistic sermons. But we did try to bring a simple gospel presentation into every service, and there was always an opportunity for people to be counselled and prayed for.

Although the congregation was friendly, we also had a welcome desk to ensure newcomers were looked after. We also ran regular guest services which were normally associated with the healing ministry: Jesus sent his disciples out to proclaim the Kingdom and to demonstrate it in healing. And we found particular fruitfulness in this combination.


We saw many healings (some of them quite spectacular!) but, more significantly, we saw many conversions. In all our services, !he congregation was free to use the spoken gifts of the Spirit (prophecy, words of knowledge, etc.). Often these gifts have spoken into the hearts of non-Christians and proved important in leading them to Christ.

In later years, our evangelistic visiting was linked with the healing ministry Whether or not visitors were invited in, they asked if there was any need they could pray about. This led to many being prayed for, either inside the home or on the doorstep (always with their agreement, of course!) And we saw results.

At one time, we thought of extending Emmanuel Church to accommodate the growing congregation. But the Lord made us understand that instead we were to multiply by division.

So we sent out 50 adults and 12 children to form the nucleus of a new congregation. They met in a school hall (some three miles by road from Emmanuel) in an area called Golden Cross. Hence the ‘Golden Cross Community Church’,


This new congregation doubled in size and Emmanuel filled up again. So three years later, we sent out another congregation to St Mary’s, our mediaeval parish church, which had been virtually redundant, without a morning service, for years. This congregation grew encouragingly.

We also felt it right to have a spectrum of worship in the parish. Golden Cross was the most informal. St Mary’s was more formal, with a greater use of liturgy, robes etc. Emmanuel was between the two. This way we could cater for the needs of different people, particularly non-Christians.

Beyond evangelism, though, we were also concerned for revival. Quite simply, revival is the only way to reach the uncommitted 90% of this nation. Christians differ in approach on this. Some can be rather triumphalist, bent on taking the nation for Jesus and establishing the Kingdom. Others may sometimes be in danger of mistaking an over-emphasis on judgment for repentance.

The truth lies between the two. Praise and proclamation are important. Yet we live in a post-Christian society which is under God’s judgment.

Revival is a sovereign act of God, but we need to prepare for it. This will require deep repentance (which includes obedience) and going the way of the cross. God longs to draw this nation to himself, but will we Christians pay the price?

© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction