The late missiologist C. Peter Wagner claimed, “Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven.” However, this is not a missional inevitability.
George Hunter III has contended that only 1% of North American churches are externally focused on the harvest fields. Growing congregations, with very few glorious exceptions, experience their growth through enfolding disaffected and wandering sheep from other folds. The intertwined issues of transfer growth and church as a “private club” point to a widespread evangelistic passivity.
What will we do to create a course correction? How can we recalibrate church planting on a trajectory where evangelism is front and centre? And how can we infuse church planting with a vigorous, innovative and intentional evangelism?
Church planters need to proclaim the gospel boldly and winsomely. The gospel must be whispered, gossiped and shared generously. The gospel must be the foundation and fuel for church planting. Church planters need to be genetic engineers ensuring that the gospel is woven into the DNA of their fledgeling faith communities.
It is important for us to reflect upon the realities of the current evangelistic impact of our church planting efforts in North America. Are we making redemptive inroads into the lives of those far from God? Or are we simply switching saints and shuffling sheep? Is the essence of our church plants the evangelistic outpouring of the empowerment of God? Do we have a means of measuring redemptive influence and evangelistic mojo?
Earl Creps recalls meeting a church planting style guru, Ted. Earl asked the big question. “How much of your congregation is here because they have come to faith, rather than some kind of transfer from another church?” Ted paused before giving his answer. Ted did not know. This simple yet probing question was part of Creps’s engagement with the planters under his supervision. Only a couple of planters could answer this question with a degree of confidence.
How should we respond? Here are a few questions for us to consider as we recalibrate our evangelistic magnitude.
- Can we identify and deploy evangelists as church planters?
As I travel across Canada, I am struck by the startling paucity of the gift of the evangelist; one of the gifts King Jesus has given to His Bride (see Ephesians 4:11). This gift has been suppressed. I look around and ask, “Who are our evangelists? Where are our evangelists?” I see a pressing need to identify, affirm, encourage, and equip Canadian evangelists.
Evangelists are recruiters who love the gospel, love sharing good news, and love lost people. Evangelists have a heart for those far from God. Evangelists are storytellers not because they are raconteurs, although evangelists are frequently great at storytelling. The heart of an evangelist is fixed on and stirred by the story of God and sharing it with broken people in a broken world.
Evangelists are gospel activators. “The evangelistic gifting is the recruiting engine of the church.” The evangelists’ presence and passion can rub off on those around them. If the message of the gospel and the plight of the lost burns in the heart of an evangelist, something of that fire can spread or be imparted to others.
Evangelists who train and equip and invest in others can activate a culture of evangelism. Evangelists have a unique capacity to train others in a way that sharing good news is not simply taught but caught. In light of this, we must weigh the benefits and challenges of releasing evangelists as point leaders in church plants.
- What would it look like to plant with leaders who have demonstrated evangelistic fruitfulness?
There are leaders who are gifted and anointed evangelists. There are those who do not have the gift of evangelist yet are adept at doing the work of an evangelist. These leaders have a heart for evangelism. In pre-assessment interviews and assessment processes, great care must be taken that candidates are not merely evaluated on their aspirations. We must press into motives.
We must also review the ministry track record and current behaviours and praxis of prospective planters to identify levels of evangelistic engagement and fruit. Can they preach the gospel? Can they call people to Jesus? In interpersonal work can they apply the gospel? Can they explain the beauty and truth of the good news in ways that are accessible to pre-Christians? Can they lead someone to Jesus? Have they led people to Jesus in this season, the past year, and in the past three years?
- How can we recalibrate assessment, training and coaching practices to raise up leaders who “do the work of an evangelist”?
Assessment centres place value on dimensions such as gospel communication and missional engagement. The discipline of church planting has historically identified building blocks which constitute “the right stuff’ for a leader launching a new faith community. Assessment processes have been developed around “the right stuff.” Charles Ridley identified thirteen characteristics for a successful church planter. These were modified, and expanded into fifteen characteristics, for Canadian Church Planting Assessment Centers administered by C2C Network.The first five qualities: emotional health; relational ability; marriage and familial strength; personal integrity, and relationship with God are deemed non-negotiable.The fifteen together form a rubric for assessing the church planting candidate and inform the final assessment disposition.
In the quest for leaders with “The Right Stuff,” C2C Network transitioned, in 2015, from the classic Ridley-based matrix to a CLI (Church Leader Inventory) with ten dimensions. These dimensions are: integrity, personal spirituality, missional engagement, visioning capacity, gospel communication, learning agility, emotional stability, family life, and leadership courage. These are lenses through which candidates are viewed and scrutinized during the residential intensive Assessment Centre.
In light of widespread evangelistic passivity, greater weight needs to be placed on gospel clarity, gospel confidence and gospel communication. These evangelism dynamics need to become part of ongoing coaching, training and development. Planters also need to be equipped to develop evangelism strategies that are viable and contextually savvy.
It is time for the church to rekindle its evangelistic flame with intentionality and intensity. For a church planting movement to occur in North America, we will have to raise up and empower the church to be the evangelical inferno it is meant to be as it is unleashed in sharing the Good News of Christ Jesus!
 Earl Creps, Off-Road Disciplines, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006),87.
 Cole, Primal Fire, 184.
 See https://newchurches.com/blogs/planter-why-art-thou-planting/ and https://newchurches.com/blogs/planter-art-thou-planting-part-2/
 From his field research amongst US and Canadian planters he identified: visioning capacity, intrinsic motivation, creating ministry ownership, ability to relate to the unchurched, spousal cooperation, effectiveness in building relationships, commitment to church growth, responsiveness to community, utilization of the gifts of others, flexibility and adaptability, resiliency, building group cohesiveness and exercising faith.
 Canadian Church Planting Assessment Manual (revised Feb 2006) and adopted by C2C Network. This rubric was used for Canadian planters up until 2014.
 In the Assessment Centers I have participated in, these five are commonly called knockouts. They are viewed as foundational for Christian ministry in general and a candidate who is deficient in these characteristics will not be recommended for church planting.
 Typically, the assessment center is a three-day experience where planter couples are put through the hoops of role play, leadership exercises, interviews, an appointment with a therapist who probes for areas of concern, and up-front presentations.