Many Christians assume that evangelism starts and ends with simply sharing the gospel one time with a non-Christian. However, proper evangelism, when done the way that Jesus commanded, includes not only sharing the gospel, but then also following up with those whom the gospel has been shared with, and making disciples of those who have turned to Christ in repentance and faith. As Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:19-20, Christ-followers must, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” A Biblical view of evangelism necessitates discipleship. Disciples of Christ, rightly ordering their lives according to His Word and Law, must be made within all nations.

But discipleship is often neglected. Many Christians today have the revivalist mentality of, “Get in, shake things up, and then leave.” While it is true that, on occasion, follow-ups and disciple-making are not possible, these are exceptions to the rule—that is that the one who does the evangelizing ought to take special interest in discipling the one who has been saved by Christ. After all, the attitude of the Apostle Paul throughout Scripture is to look to those whom he has seen converted as his children in the faith. Timothy, for example, was one that Paul saw as his true child in the faith (1 Timothy 1:2), and he spent quite a bit of time discipling him and writing to him. We, as well, ought to love and care for those we see converted.

So, where do Christians begin? The answer is simple: begin with evangelism, follow-up, and then disciple. There are some helpful ways we can plan for each of these steps.

An Evangelism Plan

A simple plan for evangelism must include a few important elements: (1) Intentionality in seeking to share with those who are lost; (2) an explanation of what it means to be a sinner; (3) a description of God’s wrath against sin; (4) proclamation of Jesus Christ, including who He is and what He accomplished during His incarnation; and, finally, (5) a call to repentance and faith in Jesus.

The first key is intentionality. If we ever hope to share the gospel in an effective way with those who are around us, we must begin by seeking out those who are lost. Intentionality in evangelism may also be described as “lifestyle evangelism”. This basically amounts to “living all of life for all of Christ”, as some may put it; or, “Purposefully engaging others with the gospel.” Dave Earley and David Wheeler explain, “When I use the term lifestyle evangelism, I am speaking of intentionally combining both proclamation and affirmation over a period of time through a friendship relationship.”[i]

This intentionality can often be revealed in a number of different ways. Perhaps it means putting the phone down and looking at the people that surround us on our daily commutes, or our walks around the mall. It may mean purposefully seeking out those who are downtrodden or lonely, and befriending them. It also may mean simply finding those who have various needs within the community and seeking to meet those needs. Whatever the case, it is sometimes helpful (though not always necessary) to build up trust before sharing the gospel. As Earley and Wheeler state, “Once we become aware of needs, we must do what we can to meet those needs. This can require food, medicine, or hard work. The key is a willingness to sacrifice time, energy, or money.”[ii]

Within every relationship, there is the need to know that the other party can be trusted. This is the idea of “building capital” with the other person. Once enough “capital” is built, trust is established, and the other party knows that they can trust you because they have come to find that you truly love and care for them. You want their best and, therefore, they will be all the more willing to listen to your gospel presentation and seriously weigh the validity of what is proclaimed to them.

This does not mean that one must always wait to share the gospel until a friendship is established. In fact, on the contrary, the gospel ought to be shared as soon as possible and the normative principle should be that the gospel be shared immediately. Intentionality is still key, here. We must seek those who are lost around us and share the gospel with them as soon as possible. If we can establish a friendship, that is even better, but the purpose of our engagement is to share the love of Christ with the other party through proclamation of the gospel.

That said, the gospel can only truly be proclaimed as good news if the bad news is understood first. Therefore, every gospel presentation ought to include an explanation of the sinfulness and depravity of man. Depending on the amount of time permitted, it may be best to begin with an overview account of Genesis 1-3, wherein God creates man and woman to walk in fellowship with Him. Here, God also gives a command to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and evil. He warned that if the man and woman disobeyed, then death would be the result.

Genesis 3 includes the narrative of the first sin and reveals that the man and woman were deceived by Satan to disobey God. Once they disobeyed the command God had given them, they were ashamed. They experienced both physical death (they would now grow old, diseases were possible, and, eventually, would now die) and spiritual death (they were counted guilty before God as having transgressed His Law, were cut off from fellowship with Him, and were destined for Hell, where God’s wrath would eternally be poured out upon them). As Romans 5:12 states, “…sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”

Romans 3:23 also plainly states that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” After the Fall of man, all humans were born with a sin nature. No one needs to be taught how to sin; our wills are enslaved to sin, and we will always only choose that which is evil apart from God’s grace (Romans 3:10-18). That all have sinned is clear from the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20. Look at any Commandment and, those who are honest, will recognize that they have transgressed God’s Law. Those who try to say that they at least have not committed adultery or murder only need to be reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:21-22 and Matthew 5:27-30—that whoever looks at another with lust has committed adultery and whoever hates another has committed murder in their heart.

The Good News is that, though we are great sinners, Christ is a greater Savior. According to Galatians 4:4-5, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Jesus was born to the virgin Mary, having been conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18), and that means that He is fully God and fully man, and the Son of God (John 3:16). This means that Jesus is able to redeem those of us who were under the curse of the Law by fulfilling the Law for us (Matthew 5:17-20).

Of course, the gospel includes the primary matters of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection as well (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Jesus not only fulfilled the Law on our behalf, but also paid our sin debt. This He did by exhausting the wrath of God that was ready to be poured out upon us like a waterfall. Jesus took the cup of God’s wrath and drank it in full at the cross. There, He shed His blood for our sins, for without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness from God (Hebrews 9:22).

Simultaneously, upon the cross, Jesus also defeated sin, death, and Satan. As Colossians 2:14-15 states, “canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”

Romans 6:23 states, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Eternal life, forgiveness of sins, and reconciliation to God can only come through repentance of sin (turning from sin to Jesus for forgiveness) and faith in Jesus. As Romans 10:13 states, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Thus, we must end our evangelistic encounters with a call for those who are lost to repent of their sins and call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

A Follow-Up Plan

The follow-up plan is essential after having shared the gospel with the sinner. This is, effectively, the step that will—Lord willing– lead into the proper discipleship of the born-again child of God. And, like the previous step, a great deal of intentionality is required.

A follow-up is where the evangelist makes a purposeful and intentional effort to engage once more with the person that they have shared the gospel with. There will, of course, be those occasions wherein the other party makes it clear that they do not want to be followed-up with. There will be other scenarios wherein the sinner did not repent and trust in Christ, but they do want to be followed-up with. Then, there are those situations wherein the person either did confess Christ as their Savior, or they want to, and thus, follow-up is essential. Since not every evangelism encounter is the same, not every follow-up will be the same. Yet, there are some key elements and principles that can be followed.

Let’s imagine a scenario wherein a church has held a sort of open house, and the community has come to support the event. There was free food, games, and a gospel presentation. A requirement for such an event is the collection of names, social media accounts, numbers, and/or addresses. (One-on-one evangelism, as much as possible, should operate the same way). Once the information is gathered, those who reacted most favorably to the gospel should receive top priority in being followed up with, though everyone who is receptive to being followed up with should be. These follow-ups may include emails, texts, phone calls, or in-house visits.

Visits can even include things like bringing gifts. Earley and Wheeler, writing about how a local church might hold a party to invite the community to attend, explained in-depth about the need to be intentional in every step of evangelism and then following-up:

“All workers receive training ahead of time and why you plan in advance to follow up immediately (within the first three to five days) with every registered nonchurch member. The follow-up is a good time to combine servant-evangelism activities by taking a small gift (cookies, McDonald’s gift certificates) when visiting the homes of registered guests.”[iii]

The gifts are not so much the point as is intentionally meeting with these individuals once more to reiterate the gospel, invite them to church, and begin the process of discipleship.

There is an example given in Scripture of what a true follow-up plan should consist of, and it comes from an unlikely source: The Apostle Paul. After the Apostle Paul’s conversion to Christianity in Acts 9, after having spent time persecuting the Church of Christ, he finds himself in a strange position. He wants to have fellowship with the Christians, but they are understandably fearful of him. Afterall, they had heard the stories about Saul of Tarsus (Paul’s Jewish name) and how he was persecuting the Christians. Could they really trust this man?

At least three men seemed to believe that Paul could be believed and trusted: Barnabas, Peter, and James. When people are terrified of Paul, Barnabas comes alongside him and vouches for him before others. In Acts 9:27-29 it is recorded:

“But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him.

This kindness resulted in Paul’s acceptance into the Church as a whole, and many began to trust him. From here, Barnabas would continue to work with Paul and help him to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ on various missionary trips.

Paul also recounts how Peter and James spent some time with him. In Galatians 1:18-24, Paul recounts, “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.  But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.  (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!).” It can be assumed that each of these men, in their own way, spent time with the newly converted Paul, instructing him in the matters of the faith and teaching him what it meant to be a Christian.

We can learn a few lessons about our own need to follow-up with others from these men:

  1. We must go to new converts and be willing to live relationally with them.
  2. If they have professed that Jesus is their Lord and Savior, we especially must follow-up.
  3. We mustn’t wait before they come back to us; we must immediately invite them into fellowship with us and our church.
  4. We must begin to support, teach, train, and equip them to do the work of an evangelist.
  5. We must encourage the grace of Jesus Christ to grow within them.

A Discipleship Plan

As wonderfully important as it is to follow-up with those who have had the gospel shared with them, it is equally important that an overall discipleship plan be established. The Christian who is planning to fulfill the Great Commission that Jesus gave must go to those who are new converts and, “baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [and be] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19).

Biblical discipleship will consist of at least two vital elements: baptism, which would also coincide with the new convert’s incorporation into the local church as a member, and instruction in the Word of God. Both things are linked. The new convert is discipled to be baptized, according to the words of Jesus, so that they will learn the importance of obedience to Christ in all situations.

Again, intentionality is key. Just as the sinner is not a statistic to be added to our numbers, inflating the total of those that we can say “we saved”,[iv] so the new convert is also not a project to simply conform into the image we most desire. The new convert is to be shown the love of Christ and taught in the Scriptures so that they can grow in the image of Jesus. As Earley wrote, “Acts 1:8 gives the famous last words of Jesus when He told His followers, ‘You shall be My witnesses’ (NASB). Note that His last command was to be witnesses, not merely do witnessing. Doing witnessing without being a witness tends to treat lost people as projects instead of friends.”[v] In the same way, we must treat a new convert as what they are: a brother or sister in Christ that we love and desire to see transformed into the image of Jesus Christ.

 That said, discipleship, like evangelism, can happen anywhere and at any time, with just a little bit of intentionality involved. Earley and Wheeler shared that, “Evangelism always thrives in the right atmosphere. The usual ingredients are compassion, love, intentionality, obedience, and the understanding that the call to evangelize is never limited by time or space.”[vi] The right atmosphere for discipleship is that of fellowship with the intention of being that iron that sharpens iron. During our meetings with fellow believers, we ought to instruct them in the faith, exhort them in holiness and the commandments of Christ, and share in one another’s lives. As Romans 12:15 states, we are to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” This means intentionally participating in one another’s lives.

Intentionally participating in the lives of the saints, studying the Scriptures, and instructing in the Word of God, is essential in cultivating the spiritual disciplines and growing in Christian maturity.

References:

[i] Dave Earley and David Wheeler, Evangelism Is…: How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 185.

[ii] Ibid, 225.

[iii] Ibid 302.

[iv] I am, unfortunately, aware of various ministers who will post their end of the year numbers, wherein they will detail all the souls they saved. It almost seems they intentionally leave God out of the equation and fail to acknowledge that it is the Lord who saves.

[v] Dave Earley and David Wheeler, Evangelism Is…, 184.

[vi] Ibid., 328-29.

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