by Thom Rainer
A book review by Jim Marcus, DoM
Gennesse Baptist Association, Michigan
July 21, 2008
I have recently completed reading Effective Evangelistic Churches by Thom Rainer (Broadman & Holman, 1996). I’ve had this book in my stack of books to read, and finally got around to reading it. I wish I had read it sooner. I want to share with you some highlights from this book, in the hope that you will be led to read deeper on what Rainer discusses.
This book focuses on churches that have experienced evangelistic growth, not just church growth, and Rainer gained some surprising new insights from the churches surveyed. Rainer and his associates were most surprised that three factors were consistently rated as most important by the leaders of churches which were experiencing evangelistic growth. Repeatedly the leaders of the effective evangelistic churches surveyed reported that preaching was one of the most effective means of reaching people for Christ. The spoken word from the written Word is critically important in evangelism. The pulpit is powerful!
Rainer’s survey results ranked prayer ministries second only to preaching as the most important methodology in evangelistic effectiveness. Rainer reports that across our nation a powerful movement of God’s Spirit is transforming many churches from near-death to new life with evangelistic zeal. Prior to the visible manifestations of God’s Spirit through repentance, brokenness, and people coming to Christ, a new emphasis on prayer and prayer ministries touches these churches. Rarely are a majority of the church members involved, but the minority who do participate see their lives radically changed. This core of Christians provides the spark in the church that ignites an unprecedented evangelistic emphasis.
Rainer also reports that if any program-based methodology proved to be a dynamic tool for these evangelistic churches, it was the Sunday School program. Although many have pronounced the demise of Sunday School, the leaders of these growing evangelistic churches have said that the failure in Sunday School is not the program itself, but a failure to use the program as an intentional evangelistic tool. It was for this that Sunday School was designed.
Rainer reported that in addition to these top three methodologies, four others emerged as major instruments of evangelism in growing evangelistic churches. Relationship evangelism, often through Sunday School classes, but also apart from them, is the fourth most effective tool in reaching people for Christ. In relationship evangelism, Christians share Christ with those with whom they have developed a relationship, which enables them to have a hearing from those with whom they are sharing Christ.
In spite of other studies of growing churches which made the conclusion that traditional outreach is on the decline, over half of the leaders of growing evangelistic churches reported that one of their most effective evangelistic tools is a weekly outreach program. Only four other methodologies fared better that a weekly outreach program. One associate pastor stated, “People have been resistant to the gospel for 2000 years. It’s not a new phenomenon. But the responses of the lost should not determine the obedience or lack of obedience of the saved” to fulfill the Great Commission by going to the unsaved and presenting Christ.
A large number of growing evangelistic churches also use intentional youth evangelism, not just youth programs, as one of their primary evangelistic methodologies. In these churches both staff and lay leaders seek ways to reach teenagers for Christ in everything they do.
The seventh significant conclusion Rainer deduced from his survey of effective evangelistic churches is that music can be an effective evangelistic tool. They discovered that no single music or worship style predominates in the growing evangelistic churches, but a formal, liturgical style was unlikely in most of the churches. They were also surprised to learn that in these churches surveyed there was a general aversion to services designed explicitly for seekers.
While several other methodologies were given by various growing evangelistic churches, these top seven were the most commonly mentioned. If you would like to see what other methodologies were given, or would like to learn more about what Rainer and his team learned by surveying the leaders of effective, growing evangelistic churches, I recommend borrowing or buying this book and reading it in depth yourself. It is an easy read and worth the investment of time and/or money.