Is evangelism an individual sport or a team sport? It’s both. Jesus commands every Christian to make disciples. But we should make disciples in and through our churches.
Think of the first chapters of Acts, which describe how the Apostles proclaimed the resurrection. Behind them was the church, living together and sharing everything in common, “praising God and enjoying the favor of the people” (2:47; 5:13). Somehow, the life of the church served as a positive witness to the gospel. Then, when persecution broke out and the church scattered, “those who had been scattered preached the gospel wherever they went” (8:4). So the leaders evangelized. The members evangelized. And their life together commended the message.
Maybe Peter had those early days in mind when he later described the church as a people, a priesthood, and a holy nation that lived such good lives that pagans would see their good deeds and glorify God (1 Peter 2:9, 12). Jesus said something similar: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
Evangelism is the work of the church. Once a person is reconciled to God and (therefore) to God’s people, he gains a new job: sharing the gospel with others. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” Jesus said (Mark 1:17; see Matt. 28:19). Every Christian and church member is charged to bear witness to the gospel.
But that gospel message should be adorned by our lives—individual and corporate. “Gospel doctrine,” Ray Ortlund has written, “creates a gospel culture.” Or in Jesus’ words: “Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another” (John 13:34). His love for us is the church’s doctrine. Our love for one another is the church’s culture. Then notice the evangelistic effect of our doctrine and culture: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (v. 35). Our good deeds toward outsiders and our love for fellow church members point neighbors and colleagues to Jesus. The life of the church argues for the gospel.
What are some practical lessons? As church members, we must integrate our lives with one another, show hospitality, and make sacrifices for one another. We must invite correction for sin in our own lives and be willing to give it to others. Neglecting church discipline undermines evangelism (see 1 Cor. 5:1–2). We must get equipped to share the gospel, share it, and then live lives that bless outsiders. We should invite non-Christians to church and to informal gatherings of Christian friends. We should share evangelistic stories with each other, and then boast about what others are doing (2 Thess. 1:4). We should also tell non-Christians about the joy of being a Christian and the fellowship of the saints. And if we are pastors or elders, we must equip and set a good example. If pastors aren’t evangelizing, members probably won’t evangelize either.