Why churches do not need to give up on canvassing
“Canvassing doesn’t work because people in my community already belong to a church or I don’t want to offend them.”
This is a statement I often hear from pastors and lay leaders from across the nation. Frustrated by the results and disappointed my negative reactions, congregations are wary to consider any type of stranger evangelism. Scared, perhaps even intimidated, most evangelism efforts primarily focus on inviting people to attend community events or youth programs sponsored by the church.
These are not bad ideas, but I don’t think congregational members need to necessarily give up on verbally proclaiming the gospel to the lost.
Popular methods of going door-to-door includes welcoming people to the neighborhood, asking survey questions on whether or not a person belongs to church, or ask the question, “Do you know where you will go if you died tonight?” Again, these are not bad ideas which have historically been effective for churches.
If that is the case, why are pastors struggling to find members to participate? Why are members quickly dropping out of going door-to-door due to negative experiences and unfulfilled expectations? Why do congregations seem intimidated and are more focused on not trying to offend people rather than speaking the truth in love?
I spent four summers (2012-2015) going door-to-door proclaiming the gospel in Utah. I loved going to Provo County. The 2010 census data reports that 89% of the people who live in the county belong to the LDS Church. This meant that if I knocked on a door and asked, “Do you have a church home?” there is an excellent chance that at least 9o% of the people would proudly say, “Yes!” I wonder if that’s the right question to ask?
In the past four months, our ministry has knocked on the doors in Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, and Seattle. A person would expect that religious people living in the Bible belt or anti-religious people living in Seattle would not express interest. Either they already belong to a church home and are saved – or don’t care about church and are not saved.
It’s shocking how misconceptions can lead to inactivity. For these reason, I can’t wait for the opportunity to go to the Midwest and launch an outreach campaign in a rural area. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center (“How religious is your state?”), Wisconsin is tied for 44th in the most religious state in the U.S. with 45% of the adults consider themselves “highly religious”. Who is Wisconsin tied with? Washington. Hmm..
How did people respond at the door in Utah County? I didn’t ask them if they had a church home. Instead, I lovingly and respectfully asked them if they were already perfect in Christ. If not, then I could explain how by faith alone we can receive the perfection of Christ and be forgiven of all out sins.
How did people respond in Texas if they already belonged to a church? I expressed thanksgiving while lovingly and respectfully sharing with them that as a result of Christ’s completed work on the cross, we receive the full forgiveness of our sins. The work was finished on the cross.
How did people respond in Seattle? When I lovingly and respectfully identified myself in the first fifteen seconds and asked if they had seen our postcard, they allowed me to transition to sharing a brief gospel message. Were they interested? Not really, but gospel seeds were planted.
When a pastor tells me that most of the people in his community belong to a church or he doesn’t want to say anything that might offend people, I would like to borrow a popular phrase from a popular ESPN football commentator, “Not so fast.”
When the focus of canvassing is proclaiming the gospel… expectations change. The focus is not on results, but on the number of gospel seeds that are sown. The emphasis is on God’s work – the miracle of faith through the proclamation of the Word – rather than our work. With a methodology and approach that focuses on love, respect, and building bridges, going door-to-door to proclaim the gospel can be a very meaningful experience. The fear of evangelism can be overcome and our confidence can grow with experience.
Canvassing does not have to be about uncovering potential prospects, but an aggressive way to reach the lost by proclaiming a gospel message and trusting the power of God’s Word.
A congregation does not have to worry about whether or not people say that they belong to a church, because what is most important is their relationship with Christ. People don’t have to worry about being offensive if they treat people with love and respect.
When the focus is on proclaiming the gospel in a comfortable, non-threatening, simple way – with an emphasis on building a bridge with people before crossing over to share a law/gospel presentations — several things happen.
- It becomes a meaningful, joyful experience for the pastor and the church member.
- It allows a congregation to concentrate on goals and expectations that you can control.
- You learn the celebration of sowing.
God has a way of blessing activity when congregations center on proclaiming the gospel. He is the God of results, not us. Our perspective and expectations change. We tend to focus on finding joy in what we control (sowing) instead of what God controls (harvesting). When the pressure and focus is off the proclaimer, we find joy in carrying out God’s commission for all Christians.
Is there any greater way to give thanks to God for all that He has done for us than to proclaim His name to others?