I must confess, I don’t always like street witnessing. It’s uncomfortable, it’s time-consuming, and few want to join me. But I’d love to show you why I think your church needs a street evangelism team. Let’s say that every week your church has two first-time guests. Assuming your pastor preaches the gospel in every service, that means in a year’s time 104 people will hear how to be saved (praise the Lord!). However, if you take a team of 10 people witnessing, split into 5 groups, and go for 2 hours, each group speaking with an average of 21 people, you will preach the gospel to 104 people.
Church service + 1 year = 104 people
Street team + 2 hours = 104 people
Which makes the most sense to you? If you go witnessing every week, in one month you’ll reach as many people as your church will in the next four years! In 12 months you’ll have reached about 5,000 lives for eternity. If you expanded your outreach to include open-air, you’d even further multiply those figures. The lost aren’t running to church, so we need to go to where they are. If the fish aren’t jumping into the boat, push out into the waters and catch them!
“If you go witnessing every week, in one month you’ll reach as many people as your church will in the next four years!”
Although street witnessing can be tough, the arithmetic clearly shows that it’s an incredibly effective way to reach a whole lot of people with the gospel. The fact that you’re reading this shows you care about reaching the lost, so I encourage you to prayerfully consider starting a street evangelism ministry at your church.
Here are a few steps to getting a street team off the ground.
1. Share your dream with your pastor.
Before starting a new ministry within your church, of course, you should discuss the idea with your pastor. Make sure you think everything through first. How will people learn how to witness? (I recommend our 8-session video-driven Basic Training Course to get people quickly and thoroughly equipped.) When and where will you meet, and how often? Where will you go and for how long?
If possible, type up your proposal and give it to your pastor to look over after your heart-to-heart pitch. If your pastor is interested in having another leader begin a witnessing team instead of you, praise God! It’s about reaching the lost with the gospel, not about you leading a ministry. If he turns you down and doesn’t plan to begin a church team, you can still reach the lost with a group of friends; it just won’t be an “official” church ministry. Grab some Christian friends and follow the same steps listed below.
2. Equip the saints to ensure you effectively reach the lost.
As you begin your outreach efforts, never lose sight of your vision. The vision for any evangelism team should be twofold: 1) Equip the saints to reach the lost, and 2) Reach the lost.
It’s easy to get so focused on reaching out that you unwittingly assume everyone knows how to. Most people don’t have a good grasp on what the Bible teaches about witnessing. Naturally, they need to understand the message if they are to effectively relate it to others (or they could do damage to the unsaved by saying and approaching things poorly). Those who join you will need to be taught effective, biblical evangelism, and practical biblical principles for communicating it. If you aim to just reach out, but fail to equip, you’ll find your team won’t be as effective as they could be. If you want to reach the most people in the best way, have both goals in mind.
Before you leave to go out witnessing, you could show a session of the Basic Training Course once a week for two months (or do the course first and then launch the team toward the end). Alternatively, you could put together your own crash course on a Saturday showing just sessions 2, 4, 5, and 6, giving breaks and role-play examples between the sessions, and then head out witnessing.
3. Train the team to memorize a simple gospel presentation.
A simple gospel presentation that is easy to recall and share is the one taught in our Basic Training Course. It uses two acronyms to help you memorize the gospel message, and has a quick reference card for this purpose. Give your team members Quick Reference Cards from the “Basic Training Course” (or another solid gospel presentation outline) that they can take home and study. Review the message and approach frequently. Do role-plays. Ask people to recite the points of the bad news and good news from memory. I once had my team write witnessing letters to celebrities and then provided feedback on the content before we mailed them out. You could have everyone write their testimony (700 words max), making sure to present the gospel through it, and review their drafts with them. Once finalized, encourage them to share it with their loved ones or on social media. They need to have the gospel message memorized—help them. Occasionally you may consider asking a team member to prepare a brief Bible study on one of the points of the message (e.g., how Jesus and the apostles started conversations and ideas for how we can, the use of the Law to reveal the bad news, the gospel, how to be saved) and have them share it before you go witnessing.
4. Develop group captains.
Ideally, you will have new people regularly show up who don’t know how to witness very well, so you want to pair them with an experienced person—someone they can shadow and learn from. For this purpose, work on developing “group captains” who will offer coaching advice as the weeks go on. They can nudge newer folks to jump in and share more as they learn and grow, until they can get through a full conversation on their own (with the captain as their safety net if they don’t know what to say). Pour into those potential captains. Personally mentor them. Transfer your experience into them—if you have experience—and if you don’t, figure it out together.
Think multiplication, not addition. By equipping captains now, they’ll be able to equip many more in the future. Each captain is responsible for one or two trainees (so there are no more than three in a group). It doesn’t have to be a formal process where they’re with the same person each week; when folks show up, just pair the less experienced with those more experienced. Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to wait until you have all these well-trained trainers. Lost people are sprinting for Hell, so just start where you are and go from there.
In case it’s helpful, below are the “Teaming Up” guidelines I put up on a screen when I was leading a large group at another church where I didn’t know the people:
- 3 people per group max.
- Stay seated if you already have your group (if you came with someone else and don’t want to split up and don’t want a third in your group).
- Come forward if you’re experienced (if you’ve gone witnessing three or more times and have the confidence to initiate a witnessing conversation). [Have them stand at the front, three feet apart.]
- Everyone else stand. You’ll be put into groups. [Add one or two of the less experienced people to those with more experience.]
5. Take a victory lap at the end of your outreach.
Having a debriefing at the conclusion of an outing can be a meaningful time. I mostly took my teams out on Friday nights; we were in the habit of all going out to eat a late dinner afterward for fellowshipping and talking it out. If time doesn’t allow for something like that, just a quick chat in the parking lot works too. The fellowship of the gospel is sweet. There are few closer friendships than those of war buddies, people who have fought in the trenches together. This is a great time to share testimonies, discuss how the night went—talk about tough conversations, questions that stumped you, how to approach things better, pray for those you spoke with—and just laugh and have a good time. Some of my best friends today came through our weekly witnessing team. This is by no means a requirement for a great outreach, but if it pans out, it sure can be a win.
6. Don’t let discouragement become a roommate.
Discouragement isn’t an “if,” but a “when.” Not everyone you witness to will immediately drop to their knees in repentance, and not everyone who participates will be committed to this ministry. Generally, an evangelism ministry is the smallest ministry in a church, and is not well recognized by the congregation. Unlike most other church ministries, much of the actual ministering is done outside the church building. Members don’t see your labor to support it. You also may find yourself the only one showing up to go witnessing some weeks (I have), but don’t let it get you down. Keep reminding yourself of the eternal impact you are making. Your labor is not in vain.
“You are a part of a spiritual infantry with boots on the ground in hostile terrain, trying to rescue brainwashed POWs from the enemy.”
Your every evangelistic effort is beautiful worship to the Lord. You are a part of a spiritual infantry with boots on the ground in hostile terrain, trying to rescue brainwashed POWs from the enemy. No matter how a conversation goes, when the gospel goes forth with love and grace, it’s always a success. Don’t be blinded by your eyesight; despite an unremarkable reaction from a listener, remember that when you stop speaking the Holy Spirit doesn’t—He goes home with them and may use that seed of the gospel to soundly save that person. Encourage yourself in the Lord, and keep reaching out. Never lose sight of what’s on the line.
7. Keep poking the embers of compassion within the hearts of the team members.
If you’re not careful, people will make this a part of their routine but lose focus on why they’re there. I’ve seen evangelism teams unwittingly become a small-group strolling ministry, with a lot of walking around “looking for someone to witness to” while lost in fellowship, but low on actual outreach. Offer regular group reminders about the fires of Hell and the desperate fate of the ungodly; keep the urgency of our commission before their eyes. You could read a story about a local tragedy, give a short message on Hell, share a video clip of something that motivated or inspired you, retell the story of someone coming to Christ after hearing the gospel, etc.
Here are some more ideas to help you stir up hearts and offer ongoing equipping:
- You can occasionally show a 5-minute witnessing clip (I love our Living Waters University and Open-Air clips).
- You could read one of the hundreds of apologetic Q&A from The Evidence Bible to be better prepared for any question.
- Split people into pairs for a time of role-play. You could write down tough questions on strips of paper, mix them in a hat or bowl, then have each person pick one and take turns asking and answering the questions with their partner. You could do the same with religions; just write “Atheist,” “Muslim,” “Jewish,” etc., and practice witnessing to those folks.
- We have a few good articles you could share, such as “Witnessing Do’s & Don’ts,” “Mall Witnessing Like a Pro,” “Tips for Open-Air Evangelism,” “How to Know & Share Your Testimony,” and “Quote Some Greek Poets.”
- Watch a good evangelism training sermon together.
- Encourage them to 1) study what Scripture teaches on evangelism, especially Acts and Romans, 2) read good books on evangelism and apologetics (I am slightly biased toward books by Ray Comfort), and 3) pray regularly for the lost, new believers, and the ministry.
“Don’t be blinded by your eyesight; despite an unremarkable reaction from a listener, remember that when you stop speaking the Holy Spirit doesn’t—He goes home with them and may use that seed of the gospel to soundly save that person.”
Some Logistical Leadership Tips
- Keep to a schedule. If you make the outreach time too long, it will become an intimidating commitment, and you’ll find fewer people participating. Select a manageable time limit that won’t be burdensome and will encourage people to come regularly. I normally aim for about two hours total, from the time we meet to the time we say goodbye (or go out to eat). (Ray goes out for an hour and a half or so at Huntington Beach every Saturday afternoon.)
- Find out where the local “hot spots” are. I have always had the best success finding crowds outside movie theaters, in malls, and at occasional fairs. When I lived in Florida (not near the beach), I found the best time for our area to be Friday night; Saturday night was always much less busy. However, there may be a good park, farmers market, swap meet, or beach in your area that would be better on Saturday mornings or afternoons, or even mid-week. Ask around and find where the “hot spots” are. I always strive to keep the locations close to the church so when I give people a church invitation at the end they’ll be more likely to come. (When I was a youth pastor, probably 15% of my youth group came in through local witnessing.) In addition, check your local community calendar to identify great events to take the group to throughout the year, such as fairs, festivals, concerts, blockbuster movie premieres, etc.
- Don’t miss too many outreaches in a row. Schedule a regular day to go, at a fixed time. Don’t change the time too often, or it will frustrate creatures of habit. Weekly is optimum, if you can pull it off; otherwise, schedule every other week, or once a month, but be consistent. Most thrive on routine, so consistency is key to this ministry flourishing. People won’t be committed to a ministry if the leader isn’t committed to it. And when you do have to cancel or reschedule, find a system to communicate with everyone (a group text or email, a social media page, an update on the church website, etc.).
- Make some noise…and keep making noise. When you’re out and about and you see a crowd gathered cheering, what do you do? You walk over to see what’s going on. An essential part of leading (or supporting) an evangelism ministry is to be its cheerleader and keep it before the congregation’s eyes. Once your outreach gets established, things will slide into a rhythm. If you’re not careful you’ll grow complacent and forget that having more people with you means more lost will be reached. Continue promoting this ministry throughout the year to inspire other believers to come. Keep giving those personal invitations to people in the church.Remember, you’re leading a ministry with little visibility in the services, so you have to intentionally create a marketing calendar. Perhaps every three months, or as your church will allow, strive to get some sort of promotion in a weekend service. Have some photos shown on the screen during announcements, or give an announcement yourself (no one will be more jazzed about it than you). In our age of technology, you can use your phone to discreetly video your team witnessing, then use a free video editing app to splice it up and add some exciting music, and put together a one- or two-minute promo. Get creative in your promotion, and don’t slip into complacency. Keep encouraging new people to be a part of this phenomenal ministry. (If you live in a smaller town, perhaps a few churches could band together for outreach efforts as well.)
A Final Encouragement
I’d like to leave you with a closing thought: Just do it. Seriously. Go for it. Spark a street team. I realize this wasn’t a quick read (scrolling up, it’s like you just read a chapter of the dictionary), and a list of tips for effectiveness can come off daunting. Don’t be intimidated. Just plunge in and go for it. If you saw a massive crowd of starving children on the sidewalk outside your sandwich shop, would you ignore them because the job is too big, or would you get on the phone and call for backup? You’d get every friend you can think of to help, and feed those kids. You may be afraid of offending those children—suggesting that eating is better than not eating; you may not know how to begin a conversation and transition to the offer of free food, or be fearful that they’ll reject you. And of course, you have never led others in feeding the starving before, and you barely do it yourself, so you naturally feel inadequate, overwhelmed, and not ready. But in the end, I have a feeling you would overcome your insecurities and pride, and take in their pale faces and frail physiques, and have compassion and do something. I know that’s a poor analogy (how could anyone compare rationalizing a way to ignore a mere painful physical death with the everlasting torments of spiritual death in Hell), but I think you see where I’m going with this.
“If you saw a massive crowd of starving children on the sidewalk outside your sandwich shop, would you ignore them because the job is too big, or would you get on the phone and call for backup?”
Chew on the tips in this article, but don’t wait until your PhD comes in the mail—just go out and grab some saints and reach people. Many of the points in this list I learned the hard way. I started leading my first street team as a fifteen- or sixteen-year-old. At that time, I didn’t know of other street teams or read an article like this one, I just went out there and swung for the bleachers. And I struck out a lot, but I also grew a lot. I was the one who occasionally lost sight of why we were there and spent the night walking laps with friends hardly sharing the gospel. I was the one who was zealous, but didn’t study and learn what to say, and messed people up. I was the one who struggled with discouragement (and on occasion still do). I was the one who didn’t equip the team well. But, by God’s grace, I stuck with it. So, I am also the one who has seen thousands upon thousands of people hear the gospel. By not quitting and keeping the team going through the years, I saw fruit that will last for eternity.
Won’t you join me? Just jump in. You’ll figure it out as you do it. Sure, you’ll mess up—nothing great can be accomplished without some messing up—but if you stay humble and focused on Christ, God will continually grow you and use you and your team to reach multitudes in your area. With every ounce of my heart, I hope you start a street team (remember the math comparison in the opening). I hope you start it this week, and don’t let any stirring you got from this article fade into just a good idea. If we don’t catch up this side of glory, I can’t wait to catch up in Heaven and hear your “victory lap” of what Christ did through your faithful efforts.