This post is written by Dillon Smith, a Gen Z team member at Carey Nieuwhof Communications.

By Dillon Smith

Even before the pandemic struck, the western church has been filling fewer and fewer stadiums over the last few decades.

As Gordon Macdonald talked about in this interview, the days of Billy Graham’s evangelistic crusades where he packed out arenas are long over.

According to Gordon:

“Billy Graham’s way of saying the gospel doesn’t work anymore. Bill Bright’s doesn’t work anymore. So get ready for something new.”

Sadly, I think we’ve needed a whole new evangelism strategy for the last 10-20 years, and COVID-19 is finally forcing us to figure out what it should be.

So, in an age where…

  • The Gospel isn’t filling very many stadiums,
  • Sunday morning church attendance is at all-time lows,
  • and our best evangelism strategies are producing diminishing returns,

…what can your church do to reach more people?

As a young church leader who has had the privilege of working closely with Carey Nieuwhof and seeing behind the scenes of A LOT of churches and church models, I see 5 promising options:

1. Online influencers that talk about their faith

In case you haven’t noticed, It’s pretty difficult to grow a following on YouTube. Especially if you’re a church.

Why is that?

I’ve spent the last year and a half trying to figure out why some content is performing well online, and other content isn’t.

What I’ve realized is that there are 2 types of binge-worthy content that will allow you to grow a massive following online.

Those 2 types of content are:

  • Entertaining Content

This would include channels that are based on gaming, sports, comedy, and a long list of other things that we would classify as entertaining.

  • Helpful Content

This would include channels that are based around “How-to” videos, educational videos, makeup tutorials (Which are HUGE on YouTube,) and anything else that makes the viewer feel like they have learned something new from watching.

If a channel can consistently produce one of these types of content, it has the potential to become huge.

Sadly, many online church services aren’t densely packed with helpful or entertaining content, and that’s one reason why they aren’t growing.

Many preachers, myself included, take 35 minutes to solve a problem that a different Youtube video would only take 10 minutes to solve. This is likely one reason why our YouTube channels aren’t growing.

But, there are a lot of Christian influencers that have built a massive following based on some other helpful or entertaining topic.

And when they talk about their faith, millions of (mostly young) people are watching.

Some examples: 

One of the world’s largest YouTube Channels is called DudePerfect.

Because of their early start in YouTube, and explosive growth, they have 54 MILLION YouTube Subscribers today. (And that’s just their main channel.)

That’s huge, and as you follow them for the entertaining videos, eventually you hear them talk about their faith, and how it’s the most important thing in their lives.

So, just by creating entertaining YouTube videos, they’ve been able to talk about Jesus to tens of millions of people. It’s easy to see how God is using them.

Another example is Matt Carriker of DemolitionRanch, OffTheRanch, and VetRanch.

He has 15 Million Subscribers across his 3 channels and has built a very personal relationship with his followers through his OffTheRanch vlog channel.

Anyone who’s followed him for a while knows that he has had a few tragic deaths in his friends and family recently. The closest of which has been the passing of his little brother Mark.

In the video titled “Rest In Peace Little Brother”, Matt talks about why his entire family got baptized during his Brother’s cancer journey.

This 33-minute video has been seen 4.5 Million times by Matt’s followers.

Essentially, Matt preached the gospel to 4.5 MILLION people even though his YouTube Channels have nothing to do with the Church or faith.

Forward-thinking churches should see online Christian influencers as a part of their evangelism strategy.

Whether it’s creating great content online yourselves or partnering with online influencers in your area that already have a following, you can’t afford to miss this opportunity.

2. Multiplying churches reaching college-age people

This one isn’t so much an “evangelism” strategy as it is a “stop losing so many teenage Christians when they go to college” strategy, but I’m including it anyway.

There are very few church models that give me as much hope as churches that are focused on multiplication. And that “multiplication” effect is amplified further if they’re actively reaching college-age students.

I don’t have enough room to explain exactly how the model works, but the best example of this that I’ve seen is CityLight Church in Omaha, Nebraska.

They’ve planted 10 churches over the last 10 years, and have reached thousands of people with the gospel.

You can listen to an interview with Chris Hruska, their lead pastor here.
Or, you can listen to Carey’s recent ChurchPulse Weekly interview with their newest church plant here.

Here’s the bottom line: Millions of Christians are becoming stagnant in stagnant churches. Multiplication-focused churches might hold the key to solving this problem.

3. Apologetics online

Today’s young people are taking their hardest questions to Google, not their parents, friends, or pastors.

So as they begin to ask serious questions like “Is there a God?” “Why do I need to believe in God?” or “Which God is the real God?” they end up typing it into a search bar rather than asking a person.

And what is your Church doing about this?

Most churches have no clue what to do about this.

But there is a massive opportunity here. According to VidIQ, 5400 people search “Is there a god?” on YouTube every month.

What if your church was on that first page of results?

Now here’s a warning:

When you try to answer this question, you’re competing with the world’s best minds because their video will pop up next in the “recommended” section right after yours.

So, whether you create the video yourself, or you send your people to your favorite apologist’s video, make sure your video and argument stands a chance at competing with Steven Hawking or Sam Harris.

4. Calling people to unity (because technology is dividing us)

The internet is becoming a more and more divided place.

I know you know that. Just look at what happened with the election.

Because of all of the things we’ve seen online, the US (where I live) is more divided and destabilized than it ever has been since the civil war.

To find out why, we have to look at the algorithms that run our social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube.

Because they want more ad revenue, these algorithms are prioritizing whatever content that keeps you on their platform the longest.

Sadly, the content that keeps people engaged the longest (and gets them to see the most ads) is proving to be whatever content is more and more extreme.

Tristan Harris does an outstanding job of explaining this on The Joe Rogan Experience here.

So why is this an opportunity for the church?

Roughly 40 million people have seen Tristan Harris’ Netflix Documentary The Social Dilemma.

That’s 40 million people whose eyes have been opened to the dangers of social media and division online.

If you start producing intentionally unifying content, some of these people will take notice, and they will be quick to share your unifying content and tell their friends about what you’re doing.

We at Carey Nieuwhof Communications are “trying to create a place for the good people on the internet.” Your church can and should be doing the same.

5. Felt-need marketing

This might be the most doable of these 5 options for your church. And most churches are doing this already on a small scale.

But here’s what’s true about every single person that you’re trying to reach:

They have needs.

Whether it’s financial, mental, relational, or spiritual needs, your community has them. Your church should be helping them with those needs.

But, as Carey has pointed out for years, most churches have been answering questions that nobody in their community is asking.

When you write sermons and produce resources that help people with specific problems and then market those sermons to your community, you’re practicing “felt-need marketing.”

And if you want to start bringing new people into your church, you need your communities to know about the felt-needs that you can help them solve.

So what Christian organizations are doing this well? Look at organizations like Griefshare, Alcoholics Anonymous, or Dave Ramsey and Ramsey Solutions.

These organizations see a need and are filling it. Your church can do the same.

There are 2 major ways that your church needs to be broadcasting the felt-needs that you can help with:

  • Word-of-mouth/person-to-person marketing based on your weekly services

Rich Birch does a phenomenal job of outlining how a church can do this well here.

  • Using digital ad space and social media to reach people with specific struggles.

Some larger churches can afford to hire a digital marketing/social media agency to run these ads for them. But the majority of churches don’t have 10’s of thousands of dollars to spare.

Many of the more normal-sized US-based churches are putting their resources together into a nation-wide ad campaign called GlooConnect.

Here’s a bit more information about them:

Which of these things will you try? 

This list isn’t exhaustive, but I think these are 5 strong contenders for the church’s next evangelism strategy.

Also, I’d love for you to leave a comment below talking about which of these you’d like to try!

The Western Church Needs A New Evangelism Strategy: 5 Promising Options

18 Comments

  1. Phil Miglioratti on November 11, 2020 at 5:58 pm

    Ti sis precisely why we have created The #ReimagineFORUM – to engage and equip Christ- serving leaders to rethink…everything by applying Romans 12:2 beyond their personal walk to each component of their ministry: Evangelism, Prayer, Discipleship, Church, Community Impact.

    Join us on this for-such-a-time-as-this journey.

    We have a hug archive for your reading/research.
    We inform you of new thought leader articles and new resources.
    You can repost your commentaries, sermons, seminar notes…

  2. Chris C on November 6, 2020 at 9:08 am

    The early Christians did not have a vision, mission, marketing strategy to go out and change the world… but God did (does).
    It took fully devoted Christ followers passionately in love with Jesus who couldn’t help but talk about and live out their faith as it applied to their culture.

    As long as we ‘wait’ for ‘leaders’ to craft a strategy, we will only offer a ‘product’ with a perceived agenda (growth of our organizations). The world is constantly looking for a louder sales voice to attract the masses. The masses today are skeptical of agendas, manipulative marketing. They are doubly skeptical of churches and religion (with many corroborating data points). But they are irresistibly attracted to individuals who are notably different in their passion, their love and their generosity.

    Focus on equipping believers (the Body) and the Holy Spirit will bring the increase. (To His Body) —- regardless of whether it’s to your own building on 1st and Main….

    • Ray U on November 7, 2020 at 9:01 am

      Good!

    • JANE on November 19, 2020 at 1:05 pm

      We need to look and see where God is already working and then join him in his work. That’s the only way to be in the center of God’s will

  3. Rick on November 6, 2020 at 1:07 am

    I am so glad that you have apologetics as one of these 5. It is such an important aspect of evangelism to youth and young adults. They have questions, and we should be unafraid of them asking those questions, but we need to equip ourselves in answering those questions – be quick with an answer for the hope you have – 1 Peter 3:15. We should also be creating a forum or place for them to ask these question all throughout the discipleship process. Jesus is truth, and we can be confident in the fact he certainly is the way, the truth and the life. Well done Dillon.

  4. Major Rollins on November 5, 2020 at 1:21 pm

    Thanks Dillon for sharing such an insightful article. I will share this link on my Facebook page today. I will share with our leaders in our church and with members as the opportunity presents itself. The points were great and easy digest. Just what I needed today.

    • Dillon Smith on November 5, 2020 at 3:08 pm

      So glad to help!

  5. Nick Cokas on November 5, 2020 at 1:03 pm

    Thanks for all the great information you offer on a regular basis. The best so far in my opinion was the interview with Tim Keller on reaching a post-Christian culture. I live in San Francisco and I would take a step further and call it “pre-Christian.”
    One word of caution on equating big online numbers with actual engagement or actual effect. I worked years ago on a Katy Perry initiative. I believe at the time she had the largest online following at around 50 M. When we did our analysis as to how we effective we thought we could be with her base, the numbers were astonishing low when it came to actual engagement. Many who I would consider “Christian Famous” have used this online growth strategy to their demise. Yes, it has built their followings exponentially but it has not changed much in the way of actual real engagement. I won’t go on but there is a great little book called The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark. I am not sure what he actually believes but as a sociologist it goes pretty deep into how it grew and why. Numbers have never really been the focus but as you stated, multiplication is. Having worked and consulted both in the secular and religious worlds, too much focus is in growth in numbers for a number of reasons and less focus on multiplication growth. Thanks for your insights.

  6. Lorie Hartshorn on November 5, 2020 at 12:10 pm

    All these ideas are really good but I think you’ve overlooked the most obvious evangelism strategy. Equip and empower every person to share the gospel. It’s really that simple. Unfortunately most Christians have a abdicated the command of Christ to the church organization. If every believer would take seriously the great commission and every church saw their role as one of training, equipping and empowering the gospel would reach the entire world.
    Again, great ideas it let’s not avoid or overlook the obvious. It’s our privilege and responsibility to share the gospel in word and in action. The multiplication effect is huge.

  7. Frank Hackett on November 5, 2020 at 11:39 am

    These are 5 promising options! Another is a restoration of Kingdom living that promotes personal ownership of the really Good News, which translates to pre-believers taking notice and asking questions…

  8. mark smith on November 5, 2020 at 11:01 am

    I know I run the risk of sounding like an old guy (62, so I guess it’s true), I have pastored two churches that grew rapidly, the second from 140 to 1050 (2005-2013), and both grew primarily via church people reaching/inviting the unchurched people they knew. The key that lit the fire under it was our “value-added” philosophy of doing church. In other words, we were consciously aware at all times, regardless of what we were doing, that if we were really adding tangible and measurable value to the lives of the people who were already coming, that would result in a natural desire to share that value with the people they knew who could benefit from it. I agree with almost everything Carey and his guest bloggers share, and I love the strategies when it comes to reaching the people in our community that we currently have no connection to; but when Christian people reach out to share the value they have received from their church with people who don’t know Jesus, it’s so much easier and organic. AND assimilation is so much easier, because at least one close relationship already exists.

    • Dillon M Smith on November 5, 2020 at 3:13 pm

      I love that idea!

      It’s pretty similar to what I’m talking about in point 5. I’m just putting a bit more emphasis on taking that “Value-add approach” online!

      I think both in-person and online will be key moving forward!

  9. Jeremy Harper on November 5, 2020 at 10:27 am

    I am passing this on to our church leadership as I believe you are spot on.
    Thank you so much!

  10. Jeremy MacDonald on November 5, 2020 at 10:08 am

    Dude, great post. I’m also wondering what we can learn from movements like BLM? They’ve attracted so many people to such a compelling cause, I wonder if there’s a way to rethink how we’ve invited people to the cause of Christ. Would love some writing or interview suggestions on that!

  11. Danny Best on November 5, 2020 at 10:04 am

    Hey Dillon, I just want to say that this is a really brilliant article and I am grateful to have read it. Thank you for your voice and for your investment in the kingdom. The future of the church is very bright with people like you at the helm! Thank you!

    • Dillon M Smith on November 5, 2020 at 3:13 pm

      Absolutely!

      Glad to help.

  12. Robert Lancaster on November 5, 2020 at 9:24 am

    Thank you for the post. I desire for our church to be helping people in their daily lives. I strive to write sermons that are applicable to the world today and the problems people face daily. I want to offer them tools to add to their daily survivor toolkit. I know this is a different day and age. But like others I struggle to find the right way to present the amazing message of Jesus Christ in a form that gen x, z and mil, will find engaging and worth their time. I really appreciated the Engaging Online viewers hosted by Carey not long ago. I would love to see more things like that to teach us old fa%*# how to better engage and communicate online. We are currently looking at joining gloo to help us with our marketing. But I also know if the content is NOT good all the marketing in the world will not help us.

  13. Mark on November 5, 2020 at 7:48 am

    First, clergy need to understand the real world. I am not saying that all clergy are from Mars, but most struggle with applicability of gospel to modern day. Next, understand the TED talk. Those are concise and can be followed. Gone are the days of the long, drawn-out sermon getting a crowd every Sunday. Dr. Patrick Mead who is a minister and neuroscientist used to answer difficult questions on his old blog, which may still be out there in cyberspace. He got anonymous questions such as “Does G-d hate women?” and gave well-thought answers to help counter agnostic and atheist influencers online. Tragically, when the question is answered differently on a blog (moderately and sometimes with extra-Biblical sources), in Sunday school (pat answer), and from the pulpit (official answer based on a proof-text), there is a massive disconnect. I know that often this occurred so that no one lost his job/role. Now I realise at the beginning of blogging, ministers frequently kept their blogs a secret from their parishioners because the blog topics would have made the lay leaders and old ladies cringe, but those are the topics that need discussing, even from the pulpit. Also, pastoral care has changed from visiting the elderly in hospital and conducting funerals to talking to people about ethical quandaries faced on the job daily to grief care for someone whose friend was murdered. Why does current Christianity not seem able to wake up and see the world around them? You can’t tell me that ancient Rome and Corinth didn’t have major problems too as well as temples on every corner that made fraternity house orgies look like tame in comparison

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