The era of social distancing and forced church closures has led to a burst of innovation in Seventh-day Adventist ministry that hasn’t been seen for decades. Being forced to move worship services, children’s ministry, and Bible studies to online and distance learning platforms has required rapid cycles of experimentation and evaluation, as we’ve all tried to figure it out on the fly. It’s exhausting work, because we can no longer rely on habit and muscle memory to do weekly ministry. It requires more attention than usual just to keep ministry moving forward.
But we’re not through. Right now, interest in Bible prophecy may be the highest it’s been in a generation. The Church needs another burst of innovation, this time focused not on meeting the needs of our members, but in reaching people in the community. It’s crucial that we work together to seize this fall for evangelism.
When you hear the word innovation, what often comes to mind is large-scale “disruptive innovation” that upends industries. That’s what gets all the press. However, while interesting and sometimes newsworthy, successful “revolutionary” innovation is actually quite rare. Nearly all innovation in business and science is in fact incremental “evolutionary” change. The innovator targets a specific step in a process, or a specific feature for a product, or a specific aspect of a service. This becomes the focus of the innovation process.
The same should hold true for innovation in Adventist evangelism. Innovation is all about increasing effectiveness. We need to resist the urge to change everything, which risks breaking something in the evangelism process that reduces overall effectiveness. We’ll see more long-term success if we focus on incremental changes. Pick one specific aspect of evangelism at a time, and work on solving or improving that.
The 7 Building Blocks of Evangelism
When considering a target for your innovation effort, what will you focus on? We have identified seven building blocks of any evangelistic program, whether it is seed sowing, a bridge event, or a full-message reaping series. Two of them, marketing and interest tracking, are things that SermonView has spent years innovating. We have seen significant improvements in both of these areas, which we will share in a future newsletter article.
This leaves five building blocks that give you an opportunity to contribute innovation. During this season you might need to deal with all five of these in one way or another. But you’ll see the best results if you put your effort into solving just one of these challenges at a time:
Content is the actual core message to the evangelistic project, like the sermons, or Bible studies, or videos. This is the specific language and visuals used to deliver the gospel message. Historically, most innovation effort in Seventh-day Adventist evangelism has been put into this building block, which explains the plethora of Bible study guides and sermon series.
The need: Over the last four months, the seismic shift in society has changed the public conversation. There is a need right now for content that is truly Present Truth, speaking to the public health crisis, the resulting economic calamity, and the social unrest that has swept the nation. Content developed even just six months ago is already missing critical components to the message that could reduce its effectiveness.
In addition, depending on the delivery method you choose (see below), the content may need to be tweaked to be more effective.
By delivery, I mean the channel used to deliver the content to your audience. Historically, this has been primarily through public meetings at the church and in-home Bible studies, but neither of these delivery methods are available to us right now. Over the decades, innovation has led to using radio, television, and the internet to deliver the message, as well as establishing Bible correspondence schools using the postal system, but none of these methods have the same impact as public evangelistic meetings.
The need: For this fall, we need to develop effective methods for holding online evangelistic meetings. Which technology platform is best? Zoom Meetings, Zoom Webinars, Facebook Live and YouTube Live are all options you might consider, each with positives and negatives. (We’ll be doing a comparison between delivery platforms in an upcoming newsletter.) What does the program look like? What needs to change to work best online, speaking to people sitting at home?
Interaction is about connecting members with guests. The purpose of an evangelistic meeting is not just to provide biblical information. It may be even more important to build relationships between members and guests. With in-person evangelistic meetings, intentional thought is put into creating an environment for people to engage with each other, such as through refreshments after the program, or designating row hosts to initiate interactions with guests.
The need: How on earth do you encourage interactions when people have never met face to face? Fortunately, there are 30 years of history related to online relationships, going all the way back to the old CompuServe bulletin board system of the late 1980’s. We need people to research online relationships, and to experiment with using the chat system in Zoom, social media, or SMS text messaging. We need to find the most effective ways to help members grow relationships with guests they have never met in person. If people can find true love online without ever meeting face to face, surely we can figure out how to connect members and guests in a way that can encourage life-changing decisions for Christ.
As mentioned in the article about The Evangelism Funnel, there is always a next step forward in someone’s spiritual journey. The whole point of an evangelistic series is to invite people to take that next step, and asking for decisions during in-person meetings is a skill that has been honed over decades.
The need: Again, how do you ask for decisions online? We’ve heard about pastors using Zoom’s Poll feature, and others simply asking people to send a message to a phone number or special email address. But what is the most effective way of helping people make decisions to step forward? For this building block, multiple experiments can be run using the Do-Measure-Learn feedback loop (see below) over the course of a single evangelistic series.
5. Follow Up
This is about how to maintain the relationship with an interest after your evangelistic program is over. What intentional actions can your church take to propel each interest’s spiritual journal forward after the event?
The need: This was an area that could have seen improvement even before Covid-19, but this becomes even more important now if online evangelistic meetings do not yield the same results as in-person meetings. In this case, the online meetings are more like bridge events, making it even more vital to follow up with each interest.
6. Interest Tracking
A quick side note about tracking interests. You need to be keeping track of each interest in your churches orbit and where they are in the decision-making process toward membership. That’s why we created the cloud-based InterestTracker software. It is designed to help you record and manage interactions with your interests.
InterestTracker can help your members with their interactions with interests, too. It allows you to assign interests to members with basic accounts, where each member’s view is limited to the handful of interests assigned. The pastor or evangelism coordinator has access to the entire list and can track each interest through the evangelism funnel all the way to membership.
7. The Innovation Process
So you see the need for innovation, but how do you actually do it? Here is a simple process to follow:
First, choose the area you’re going to target. Don’t try to do everything at once. Pick the evangelism building block that gives you the best opportunity to improve evangelism effectiveness in your church.
Second, determine your metric. In other words, how are you going to measure success? For example, evangelists see a falloff in attendance at in-person meetings over the course of a series. If you wanted to reduce this falloff, you could innovate the content to try to keep your audience coming back. If that’s the problem you’re attacking, your metric would be the falloff rate, or the percentage of guests from one night who didn’t return the next.
Defining one or more metrics in advance is crucial. You won’t know if you’ve succeeded if you don’t track the result. It also needs to be something you can actually measure. “People will like it better” is not measurable. “We will get 5 baptisms” is.
The Do-Measure-Learn feedback loop1 is a process you can use to rapidly innovate. There are four steps:
- Hypothesize. Brainstorm possible solutions, then state your hypothesis: If we do X, then Y will result. Be specific. For example: If we promote online evangelistic meetings, we’ll see 45 interests pre-register and attend one of the first three sessions. Or: If we use text messaging to interact with guests, we’ll maintain connection with 50% of them over the course of the meetings.
- Do what you say you’re going to do. Execute the X of the hypothesis.
- Measure the results.
- Learn. Did you get the results you hypothesized? Great! Didn’t work? Rethink and try again.
Share What You Learned
As you innovate, you’ll discover some things that work and others that don’t. If you contribute your learnings to others, we’ll all get better together.
A full-time evangelist can run at most only a couple dozen Do-Measure-Learn feedback loops in a year. But if every pastor who does evangelism this fall contributes, we will have hundreds of data points that we can all learn from.
We’re in a season of forced innovation, and the Church will be stronger for it. So let’s keep the innovation going.
Right now, interest in Bible prophecy may be the highest it’s been in a generation. Google searches for Second Coming have spiked to the highest level in over a decade, and searches for other terms like End Times, Bible Prophecy and Book of Revelation have also seen recent highs.
There is a hunger right now for answers that your church is uniquely positioned to answer. So plan now to do something. Together, let’s grow the Kingdom!