Dealing with Discouragement: When Evangelism Doesn’t “Work”

Larry WitzelEvangelism Practices


You paid thousands of dollars for an evangelism marketing campaign and got dozens of pre-registrations for your meetings. But on opening night, most are no-shows. All that effort, little to show for it. Does this discourage you? How do you deal with it?

In this webinar, SermonView founder and president Larry Witzel will help you to take hold of that discouragement and use it to power the mission forward. He’ll walk you through a process of reframing to see the potential rather than the loss, talk about the positive power of failure, and give you practical communication strategies to follow up with those who never showed. You’ll leave this webinar with a practical plan for propelling your ministry forward—even when discouragement threatens to hold you back.

Webinar Transcript

When SermonView promotes an evangelistic event, and especially when we handle marketing for a full-message public evangelistic series, we like to check in after opening night to see how things went. Sometimes we get good news, sometimes it’s so-so, and sometimes it’s bad. But we always want to hear it, because it helps us learn and grow, so we can all get better at the science of evangelism.

There is one response we sometimes hear from church leaders after opening night. Now, this certainly isn’t everybody, it’s only a slice of our customers who express this. But we’ve probably heard this hundreds of times over the years, so I want to address it today. It goes something like this:

We’ve been promoting this event for weeks, and our members are excited. We got 80 pre-registrations for our meetings, and we were eager to meet them. But on opening night only 20 showed up. We’re really discouraged by these results.

Now, let’s be clear. The feeling is real, and I want to acknowledge that. I don’t want to minimize this feeling of discouragement.

But stop and think about it. You have 20 guests! These are 20 people who made the effort to come to your church and hear your message of hope! More than that, you have 60 people who were really interested in the topic, who took the time to give you their real information. Those are 60 people you can follow up with and connect with in the future!

Still, discouragement. So let’s talk for a minute about where this feeling of discouragement comes from. In this particular case, there is a psychological concept in the field of behavioral economics that explains it, called “loss aversion.”

Loss Aversion

Loss aversion is the idea that “losses loom larger than gains” (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979). It’s a concept found in Kahneman’s Prospect Theory, and researchers have spent the last 40 years studying it. They found that the pain of losing is psychologically about twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining. People are more willing to take risks to avoid a loss than to make a gain.

Another way to look at this is that emotionally, people don’t think about the final number, but about the change that resulted in that number. In retirement investing, we know that the stock market moves up and down, fluctuating every day. Studies have found that someone who owns a stock that goes from $50 to $100 are more satisfied than someone who stock goes from $50 to $150 then down to $100. They consider that a loss, and that loss is painful.

So let’s apply this to evangelism. Before the marketing campaign, the church had zero people coming to the evangelistic series. 20 people is a huge increase from zero. But that’s not what you saw. It went from zero to 80 pre-registrations, then down to 20, so it feels like you lost 60 people. To be clear, that’s not what actually happened, but emotionally, that’s how it feels.

But there’s more. Loss aversion doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. Several studies have shown that personality is a mediating factor in loss aversion (Canessa et al., 2013; Tom et al., 2007), and one study in particular looked at the Big Five personality inventory (Boyce et al., 2016). They found people high in what’s called the Conscientiousness trait experienced higher levels of loss aversion. In fact, in this group they found almost no pleasure from gain, and higher levels of pain from loss. It turns out that this Conscientiousness trait is also found in the type of person most effective at putting together a public evangelistic series. So among the pastors we work with, loss aversion is really strong.

Dealing with Loss Aversion

Okay, so we know that loss aversion is leading to this discouragement. What can we do about it?

First, reframe the numbers. Prior to opening night, you have zero guests, so in this scenario we went from zero to 20 guests. That’s a win. Set aside the pre-registrations, we’ll come back to those in a minute. Focus on the 20 people who took the time to come through the doors of an unknown church, with people they’ve never met. Let’s celebrate those who did come.

But we still have those 60 pre-registrations who didn’t show. And here at SermonView our team has asked, do we even want to tell you about them? We know that 70-80% of pre-registrants don’t come opening night, so by telling you about them, aren’t we just setting you up for disappointment? That’s a fair question.

As we discussed it though, we think you should know about every pre-registration. It gives you an opportunity to pray for each name leading up to the meetings, and it does help you build the interest list. So we think it’s important for you to have all the information. Remember, ultimately it’s not about you feeling good. It’s about reaching souls for the Kingdom. It’s about helping you be the most effective evangelist that you can be.

We’ll talk more about what you can do with those 60 no-shows in a minute. But first, let’s talk about outright failure.

Dealing with Failure

We’ve worked with churches who promoted a big event and got no guests at all. Often this happens when a church gets creative and tries something new. Innovation is important, and we’re going to do a webinar in a couple of months specifically about an innovation process for ministry. Right now I just want to talk about the aftermath of a failed experiment.

Remember this: failure is not the end, unless you make it the end. Failure is just a data point. You discovered something that doesn’t work! Trust me, most conference leaders would rather you try to do something and fail than to do no outreach at all.

Here’s a quote I love, from Hayakawa:

“Notice the difference between what happens when someone says, I have failed three times, and what happens when they say, I am a failure.”


Failure should not define you as anything other than someone who tried something and learned from it!
There’s a famous quote from Thomas Edison, when he was working on inventing the light bulb:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Thomas Edison

We as a denomination need to do a better job of celebrating failure. I’m not talking about moral failure here. I’m talking about innovation. Try something and learn from it. That’s not failure, that’s progress.

Dark Night of the Soul

The title of this webinar is Dealing with Discouragement, and I’d like to pause for a minute and just mention another type of discouragement. This webinar is not about that deeper, spiritual discouragement that can come with full-time ministry. Maybe you’re burned out. Maybe you’re experiencing a Dark Night of the Soul, where there’s just no joy left in what you’re doing. If that’s where you’re at, you’re not alone. In fact, during the pandemic something like 70% of pastors across all denominations have considered quitting.

Before you give up, though, talk with someone. If you’re feeling a deep depression, talk with a Christian counselor about it. Loop in your ministerial director, and if you don’t feel safe doing that, confide in another non-Adventist pastor in your town. Please, reach out and ask for help. I’ve experienced that Dark Night of the Soul myself, and it’s not fun. But you can get through it. I’ve seen a Christian counselor for over 20 years, and I still check in with him every month.

If God has called you to ministry, He’ll provide you with not just the power to do that ministry, but also with confidants and supporters you can turn to. Again, it’s outside the scope of the webinar, but I just wanted to acknowledge that sometimes something deeper is going on, and if that’s where you’re at, please, ask for help. Don’t try to do this alone.

Communicating with your interests who didn’t show

Okay, so let’s talk about those 60 people in this hypothetical example who pre-registered, but didn’t come opening night. Remember, these are real people in your community who took the time to register for the event, giving you their real contact information because they really intended to come. Sure, we see the occasional fake registrations. One of my favorites was Lucifer Fryer at 666 Hot Springs Lane. But the vast majority of pre-registrations are real people who give you real information.

Every person who pre-registered, whether they’ve attended each session, missed a few, or haven’t come at all, are real people in need, so take the opportunity to connect with each person right where they are at. Here are a few things to remember as you review your InterestTracker list:

1. All pre-registrations are“leads”
People signed up to attend your event because they felt drawn to the topic (whether they attended or not) so be sure to include them in any future bulk invitations you send out to your Interest List for future events at your church. 

2. Anyone who attended at least 1 session has questions
Something may have come up that prevented them from continuing the series. Connect with them and offer to pray or go over any sessions they may have missed. 

3. Continue to check in on all of your guests
Developing a personal relationship to answer questions or prayer during your event will help your guests know they are not alone, and will encourage them to continue their faith journey.

Seeing your results in AttendanceTracker

Develop a communication strategy based on attendance reporting from AttendanceTracker. You can see which session each person has attended or missed directly in their interest snapshot at the bottom of the page. And you can quickly see the overall nightly attendance from all of your guests right in your event details in AttendanceTracker.

Connect with your guests in InterestTracker

Do you have the Text Messaging Module? You can also send out bulk texts to some or all of your interests right in your interest list. Just select the interests you want to send a text message to, type in your text message and send it. We also just added a feature to be able to schedule a text to send later, so you can set these up ahead of time. We have some great training videos on how to use InterestTracker and AttendanceTracker, and you can access those at

Communication Tips

Communication should always feel genuine and natural, so try starting simple. Here are a few tips from the field for communicating by phone call, text message, or email.  

Phone: Always introduce yourself as part of the ministry at the event and ask if it is a good time to talk. If not, your guest may feel rushed to end the conversation. Mention the reason for your call (We missed you last night, wanted to check in how you were enjoying the messages, etc.) And end the call with prayer if possible, and set up a time for another phone call or communication method. 

Text: Always introduce yourself as part of the ministry at the event and ask if this is their preferred method of communication. (Sometimes they may want you to use a different number for texting.) Remember that text messages should be short and sweet. If your responses are too long, you may want to suggest a phone call or email – this will help the grammar and tone of your messages come through better. And lastly, don’t pester. You may get timely responses some days, but other times you may not. Since you don’t know their schedule or what else might be going on in their lives don’t push for the conversation to happen “right now”. Text messaging is a more immediate medium, but it’s still asynchronous, meaning you don’t both have to be texting each other at the same time. So you may get a response within minutes, or it could take hours or days to see a response to your text. Be patient. You’re just checking in and letting them know you care. 

Email: Keep your introductory email short and to the point. If your email is too long your reader may just skim or skip it altogether. Ask if there is anything specific you can pray for, or if there is a topic you can look into for further study options for them. Email is usually the easiest way for people to read and provide responses, however, your guest may be a verbal processor, so perhaps offer a phone number they can call too if they ever want to have a “live” discussion.

So those are some ideas for what you can do with your interests, even if they didn’t show up.

Here’s the most important thing: be present. God is moving on the hearts of each one of these people. Circumstances in their life are going to push them one way or another. And when that moment of soul-searching happens, you want to be present. You want to be the one they think of to call, to text, to check in with. Be present. Be there. Be available to them, because when they’re ready, you need to be there for them.

Wrap Up

That’s our webinar for today. My goal today was to help you take hold of discouragement and use it to power mission forward. I walked through a process of reframing to see the potential rather than the loss. I talked a bit about the positive power of failure. And I offered some practical communication strategies to follow up with those who never showed to your evangelistic event.

Listen, just being on this webinar today is huge. The greatest obstacle to evangelistic success today is not active hostility or opposition. It’s complacency. So taking the time to join me today says you care about reaching people in your community.

So please don’t be discouraged. Stop. Breathe. Pray. Then take hold of that discouragement and use it to propel evangelism forward in your community.

The SermonView crew would love to support your next outreach event, or help you find people in your community ready to study the Bible. We have a passion for ministry, and we’re nerds for marketing, and we’d love an opportunity to share more about how we can bring value to your church outreach.


Boyce, C. J., Wood, A. M., & Ferguson, E. (2016). Individual differences in loss aversion: Conscientiousness predicts how life satisfaction responds to losses versus gains in income. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 42(4), 471-484.

Canessa, N., Crespi, C., Motterlini, M., Baud-Bovy, G., Chierchia, G., Pantaleo, G., Tettamanti, M., & Cappa, S. F. (2013). The functional and structural neural basis of individual differences in loss aversion. The Journal of Neuroscience, 33(36), 14307-14317.

Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1979). Prospect theory: An analysis of decision under risk. Econometrica, 47(2), 263-291.

Tom, S. M., Fox, C. R., Trepel, C., & Poldrack, R. A. (2007). The neural basis of loss aversion in decision-making under risk. Science(American Association for the Advancement of Science), 315(5811), 515-518.