Joseph Kidder, DMin, is professor of Christian ministry and discipleship at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, MI, USA.

Who is the most effective evangelist in the world? I often start my training seminars in Church Growth and Evangelism by asking this question, and I always get the same predictable answers: Doug Batchelor, Walter Pearson, Mark Finley, Alejandro Bullón, Dwight Nelson, and so on. Then, when I ask how people come to the Lord and the church, I usually get wildly different answers. Most people agree that 90 percent of the people in the church are there because of felt needs. Others insist that visitation brings in another 60 percent. Still others say that the pastor brings in at least 40-60 percent. Many more believe that public evangelism brings in 50-90 percent. So, who is the most effective evangelist in the world? The following research may surprise you.

In late 2004, a survey was sent to a sample of Seventh-day Adventist congregations in the North American Division to be given to attending members on a certain Sabbath. Those surveyed were asked how they were brought into the church (they could choose more than one option, so the percentages will not add up to 100 percent).

How People Join the Church

Brought up in an Adventist home          59 percent
A friend or relative                                 58 percent
Read books, journals, other literature   49 percent
Public evangelism meetings                 36 percent
Bible studies in the home                      34 percent
Visits by a pastor                                   20 percent
Television or radio programs                 20 percent
Bible correspondence course               19 percent
Material on the Internet                           7 percent
Other                                                     22 percent

We learned from this survey that effective evangelism is relationship-based. This study is consistent with all similar studies done on this topic. Win Arn1 and Thom Rainer2 both agree that friendship is God’s preferred method of reaching people, and the implications are universal in scope. I travel all over the world, training people in evangelism and church growth. Remarkably, no matter where I am, the results are the same. Most people come to the Lord through relationships and friendships.

When people in my seminars see this research, they experience an “A-ha!” moment. They start saying, “Well, yes; my mom had the most influence on my religious experience” or “My neighbor took me to Sabbath School when I was a little girl.” Another person might say, “My grandmother was an Adventist, and she prayed for me for years. Finally, I decided to take God seriously.” Someone else remembers that a co-worker invited him to church many years ago.

The figure I get for the influence of moms and dads, friends or relatives, neighbors or co-workers is usually between 70-95 percent. “Who is the most effective evangelist in the world?” It is obvious from both the formal research and the informal data collected in these groups that the most effective evangelist in the world is the person who takes a personal interest in us and shares Jesus in a holistic and attractive way. “Who is the most effective evangelist in the world?” The answer is, “I am the most effective evangelist in the world.”

The most effective way of reaching people for the gospel is through personal influence. So what does God do? He takes full-time ministers and disguises them as teachers, police officers, construction workers, and nurses. He gives them the necessary gifts, passions, and credentials, and He assigns them to schools, police departments, construction sites, and clinics all over the world. He gives them gifts and passions, makes them strong, and puts them to work for Him. God’s full-time ministers are everywhere: in classrooms and clinics, holding hammers and stethoscopes, in front of shareholders and behind the auditor’s desk. We are all ambassadors of the gospel. We are all full-time ministers.

In every city, every town, and every country, you will find full-time ministers, differently made and differently gifted, in every business and vocation. Like salt from a saltshaker, God scatters us everywhere to suit His flavor. He salts the earth with His ministers, giving them gifts with which to influence their friends, families, and co-workers.

The reality is that relationship is the most effective form of evangelism and ministry. Our churches should focus on developing disciples and teaching relationship-based ministry. This doesn’t cost much money, but it requires an open heart. It’s about the authentic relationship, not the program.

1 Win Arn and Charles Arn, The Master’s Plan for Making Disciples (Pasadena, CA: Church Growth Press, 1982), 43. See also W. Charles Arn, How to Reach the Unchurched Families in Your Community (Monrovia, CA: Church Growth, n.d.).
2 Thom Rainer, Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 73.

This information is based on Chapter 9 from the Book, The Big Four: Secrets to a Thriving Church Family. By S. Joseph Kidder, published by the Review and Herald, 2011. This book is about how to improve the life and ministry of your church to make it healthy and grow it into effectiveness.

S. Joseph Kidder is a professor of church growth and leadership at the Andrews University Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA.

Joseph Kidder, DMin, is professor of Christian ministry and discipleship at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, MI, USA.