Is Canvassing an Effective Outreach Tool?

By Dave Malnes, Praise and Proclaim Ministries

Introduction:
Many pastors and congregational members express a strong hesitancy over the prospect of canvassing in their community. They ask, “Does it really work? How will people respond at the door? How will it impact my church?” These are good questions that deserves some good answers.

Praise and Proclaim Ministries conducts outreach initiatives at congregations throughout the U.S. Our ministry trains Christians how to boldly and confidently share the gospel of Jesus Christ by teaching a simple methodology and approach. But we don’t stop there. We immediately provide a well-organized opportunity for participants to put their training into action by going out door-to-door to proclaim the gospel. This enables church members to conquer their fears of evangelism, discover how our methodology and approach works, and find out how proclaiming the gospel is not about ourselves, but trusting in the power of the gospel. This experience has proved to be an invaluable component of the outreach initiative.

Going door-to-door to proclaim the gospel is certainly not the only way for a church to carry out outreach. I would even say that it’s not the best way to proclaim the gospel. However, I believe that churches ought to seriously consider including door-to-door proclaiming as part of their overall outreach strategy. It works!

In this article, I would like to address five common FAQ’s about canvassing that we typically address with many congregations. They are:

  1. “Is canvassing an effective way to do outreach?”
  2. “What benefits will our church receive from canvassing?”
  3. “How can I get members from my church to participate?”
  4. “Why is canvassing so terrifying?”
  5. “What if my community already belongs to a church?”


FAQ #1: Is canvassing an effective way to do outreach?”

“Our church has already tried going door-to-door and it doesn’t work!”

“Canvassing is scary and takes a lot of work. But after you are done, you are always glad that you did it.”

“I understand that going door-to-door is one way of sharing the gospel, but I just don’t like to do that.”

These are common responses from pastors.

The effectiveness of canvassing is typically judged by poor experiences, low participation, great efforts with little fruit, or the ongoing battle with fear. It is my experience that methodology, training, organization, and the amount of preparation for the canvassing are huge factors in having a positive experience.

Congregations will more than likely receive a poor experience or unfruitful responses if one of the following occurs:

  • The pastor is primarily responsible for organizing the campaign.
  • The pastor is solely responsible for carrying out all of the follow-up visits and contacts.
  • The people are not well-trained and do not know what to say or do.
  • They utilize a dated methodology that creates tension and mistrust at the door.
  • There is an inadequate follow-up system in place.

An outreach campaign that involves canvassing requires an extensive amount of energy. The pastor cannot do it all himself, nor should he. Too often, when all of the energy is placed on the actual event, a congregation will forget that the most important activity for a successful door-to-door campaign is what happens afterwards. Consistent and meaningful follow-up is a critical component for any door-to-door campaign and most congregations have not prepared themselves for this ongoing work. Potential fruit is left hanging on the branch when congregations either exhaust themselves in preparing an outreach activity or too disorganized to follow through.

Determining the success or the effectiveness of a door-to-door campaign really depends upon setting the right goals and expectations.

Advertise or Evangelize?

There are a variety different ways to carry out canvassing. One popular methodology of canvassing includes hanging plastic bags of information on people’s door. This is an effective way to advertise a church-sponsored event or worship service. Another methodology is surveying people that includes a question on whether or not that person has a church home or not. These are not bad methodologies for canvassing, but I believe we may be missing out on a golden opportunity.

I believe Christians can proclaim the gospel in a very comfortable, non-threatening manner when they go door-to door.

I believe there is power in God’s Word.

I believe there is power in the proclamation of God’s Word.

A verbal proclamation of the gospel provides a transforming experience for the Christian. In the strictest sense, whenever the New Testaments utilizes the word “evangelism,” it means a verbal proclamation of the Good News. When a believer steps out in faith to verbally share their faith, they are exercising spiritual muscles by “working out their salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil. 2:12) In doing so, they are trusting that the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit is with them through the proclamation of his Word.

It is the proclamation of the gospel that makes canvassing a meaningful experience and completely changes the dynamic of going door-to-door.

Our ministry is discovering that this transforming experience is what inspires a Spirit-filled zeal to continue to do outreach, conduct follow-up visits, and actively assist the pastor in organizing future efforts to confidently and boldly share the gospel. Witnessing no longer becomes a scary prospect, but a joyful exercise to look forward to.

When an outreach campaign focuses on proclaiming the gospel, the goals and expectations change. They center on the number of times the Lord opens doors to proclaim the gospel. They trust that the Lord of the Harvest will bring lost souls to faith as a result of the gospel seeds being planted. How unchurched members of the community respond is God’s business. When congregations focus on activities that they can control, it minimizes the frustration when people are not coming through the church door. This change in perspective prompts congregation members to actively continue their outreach activity to reach the lost. The Lord has a way of blessing activity by sending people through the side door.

Building bridges

In today’s culture, churches must build bridges with the community and introduce themselves as a living, caring, active, and growing family of believers. The best way to connect and engage with people is by providing a face for your church. A Christian is not only representing their church, but they are also serving as an ambassador for Christ to deliver an all-important message with eternal consequences. There are people in their community who are struggling, hurting, and looking for answers.

A well-organized door-to-door effort that includes solid training, proper expectations, and the intention of proclaiming the message of what Christ has already done for us on the cross can be an effective way for members to receive the joy of being God’s messengers.


FAQ #2: What benefits will our church receive from canvassing?

Whenever congregations reach out and connect face-to-face with members of their community, the Lord uses that activity to shine His light and reveal His presence through those who believe and remain in Him. Canvassing a local neighborhood can accomplish that.

There is joy when a lost soul receives faith as a result of going canvassing. A family who leaves nearby may accept an invitation to come to a worship service and hear the gospel. That is a great benefit the Lord provides through the power of His Word.

Increasing church membership is a direct benefit from outreach activities, but that should not necessarily be the number one goal. Evangelism is not about statistics. It is all about a lost soul receiving citizenship to heaven. When this becomes the over-riding concern for all outreach activities, a congregation will receive benefits that are often overlooked.

I would like to suggest that there is a powerful benefit that many churches often overlook.

There is power in the verbal proclamation of the gospel.

When church members are trained how to proclaim a short gospel message with a stranger, the activity no longer becomes canvassing a neighborhood, but proclaiming the gospel. I believe this is a huge, but subtle difference that will have a great impact on a congregation.

The experience of being God’s messenger and providing a short gospel witness is transforming. Proclaiming the gospel becomes a spiritual adventure when Christians step out of their comfort zones, conquer their fears, and realize that evangelism is not really about us. The impact on Christians directly translates into a benefit for a congregation. They help provide outreach momentum for a congregation.

This is what Praise and Proclaim is experiencing when we launch an outreach initiative at congregations. A core group of members who participate in proclaiming the gospel provide an immediate and long-term benefit in the ongoing outreach activities at their church. They not only volunteer for future outreach activities, but are actively recruiting other members to participate. They not only participate in future opportunities to proclaim the gospel, but will help lead and organize the activity. They readily volunteer the assist the pastoral team in carrying out visits with people who express interest to learn more about the congregation.

The greatest benefit a congregation receives from members who have received a meaningful experience in proclaiming the gospel is a core group of Christians who have a zeal for reaching the lost – and are willing and able to do it.

How can a congregation to take full advantage of the benefits associated with door-to-door witnessing?

By producing first-class materials that are well-designed and have thought-provoking gospel messages, the congregation will receive credibility from the community and be fully utilized by those who are trained to use these tools to verbally proclaim the gospel.

A congregation will position themselves to receive benefits from a campaign when the evangelism committee have established a well-organized system to continue to connect and engage with prospects and visitors.

When a congregation focuses its goals on outreach activities they can control, namely planting the seeds of the gospel, they can trust that the Lord will lead and guide these activities to further His kingdom.

A door-to-door witnessing campaign helps build a bridge between the congregation and members of the community who do not know Christ.

A well-organized door-to-door witnessing campaign allows many Christians to fulfill what they have always desired to do – to carry out the Great Commission.

When congregational members learn how to proclaim the gospel with strangers, and overcome the fears and trepidations associated with evangelism, they become far more inclined to tackle the “fear of follow-up.”

The greatest benefit a congregation receives from a well-organized, door-to-door campaign that centers on proclaiming the gospel is a core group of Christians who are willing and excited to do it on a regular basis.

“Lord, may you count me worthy of your calling – so that by your power – you may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act carried out that is prompted by your faithfulness. With fervent prayer and resolve to know nothing except Christ crucified – may the name of Christ be glorified in me according to your overflowing grace.”  [2 Thess 1:11-12]


FAQ #3: How can I get my members at church to participate in canvassing?

The empty signup sheets asking members to participate in canvassing hang on clipboards at the back of the church. The thought of knocking on another person’s door is horrifying… even for pastors.

Past experiences of going door-to-door prompt people to say, “It doesn’t work!” It is frustrating and disheartening when most unchurched people at the door don’t respond well when confronted with the questions, “Do you have a church home?” or “If you died tonight, will you go to heaven?” To avoid talking to people and run the risk of being offensive, many churches will use “door-hangers.”

Evangelism is not easy.

Sharing the gospel is a terrifying prospect for many Christians.

Busy schedules often get busier when members are asked to participate in evangelism. Members will also readily admit, “I just can’t do that!”

Though there are valid reasons for a person not to go canvassing, fear is still the over-riding factor. This fear is typically based upon a lack of training on what to say or do, poor experiences from the past, or the concern of receiving negative responses from people.

The best way to get people to participate is when fellow members gush about their experience of proclaiming the gospel.

Successful door-to-door experiences require an investment of time and resources. Proper training and excellent coordination are crucial elements to any outreach activity. However, it is our experience that the most important component for outreach is when a Christian verbally proclaims the gospel with another. There is power in God’s Word. There is power in the proclamation of God’s Word. The experience is spiritually transforming, because witnessing is one of the greatest exercises of our faith.

The question remains, “How can I provide a meaningful, transforming experience for members at my congregation?”

Here is a great example from an outreach initiative we conducted in Redmond, Washington.

Praise and Proclaim Ministries was commissioned to help Living Hope Lutheran Church in a large community east of Seattle. Many people who lived in the surrounding neighborhoods worked at Microsoft and were largely unchurched. Members were trained how to proclaim the gospel with strangers. The next day, they knocked on hundreds of doors on a typical rainy day in Seattle. They learned how to engage people in a friendly way, seamlessly transition to sharing a short gospel message, then invited to hear a message at church on how we can “Find Freedom” from guilt, worry or a broken past.

The following Sunday morning, no visitors showed up. The next Sunday no visitors showed up. For the next several months, no members of the community showed up for Sunday worship as a result of going door-to-door to proclaim the gospel.

Was the outreach initiative a complete disaster? Was going door-to-door to proclaim the gospel unsuccessful? Were the members depressed and vowed to never do that again?

No.

And here are the reasons why:

The people they met at the door responded very positively. Members at Living Hope were trained to joyfully and confidently share who they are, where they are from, and give a reason why they are at the door. The learned how to transition to sharing a short proclamation of the gospel, the provided a call to action with an invitation to come to a worship service.

The experience of going door-to-door turned out to be very meaningful because it centered on the proclamation of the gospel. The approach at the door made it comfortable for the person at the door and the participant. Despite the fact that nobody from the community showed up on Sunday morning, the core group of trained members went out joyfully and confidently to proclaim the gospel two weeks later. They understood their biblical role of being God’s messengers. They appreciated the fact that most of the time, an unchurched family will require four to eight contacts before they make the scary decision of coming to a new, unfamiliar church. They reveled with the honor of being God’s messengers, trusting that the harvest was plentiful and the workers were few.

A big part of setting members up for a meaningful experience is setting the right goals and expectations that focus on what they can control. Only the power of the Holy Spirit can bring a lost soul to faith. A successful outreach campaign celebrates the opportunities the Lord provides to deliver a saving message of the gospel.

There is joy in being God’s messenger. There is a sense of privilege of being an ambassador for Christ. The experience of proclaiming the gospel is transforming when a Christian conquers the fears of evangelism and receive the promises Jesus gives that are attached to proclaiming His name.

Word of mouth is everything.

A well-organized and well-trained outreach event that focuses on proclaiming the gospel is what builds outreach momentum and increases the participation for future campaigns. The invitation to participate doesn’t come from the pastor, but from church members who exhibit a joy and zeal to be God’s messengers.


FAQ #4:    Why is canvassing so terrifying?

When angels spoke to people in the Bible their first words were usually, “Do not be afraid!”

When Jesus sent out his disciples (Matthew 10) to the towns and villages to proclaim His name, he only gave them six words to proclaim. He spent the rest of the chapter letting them know how challenging it was going to be.

Evangelism is difficult and scary!

Some people think that sharing the gospel is terrifying because they don’t know what to say or feel that they just can’t do it.

I don’t believe that is necessarily true.

There is something deeper and more prevailing that causes terror for Christians when the invitation to proclaim the gospel is graciously extended by the gospel.

“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify for you have been with me from the beginning.”  (John 15:26-27)

With Praise and Proclaim Ministries, I have had the opportunity to train Christians and lead them to go door-to-door to proclaim the gospel to strangers. Conquering the fear of evangelism is a component of our training and the reason why the majority of Christians choose to stay at home.  Why is that?

I believe there are three reasons why proclaiming the gospel is so terrifying.

  1. Proclaiming the gospel is totally contrary to our human nature.

Disobeying God’s great commission is a sin. There are a few who have the gift of evangelism, but there are no qualifications for Christians to participate in evangelism. With a heart full of praise and thanksgiving for what Christ has already done for us, eager lips ought to proclaim His name. That is Christ’s desire. He asks his children to have compassion for his lost sheep and to help him go out and find them. Our human nature easily succumbs to fear that is prompted by sin and selfishness.

[Like you, I am guilty and confess my fear, selfishness, and sin. Praise be to God! We are forgiven because what Christ has already done for us!]
  1. Proclaiming the gospel is spiritual warfare.

The Bible clearly tells us that the only way a person can come to faith is through the power of God’s Word. Believers are given the responsibility to share His Word with others.

If this is true, then God’s chief opponent will do everything in his power to prevent the proclamation of the gospel.

The devil is the author of doubt. He is the purveyor of fear. He will whisper in our ears that we are worthless, too busy, and a spiritual wimp to proclaim the gospel. Believers fall victim to these lies.

In the spiritual arena of saving people from eternal death, the devil convinces too many Christians to not even participate. And he is winning by forfeit!

[Like you, I am guilty of succumbing to spiritual warfare. I have too easily become a casualty and disqualified myself from being God’s messenger. Thanks be to God! I am fully forgiven because of what Christ has already done for me.]
  1. Proclaiming the gospel is risky.

I have heard from pastors and Christians from around the U.S. that verbally proclaiming the gospel to a stranger does not work. It doesn’t matter the type of community. Rich or poor. Suburban or rural.  The Midwest or the Bible belt. The Pacific Northwest or the East coast. There is a strong tendency to pre-judge the receptivity of human hearts as an excuse to not verbally proclaim the message at all. People don’t want to risk relationships, be called a religious fool, or have their church be offensive in their communities.

Whether a church or a Christian, we seem to be overly bothered by the question, “What will people think of me?”

Evangelism is risky. Jesus warned his disciples about that. His disciples risked imprisonment, family betrayal, even death. Christians in American live in a time where we do not have to worry about persecution, but the perceived risks are real.

Proclaiming the gospel to a stranger doesn’t mean that we treat them rudely, confront them with difficult questions, or tell them a damning message without taking the time to build a bridge of love and respect. Evangelism can mean that we can learn how to speak the truth in love and provide a gospel message that is simple, respectful, and confident. When Christians do that, the majority of the risks associated with evangelism are eliminated.

[Like you, I am guilty of being overly concerned of what people may think of me if I proclaim the gospel to them. Praise be to God! He has forgiven all of my sins of omission when I have completely failed at opportunities the Lord provides to proclaim the gospel to a lost soul.]

CONCLUSION

One of the best way to confront terror in going door-to-door to proclaim the gospel is to define our biblical role in evangelism. Christians are messengers. They are ambassadors appointed by God. They are His representatives who are given a very specific task — to spread the Good News.

We would be stunned with disbelief if we watched a new father be fearful of spreading the good news that his child was born. I think the angels are equally stunned when God’s children are afraid to spread the Good News. We miss out on a wonderful, glorious opportunity to join the chorus of the heavenly host to tell the world what God has done for us through Christ.

Like a father of a newborn son, spreading Good News can be a joyful experience. By commissioning us to go and make disciples, God is granting his children the opportunity to share in that joy by sharing this Good News with others. The Apostle Paul was inspired to write, “I have become all things to all people, so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel so that I may share in its blessing.” (1 Cor. 9:23) The blessings that Christians receive by sharing the gospel with others is the sense of privilege and joy by being God’s messenger.

Proclaiming the gospel is not nearly as terrifying when we trust Christ’s promises that He is with us. Like the Apostle Paul, Christians are transformed in Christ when they humbly conquer fear and timidity, graciously take risks, and profoundly recognize that they are in a spiritual battle with a target on their back.

Faith alone – given by the Holy Spirit – receives the full benefit of Jesus’ finished work – the full forgiveness of sins, a right standing with God, and assurance of life eternal.

Now that’s good news!


FAQ #5:    Canvassing doesn’t work because people in my community already belong to a church.

Frustrated by a lack of results and disappointed my negative reactions, congregations are wary to consider any type of stranger evangelism. Scared, perhaps even intimidated, most evangelism efforts primarily focus on inviting people to attend Christmas or Easter service, or a children’s program.

These are not bad ideas, but I don’t think congregational members need to necessarily refrain from verbally proclaiming the gospel to the lost.

One of the most common objections we receive come from congregations in the Midwest or the Southwest who believe that a majority of their community already belong to a church and will not have a desire or interest to come to their church.

I spent four summers (2012-2015) going door-to-door to proclaim the gospel in Utah with Truth in Love Ministry. I loved it! In Provo County, the census data reports that 89% of the people who live in the county belong to the LDS Church. This meant that if I knocked on a door and asked, “Do you have a church home?” there is an excellent chance that at least 90% of the people would proudly say, “Yes!”

If I wanted to plant a church in Provo County, Utah, would that be the right question to ask?

Throughout 2016, Praise and Proclaim Ministries helped congregations knock on doors in Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, Minneapolis and Seattle. A congregational member or pastor would expect that religious people living in the Bible belt or anti-religious people living in Seattle would not express interest.  Either they already belong to a church home and are saved – or don’t care about church and are not saved.

It’s shocking how misconceptions can lead to inactivity.

According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center (“How religious is your state?”), Wisconsin is tied for 44th in being the least religious state in the U.S. with 45% of the adults consider themselves “highly religious”.  Who is Wisconsin tied with?  Washington.

How did people respond at the door in Provo County, Utah?

We didn’t ask them if they had a church home. Instead, we lovingly and respectfully asked them if they were already perfect in Christ. If not, then we could explain how by faith alone we can receive the perfection of Christ and be forgiven of all our sins.

How did people respond in Texas if they already belonged to a church?
We expressed thanksgiving while lovingly and respectfully sharing with them that as a result of Christ’s completed work on the cross, we receive the full forgiveness of our sins. Right now! The work was finished on the cross.

How did people respond in Seattle?
When we lovingly and respectfully identified ourselves in the first fifteen seconds and asked if they had seen our postcard, they allowed us to transition to sharing a brief gospel message. Were they interested? No, not really. But gospel seeds were planted and conversations with started with people who have never heard the gospel before.

And Minneapolis? How did they respond?
Amazingly well! The people in Minnesota are spiritual. Many people expressed an affiliation with a particular church, but had not gone to church in the past five, ten, fifteen, or thirty years. Like Seattle and Utah, they had never really heard the gospel before and what Christ has already done for them.

When a pastor tells me that most of the people in his community belong to a church or he doesn’t want to say anything that might offend people, I would like to borrow a popular phrase from a popular ESPN football commentator, “Not so fast.”

When the focus of canvassing is on proclaiming the gospel… expectations change. The focus is not on results, but on the number of gospel seeds that are sown. The emphasis is on God’s work – the miracle of faith through the proclamation of the Word – rather than our work. With a methodology and approach that focuses on love, respect, and building bridges, going door-to-door to proclaim the gospel can be a very meaningful experience. The fear of evangelism can be overcome and our confidence can grow with experience.

Canvassing does not have to be about uncovering potential prospects, but an aggressive way to reach the lost by proclaiming a gospel message and trusting the power of God’s Word.

A congregation does not have to worry about whether or not people say that they belong to a church, because what is most important is their relationship with Christ. Besides, what people tell you at the door is not necessarily true or they may have a far different definition of what it means to be a member of a church. Congregations don’t have to worry about being offensive when they treat people with love and respect.

God has a way of blessing activity when congregations center on proclaiming the gospel. He is the God of results, not us. We tend to focus on finding joy in what we control (sowing) instead of what God controls (harvesting). When the pressure and focus is off the proclaimer, we find joy in carrying out God’s commission for all Christians.

Is there any greater way to give thanks to God for all that He has done for us than to proclaim His name to others?

 

If you have any questions, you may send an email to dave@praiseandproclaim.com or go to the website, www.praiseandproclaim.com.

This article was originally a series of posts on Dave’s blog, www.witnesswell.net.