Ignite: How to Spark Immediate Growth in Your Church is a handbook on evangelism, functional structures and church growth. Anyone interested in motivating and equipping people for inviting guests to church (Nelson’s implied definition of evangelism), in utilizing the church’s natural ebb and flow calendar and breaking your next growth barrier could benefit from this book. Nelson Searcy and Jennifer Dykes Henson offer very practical advice and plenty of downloadable resources (www.ignitebook.com) for their readers.
The book is structured around five themes: preparing for the Big Day (my own title); advice for pastors; personal evangelism; promotion; preservation. Each chapter offers some theological insights, quotes from ministry leaders, practical tools and anecdotal stories to highlight the main point. The book is extremely accessible and manageable, which makes reading it in one sitting very possible.
Preparing for the Big Day
What a Difference a Day Makes (ch. 1) lays the foundation for the idea of a “Big Day.” In Searcy’s own words, “is an all out push toward a single Sunday for the purpose of breaking the next growth barrier and setting an attendance record in order to reach as many people as possible for Jesus.” (26) He supports the use of the “Big Day” by pointing to times when large numbers were added to the church as recorded in the book of Acts. The main point is to strategically grow your in one day. Why practice a “Big Day”? Well, for four reasons: to reach new people; to make the devil mad; to grow Christians in your church (by getting them excited about evangelism), and to build momentum in your church.
What Day is It? (ch 2) looks at the calendar and asks, When is the best time to plan a Big Day? Nelson offers four suggestions. First, is Easter, the built-in Big Day. Every church naturally sees a rise in attendance on Easter Sunday and they should use that to their advantage by hosting a Big Day on Easter Sunday. Second, is in the Fall the Back to School Big Day (which should be planned for 4-6 weeks after school starts). This is a natural time of transition for most families. Third, is in February, the Unexpected Big Day. After Christmas people are broke, the weather is frightful, and the relational atmosphere is heated so offering a Big Day in February can be very profitable. Fourth, the Pick Your Own Big Day. Look at your church’s calendar and create a Big Day based around the natural ebb and flow of your attendance.
The Day of Harvest (ch. 3) looks at the direction of the rest of the book. Leaders are encouraged to have an attendance goal right up front and to have a system in place as they begin having Big Days.
Reaching the Boiling Point (ch. 4) provides an opportunity for the pastor to make an honest assessment of the evangelistic temperature in the church. The reality is that we are engaged in spiritual warfare, we know what the end of the story looks like, and in order to prevail we must be honest about our current situation. Everything begins with the pastor, who must lead the congregation in evangelism. An important sign of our effectiveness is the number of baptisms we celebrate in the church.
Setting the Stage (ch. 5) explains how the pastor can use the stage, the staff and the church’s structures (the latter two explained in chapter six) for effective evangelistic efforts. From the stage the pastor can remind the people to invite their friends (if they “found the message helpful”), can tell his/her own evangelism stories, can preach an evangelism series (at least once every three years), can create tools and opportunities for evangelism, and can incorporate evangelism into his/her calendar.
Carrying the Torch (ch. 6) looks at how the pastor can effectively use the staff and the church’s structures for evangelistic efforts. The pastor can challenge and hold staff accountable for evangelism by requiring them to serve in evangelistic activities, to pray for unchurched friends, to pray and fast for big days and to invite friends to church. The pastor can use the church’s structures for evangelistic purposes by planning outreach events that are regular, service oriented and communicated well, by celebrating (primarily testimonies at baptism), by engaging small groups in evangelism – curriculum, outreach events, etc., and by allowing people to belong before they believe
Mobilizing for Evangelism (ch. 7) offers the following evangelism formula – a + b + c = x
a = Tools – tangible items that the people can use for evangelism
b = Training – skills that the people can use in evangelism
c = Timeliness – provide a sense of urgency and an opportunity
x = High Levels of Personal Evangelism
Creating urgency is essential since we do what is urgent, not what is important. We need to remove as many obstacles as possible before we ask our people to participate and to remember that we need periods of intense evangelism and then periods of rest, the stretch and release principle.
Equipping for Evangelism (ch. 8) offers some practical advice and tools for the Big Day. Invest and Invite Cards (front “I will invest in others who do not know Jesus and invite them to your church’s name” // back has three spaces to write the names of three individuals you will be praying for and plan to invite to the next series). Invite Cards are postcards that inform and invite people to the upcoming series. Entry Level Evangelism are “really easy opportunities to witness” such as a pen with the church’s name on it, small group service projects and inviting friends and family to one’s baptism.
Finding Fertile Ground (ch. 9) is all about mass promotion. Personal evangelism will produce the greatest results but it won’t reach everyone. Nelson offers several lessons from the Sower: Know when to sow seed (look at your calendar); Know the best field; You’re going to have wasted seed, so deal with it; Pick ripe fruit.
Sowing the Best Seed (ch. 10) is a practical look at where to sow “promotional seed.” Nelson offers several ideas: direct mail, newspaper and radio ads, servant evangelism projects, and billboards. He reminds the reader to always count the return, not the seed sown.
Reaping the Harvest (ch. 11) offers five pieces of advice on promoting one’s church. Be consistent – from year to year practice the same calendar. Be clear – can they tell it’s a church?; Is all the info there?; Do they know what you want them to do? Be creative (clear first, then creative). Be confined – know your audience and market them. Be confident (which means be prepared).
Preparing the Way (ch. 12) looks at helping people make the next step. Invite people to say yes in gathered worship, in community groups, and in membership classes. Provide clear steps for people, which can be accomplished through conversations, literature or testimonies. Be ready to receive those who say yes, on any level by having an assimilation process and a membership class. Follow up when people say yes.
[The Journey system
- Indicate a decision on the connection card
- Receive a personal email – includes a link to a Bible study
- Receives follow up material in the mail
- i. Includes new believer information
- ii. Includes baptism and church information
- Encourage baptism within the next two months]
The Celebration (ch. 13) recommends celebrating a lot. Celebrate with stories, with numbers and with gifts.
I enjoy Searcy’s books (having already read Activate and currently reading Fusion) but I find myself at odds with him theologically at times. One of the main premises for hosting a Big Day is that God used Big Days. Searcy provides a list of biblical Big Days from the book of Acts. However, the main difference is that these examples were works of the Holy Spirit, not of pastoral staff getting together to plan a new sermon series. I love the idea of promoting the upcoming series and using available resources to attract as many as possible, but let’s not suggest that this will automatically result in a big day like those in Acts.
I also find myself cringing at his approach to baptism. I am part of the Wesleyan tradition, which baptizes infants. Instead of naming tradition a stumbling block to baptism why can’t we celebrate infant baptism in the same way and include confirmation.
I also have difficulty with saying to my people, “If you found the message helpful today then invite a friend next week.” I am not convinced that the purpose of preaching is to be “helpful.” Jesus said plenty of things that weren’t “helpful”, but rather formative. I imagine Searcy understands this but I am worried about what a statement such as that communicates to the body.
Finally, I feel dissatisfied with the implied definition of evangelism Ignite promotes. Evangelism seems to be nothing more than inviting a friend to church and letting the pastor do the rest. Somewhere we must include the proclamation of the gospel (in word or in deed) in the definition of evangelism, and it must be something that the people do as well.
What I appreciate most about Searcy’s books, this one included, are the structures, resources and step-by-step guidance he offers. It makes sense that if we can get our people excited enough to invite one friend then we might possibly be able to grow in terms of numbers. I appreciate the advice on how to choose a Big Day. The tools offered in the book are excellent and I plan to put them into immediate use. I believe the ideas in this book will benefit any local church willing to make the investment of time and talents.
 Admittedly, Ignite does not make this claim directly, but in the supplemental resources that the book suggests this claim is unapologetically made.