The New Testament has laid out certain descriptive accounts of evangelism that I also believe are prescriptive accounts for the church to embrace as the Way of Christ and His Apostles. Unfortunately, these biblical patterns and principles are unlike much of what we have seen in contemporary Evangelistic outreaches and crusades.
My objective in writing this short article is to encourage the church to replicate the N.T. when it comes to expanding the family of God for the Kingdom of God. If you were to ask the average Evangelical Christian about how the church should evangelize their community, city, and nation — a large percentage of them would most likely say that we should have an evangelistic campaign and bring in an outside Evangelist to preach to masses of people.
What most believers don’t realize is – that so-called “Crusade Evangelism” (ALA Billy Sunday, D.L. Moody, Billy Graham) is a cultural construct of the American church that is not as effective in assimilating new converts into the church as other expressions of evangelism.
Many leaders I have spoken to have said that if 10 percent of the people “who get saved” actually begin to attend church and follow Jesus—that would be amazing and considered a great result! (The true percentage is most likely between 1-3 percent or less, based on my observation in dealing with large evangelistic events for many decades.)
Also, when evangelists of the 19th century like Charles Finney went into a town to hold evangelistic and or revival meetings – there was a much greater response since – Finney had the attention of the whole community because, in those days “there was no other show in town!” There were no movie theaters, cell phones, internet, automobiles, mass transportation; hence, to compete for the attention of the village or town—the only thing they could do to experience community besides staying in their house with family – was to attend the local revival meeting. That is one of the primary reasons why his revival meetings were so successful. Also, Finney stayed in one town for weeks and or months at a time until the work was finished; preaching to the same people and working with the local churches. He didn’t go from town to town for 3-day crusade events like many of the evangelists today.
What does the N.T. illustrate?
When we review what the Scriptures teach regarding evangelism we see several principles worth noting:
The primary call of the N.T. Evangelist was to equip the church for the work of the ministry (See Ephesians 4:11,12) -NOT to do the work of the ministry. Hence, the early church did not have a concept of Evangelist in which the whole church sat around while one man preached to crowds of people. They were all equipped to win people to Christ.
The truth of the matter is, what we perceive from reading the Book of Acts is that the whole church was a “proclamation community”, as their essence could not be separated from their mission as Jesus framed it (see Acts 1:8,9).
The church viewed who they were by their mission – even as Jesus told His initial disciples “Follow me and I will Make You a Fisher of Men”; thus, Jesus never separated following Him from the mission of sharing the Gospel (See Mark 1:17).
Nowadays, we have so-called “Mission Agencies” and “Evangelism Teams” in churches that can give the average believer an impression that evangelism is only for the “special forces” of the church instead of something that should be the norm for young and old alike. The early church engendered a lifestyle of evangelism, it was part of their being and their essence as a Christ follower – it was never meant to be for a select few in the congregation.
Regarding Paul’s connection between the local church and evangelism – we see in reading his epistles that the primary way the Gospel spread was through the life of the believer in the churches he planted. For example, when he wrote to the church of Thessalonians, he even said that he didn’t need to say anything (meaning preach to the lost in that region) since “Not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you (the Thes. Ch) in Macedonia and in Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.” (See 1 Thes. 1:8,9)
Also, Paul refused to reach beyond the borders of a church he planted UNTIL that church was established enough to preach the word and expand Kingdom influence. He said regarding the Corinthian church “….as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you-without boasting of work already done in another area of influence” (see 2 Corinthians 10:15,16). Consequently, he had a strong ecclesiology that framed his missiology. He did not even conceive of bypassing the local church in a region when it came to spreading the Good News!
Furthermore, while most churches (especially mega churches in the West) are growing through social media marketing strategies that appeals to Christians from other smaller less resourced churches – Paul refused to “swap fish” and build upon another person’s foundation! (See 2 Cor. 10:16; Romans 15:20.)
Paul would not even recognize the contemporary church growth paradigm that largely depends upon focusing a church’s marketing towards a “small piece of the pie” related to a Christian demographic everyone is trying to claim in each community.
What about the ministry of the modern-day evangelist?
The closest thing to the modern-day Evangelist paradigm in Scripture was when Philip the deacon (later called an evangelist in Acts 21) went into Samaria and preached Christ, with the result being that the whole city was filled with joy (seems like a great revival broke out! Refer to Acts 8:1-4).
However, as we examine this, we have to realize that, since he did not have a microphone, it was likely not the same as a huge evangelistic campaign but more like he went street to street preaching the gospel and possibly even house to house. (Acts chapter 2 :46; 20:20 all speak about going “house to house” as part of the methodology of sharing the gospel—even as we see powerfully illustrated in Acts chapter 10 when the Apostle Peter went to the home of Cornelius the Roman Centurion.)
Also, there was not yet a Christian community planted in the city of Samaria since his entrance there was the initial and official birth of the Church (even though there were likely believers in Jesus from His visit to that city as we see in John chapter 4; however they were not yet part of the church post ascension and post Pentecost); thus, he went there alone to preach because, as aforementioned, there was not yet a church planted and because he ran for his life because of persecution.
Also, Philip never would have left Samaria unless and or until the Apostles from the Jerusalem church came behind him to establish it (He didn’t just preach and run after collecting an offering!). Consequently, to use Philip as an example to justify many typical Evangelistic Crusades is to wrest the Acts 8 narrative out of context and out of N.T principle.
In closing, I am not at all opposed to evangelists coming to a city to do a crusade—I served as a vice chair of Billy Graham’s last crusade in NYC in 2005 and I also helped Kevin Palau behind the scenes when the Luis Palau team came to do a festival a few years back in NYC. However, both of these Evangelists worked through the local churches and attempted to further unite the Body of Christ (which may have been even more important than the actual attempt to win people to Christ based on my reading of John 17:20-23 which states that the world will only believe Jesus was sent when the church is One with each other and with the Triune God).
My main challenge with the above perspective is – if this is the only paradigm the Body of Christ has for reaching their community—then the church will become passive by depending upon the big evangelist to come to town to proclaim the gospel; instead of viewing the primary call of the evangelist to equip the saints.
My prayer is that the church will fulfill its primary mission, so each believer will incorporate a lifestyle of sharing the gospel so the church as a whole can serve as a “proclamation community” and reach their communities.
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