A farmer from Georgia was part of a tour group visiting the elaborate Westminster Cathedral in London. He listened patiently and with interest as the guide gave the history of the 54,000 square foot building. The guide talked about the altars, chapels, mosaics, music, famous visitors, and the Archbishops who were buried there, etc. When the guide asked for questions, the farmer asked, “When was the last time someone was saved in here?” The farmer hit the nail on the head. His question should be asked in every church: “When was the last time someone was saved here?”
I am not sure what Solomon was addressing when he penned these words, “Do not say, ‘Why are the former days better than these?’ For you do not inquire wisely concerning these things” (Ecclesiastes 7:10). (It follows a verse on anger). I am taking the liberty to take a principle from verse ten and “violate” it by looking back at a practice which once flourished in most congregations—EVANGELISM. How many of us remember those “good old days”?
Not too many years ago most congregations were growing as a result of evangelism. There were campaigns in big auditoriums, numerous gospel meetings, door-to-door evangelism, film strips being shown, home Bible studies, workshops, bus ministries, television and radio programs, tract distribution etc. The evangelism fires where glowing across the nation and around the world. Congregations were hiring men to give full time ministry to training the local church for evangelism, as well as doing it themselves.
In the ‘70s I worked with a congregation that baptized 265 in one years and for a number of years we baptized over one hundred each year. In the ‘80s I worked with a congregation that baptized 102 into Christ; half of which came through the ministry of the youth.
Whatever happened to evangelism?
I remember fondly preaching one and two week meetings in which souls were saved in double digits, and during those meeting scores rededicated their lives to Christ and asked for prayer. The power of the gospel was awesome (cf. Romans 1:14-16). Buildings were filled as outsiders and sister congregations attended the meetings. Yes, those where the “good old days” which I am saying were better, in most congregations, than the evangelism of today.
The research of today related to growth through evangelism is discouraging. My late great and wonderful friend, Clayton Peppers, editor of Personal Evangelism, said, “Evangelism is the last thing most congregations do and is the first thing they give up.” I am privileged to travel across our nation visiting congregations; in most places the situation is the same, churches are not growing numerically. In fact, many are declining and dying a slow death.
The congregation where my mother once worshipped, with 300 members, no longer exists. The property is now a business complex. The congregation where I was baptized, which was close to 400 at the time, now has an attendance of 20 to 30. I know of a once large and thriving congregation that now meets in a classroom and the upstairs is the preacher’s residence. I visited one congregation that had turned the baptistery into a storage area. Numerous leaders have shared that they rarely have one baptism a year; especially from outsiders.
I could go on and on with these examples but it is discouraging and should serve as a wakeup call, as we ask, “Whatever happened to evangelism.” Do you know?
One answer might be that we have traded it for games, gimmicks, media hype, and talk show hosts in the pulpit. However, a second thing is obvious and that when compared to the evangelistic efforts of the first century Christians, “we are not going and everywhere preaching the word” (Acts ). Third, we have inverted the Great Commission, which says, “Go”, to a “Come” command. Yes, there was once a time by putting up a sign in front of the building and taking an ad in the newspaper announcing a gospel meeting that would bring people in, but no more. Our meetings, which were once a week long, are exhausting at four days of preaching. Less than half to three-fourth of the members won’t be back after Sunday morning.
Whatever happened to evangelism? This is a personal question every Christian must ask and answer. It is one leaders in local churches must ask and answer. It will not be sufficiently and biblically answered by pointing a finger at someone else and asking why he or she isn’t evangelistic. Both parties are guilty of neglecting evangelism. In my opinion that’s what has happened to evangelism. But that answer is too simplistic.
Whatever happened to evangelism? First, we have confused believing and talking about evangelism with the physical act of evangelism. These two qualities are essential but they are not sharing the gospel with a lost person. Second, evangelism in some congregations has been replaced, no doubt with good intentions, with media driven presentations, community involvement that never challenges sinner, adopting marketing ploys used by business and mega churches, and the examples go on. There is only one drawing power for evangelism and that is Christ. Jesus said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself. This He said, signifying by what death He would die” (John 12:32). Christ is the only drawing power in evangelism.
In the first century church evangelism was never taught in a class, tied to a method, or relegated to the hands of an expert. There is no example of brethren being rebukes for not “winning souls.” In the midst of ridicule, rejection, persecution, and ultimately losing their lives, “Those who were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).
Whatever happened to evangelism? It has been lost in the numerous approaches that teach only qualified professionals who know theology and the Bible can evangelize. It has been lost in the salesman approach of mastering tricky and set up questions to make the sale. It has been lost in a lack of emphasis on the command of the Great Commission to make disciples, which involves relationships with people in a Christian’s personal day-to-day world. And perhaps the most tragic reason for the loss of evangelism is that we no longer believe the lost are really lost.
A restoration of evangelism will occur if we will go back to God’s church growth and evangelism book—the Book of Acts. To study and apply principles such as knowing and sharing the gospel (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1-6), using our homes as outreach posts, making sure we share the gospel with our families (cf. Cornelius, Philippian jailer, etc.), and initiating a gospel conversion with persons we meet (cf. Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch). Surely we can remember what we did in order to be saved; now we simply need to tell it to others “as we are going in our world” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Whatever happened to evangelism? This question must become more personal: Whatever happened to evangelism in MY life? Whatever happened to evangelism in our congregation? Let’s start sharing the gospel in our world. You already know enough; and you already have a list of contacts. Remembering the gospel is the “good news” about the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-6), which is the only power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:14-16).