2. EVALUATION OF THE TYPES OF EVANGELISM
To communicate the Christian faith to men there have been many different types of evangelism. Each has certain strengths and weaknesses, which may be seen simply by reflecting upon them. Each type has been used at various times in the past, and it is necessary to mention them individually before discussing them in terms of the church’s mission. But the mission of the church in relation to the types of evangelism is the key matter of concern in evangelism, to be considered later in this chapter.
1. Mass Evangelism. By mass evangelism is meant the preaching of the message in open-air meetings or in very large gatherings. The first mass meetings are described in the New Testament as occurring spontaneously. Since the time of the Reformation open-air meetings have been used to reach large numbers of people. Whitefield and Wesley, the frontier camp-meetings in America, and highly organized campaigns during the last two centuries come to mind. Mass evangelism reaches large numbers of people at a time when there has been extensive prior preparation, as occurred in the New Testament among the Jews and later following periods of dead orthodoxy.
2. Personal Evangelism. In this type of evangelism individual Christians are directly involved in presenting the message to those who have not heard it. This occurred in the New Testament following persecution in Jerusalem. The disciples, except for the apostles, were scattered and evangelized everywhere throughout the land. In recent times, many have been encouraged to go out individually to "win souls," and a number of churches have concentrated on personal evangelism in connection with visitation, contacting and talking to people in their homes. Personal evangelism has the advantage of being direct and personal, with the potential of meeting the individual needs of the person who hears the message, and it reaches out to those who would never go to a meeting to hear it. The disadvantage is that the preparation of individual Christians is often limited and the message is not made clear in the time available.
3. Evangelistic Preaching. Evangelistic preaching applies the Word of God to those whose background causes them to attend church services. In Reformation times, when people were required to attend church services, there was an opportunity to reach large numbers of people in this way. But as people became hardened to preaching this became less effective. To overcome this the Puritans preached on matters affecting the conscience. Later, effort was directed toward concentrated evangelistic crusades.
4. Literature Evangelism. Books directing people’s attention to the truth of the message have been published since the times of the Puritans, who were the inventors of evangelistic literature. With encouragement, people will read and consider things that they would otherwise disregard. The impersonal character of literature is of value in these eases. In addition. It is of value where there is a lack of trained witnesses or in conjunction with other efforts. The possibility of a full explanation of the message through literature opens up another avenue for those who will read it.
5. Church Evangelistic Crusades. By holding a series of evangelistic meetings within a short period of time, the impact and content of Gospel preaching can be concentrated and have its effect. Crusades in which this is done have become tradition. An evangelist from outside the church and great amounts of preparation and publicity are involved. This type of evangelism is effective when there has been considerable preparation through the instruction of the church, but where the people have become hardened to the preaching or else the Gospel has not been preached clearly.
6. Evangelistic Counseling. For those who have come under conviction during evangelistic preaching in a mass meeting, or during an evangelistic crusade, further encouragement by a Christian through a personal witness and counseling has often brought individuals to the place of response. This is not to be confused with personal evangelism. Its limitation is that it is always an adjunct to other types of evangelism. Yet the personal character of evangelistic counseling complements in a helpful way the less direct nature of preaching.
7. Radio and Television Programs. Radio and television potentially reaches a large number of people where there has been a barrier or defect in other methods. Generally, however, there must be considerable background for the listener to understand the message or be sympathetic enough to listen.
8. Entertainment. Motion pictures and dramatic presentations reach some who need to see the difference that Christianity might make in a person’s life. It may succeed in this when people are prepared and also receive the message adequately through one of the other types of evangelism. Means for getting a hearing for a personal testimony include novelty shows, dinner meetings, and musicals. These often seriously limit the opportunity to communicate the content of the message but may provide some kind of challenge to those who are resistant to other approaches. It is frequently a very costly way of doing what might be done effectively through other means.
9. Sunday School Evangelism. By enlisting children in Sunday Schools and Bible Schools and teaching them the Word of God it is found that many of them turn to Christ. It is reported that from 1 out of 3 to 1 out of 5 respond out of those who have been enlisted. The success has led to this being extended to adults. Sunday School evangelism potentially provides for an extended presentation of the truth and the possibility of answering individual questions in relation to it. The difficulties include finding enough qualified teachers to reach lost people in a teaching situation in which a considerable amount of the time ought to be spent training Christians in things that are of no interest to non-Christians. Furthermore, over 90% of those contacted cannot be enlisted, and 60-80% of those enlisted do not respond.
10. Evangelistic Bible Study. Many who have had little church background can be approached in such a way that they become curious concerning the Bible and Christianity. Through personal contact and friendship, they can become engaged in an inductive study of the Bible, especially if in a home or out-of-church situation. The advantage is that they can be brought to see the message from the Bible itself, if the study is directed properly toward that end. This directing of the study is probably the most difficult part of this type of effort.
11. Inquirer’s Study Groups. By designing specific programs of study for inquirers, material can be made available to a group of people having the same specific needs. The advantage is that a number of people can be reached with the possibility of answering their particular questions through the use of one teacher. The disadvantage is that such groups must be set up with those who look upon themselves as inquirers, which limits the number of people who will become involved.
It may be seen that some of the types of evangelism have serious limitations. Entertainment evangelism is especially limited in giving enough of the truth for individuals to be able to respond. Mass evangelism, radio evangelism, and some other types depend on a certain amount of background and preparation for their effectiveness. This is also true of most forms of personal evangelism. On the other hand, evangelistic literature and those types of efforts involving a series of meetings offer an opportunity for a clearer understanding of the message. Of course, it is possible to combine some of the different types, in order to gain the advantages of each. Evangelistic counseling and entertainment are clearly adjuncts, depending on other efforts to communicate the message. Literature nicely complements those efforts in which there is the opportunity for personal contact. The personal contact in personal evangelism is also supplemented well with study in small groups.
However, it is very important to examine the types of evangelism in relation to the Great Commission of Christ. Though the types of effort have various strengths and weaknesses, both separately and in combination, their potential in carrying out the Great Commission is the most important factor of all in evaluating them. After all, the Great Commission is the main task of the church, and the main reason for the church’s other functions. In any case, the church has the responsibility of evangelism and so must be concerned for the proper execution of it, which is the goal of heralding the Gospel to "every creature" (Mark 16:15).
The expression "every creature" is rightly translated "the whole creation." But this can only be understood to mean "every individual person. ‘ It must refer to human beings, because only they are created in the image of God so that true communication of the message can take place. But the expression does not mean "all peoples," as though this command could be fulfilled by communicating to some in each ethnic group. The term "creation" shows that man is here spoken of, not in his state as composed of different peoples, but in his relation to the creation as a created being. And finally, since the extent of the proclamation must be given by the term "all," it must be understood as referring to people as individual created beings. So the command must mean that the Gospel is to be heralded to every individual person.
How then, do the different types and combinations, of evangelistic efforts meet the requirement of reaching every individual person? First, it ought to be recognized that many of the efforts require much advertizing in this age. The emphasis in the appeal is almost always on things rather than on Christ, and this ought to suggest a fault from the start. It does not "herald" or announce Christ, but an evangelist, a speaker, entertainment, a church program, friendship, or something attractive to the natural man. The result in the case of church related efforts is that some may be encouraged to come into the church without being changed through the regenerating work of God. The further result is a pervasive deadness in the church — churchianity instead of Christianity. In other words, the church and Christians should be careful, by all means, to make clear to people that the object of primary concern is their relationship to Christ. Until this is clear, preaching will not communicate the Gospel as it ought.
But the need of advertizing points up something that shows the impossibility of evangelizing ‘‘every creature with most of the types of evangelistic effort. Not every person will respond to the advertizing, and until people respond to the advertizing in those efforts, they will not hear the message and so will not be evangelized. Almost every type of evangelism requires unconverted people to take some kind of initiative on their own before they have been introduced to the message. Evangelistic preaching, evangelistic crusades, and Sunday School evangelism depend on their going to a church building. Mass evangelism, Bible studies, entertainment evangelism, and study groups depend on them attending some other kind of meeting. And radio and TV evangelism depend on their deliberately choosing to listen to or watch a religious program rather than one which would more naturally appeal to them. The fact is, that only personal contact and confrontation with the message of Christ can reach people without the necessity of them making some step on their own or getting them to go to a meeting "under false pretenses." Thus, most types of effort are in themselves inherently incapable of fulfilling the Great Commission to evangelize "every creature." Until every person can be persuaded to attend a meeting or take the initiative necessary for them to hear the message these efforts will always fail.
A type of personal contact to reach people is the church visitation. This has become a very popular way to get people to go to a church service or Sunday School. By socializing with people in their homes, by being friendly, and telling them what their church offers, they can get considerable numbers. But this approach is bound to fail for the reason given above. Furthermore, think of the effect on unconverted people when the great emphasis with them is on "going to church." They cannot help but think that the important thing is church-going, regardless of how much the preaching and the Sunday School lesson is on Christ. Christians must stop pointing unconverted people to the church, and start pointing them to Christ! If there is anything that must be avoided it must be this. A visitation program of this kind can do much harm. Furthermore, there is nothing that can discourage Christians more than to spend their time socializing with non-Christians and not see any real results.
Yet it must be clear that the visitation of every person in every residence and a continual program of calling on every new resident who moves in is the only way that every person in an area can be reached. Visitation is the only procedure that can systematically take forth the message so that the church can be sure that it has reached "every creature." But rather than presenting to people friendship or the church, Christians must present to them the message of Christ. In other words, there must be a systematic program of visitation—personal-evangelism.
There will still be a challenge for the church when there has been a thorough and systematic program visitation—personal-evangelism. There will always be a certain number of people, especially today, who will not receive visitors. Some have had unfortunate experiences with people who have tried to force their faith upon them. Also, there will be people who seem never to be at home. Consequently, there will be a challenge to contact even these people, and in some cases it might take considerable sleuthing to reach them.
In showing that personal evangelism through a systematic program of visitation is the only type of evangelistic effort that can fulfill the Great Commission, it must be understood that this does not mean that all of the other methods are invalid. Personal evangelism, it has already been pointed out, has limitations of its own. For this reason, it ought to be supplement with other types. Also, Scripture demonstrates that other types have been used by God besides a personal witness to bring people to Himself. People must have the message presented to them and on the basis of conviction because of that message, be led to consider the truth further through the use of other means.