Many responsible Christian leaders today are becoming concerned about the relative growth of our churches. The revival of religious interest that followed World War II seems to be subsiding. Additions on profession of faith have been declining for years. The trend of waning church loyalty and decreased membership that has long been evident in Europe seems to be spreading to America.
Is the decline of the Church inevitable? Are we truly entering a post-Christian period? Is the Christian Church really unable to reach an affluent, sophisticated, and materialistic society? Has the scientism of the twentieth century made revealed Christianity incompatible with modern man? I think not.
The first requirement of any church that desires effective evangelism is that it be a community of faith. If the Church is simply the expression of the prevailing culture, it has little to offer a lost world. If it is only a mildly respectable religious club that gives its blessing to its pagan members without making any great demands, it will never attract sinful humanity. The Church must be a fellowship of believers who worship and serve the risen Christ, a communion of committed, disciplined souls who are crusading for Christ and witnessing to his saving grace and power.
Effective evangelism must begin with the Church. There must be renewal within before we can effectively witness to the world. That which will renew will evangelize. The path toward renewal is the way to effective evangelism.
A prerequisite for spiritual revival is the proclamation of a mighty Saviour. We shall never reach a lost world with a Noble Example. We shall never attract a wayward race with a Master Teacher. Nor will men be won to an existential faith that is not firmly rooted in the reality of history. Man needs a Saviour. In Jesus Christ we find God. "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." He was "God . . . manifest in the flesh."
The world does not need a better philosophy; it needs a Saviour. It does not need a new morality; it needs new life. It does not need reformation; it needs regeneration in Christ. Too often the Church has offered humanistic philosophy to lost sinners. This is giving stones when men ask for bread. We have preached morality and have not offered forgiveness and grace.
It has been noted that the modern Church is not a singing church. No great hymns are being written. You do not sing about a philosophy, and you do not rejoice in a cold morality. We sing about a Person, a Saviour, the Son of God, the Lord Jesus.
Jesus said, "And I. if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." In the Cross of Christ there is an attraction that will bring devotion in the Church, that will bring sinners to repentance and faith. In the Cross we see the love of God. In the Cross we see the awful penalty of sin. In the Cross we see a Saviour dying for us. Let us preach the Christ of the Cross and the empty tomb, and we shall see the world kneel at the feet of Jesus. ". . . 'every knee shall bow' . . . 'every tongue shall confess' that Jesus Christ is the Lord. . . ."
If we are to have effective evangelism we must believe in the saving power of the Gospel. The Church is not for nice people but for sinners saved by grace. There is no sin so great, no heart so hard, no person fallen so low, but that Jesus Christ can forgive and transform him and make him whole. Perhaps the Church has lost faith in the changing and redeeming power of the Saviour. Alcoholics can be made sober, prostitutes made pure, materialists made spiritual-minded, sick personalities made well; broken homes can be restored, and wrecked lives can have a new beginning in Christ. Our faith to obtain life-changing power must pass from the psychiatrist's couch to the altar of prayer.
Let us offer to the world the mighty Saviour. In so doing we shall see the beginning of renewal in the Church and salvation for the lost.
Another requirement for effective evangelism is authority. Protestantism in the mid-twentieth century has not lacked creative and imaginative programs. The Church now has better prepared leadership than at any other time in its history. It has the finest equipment and the most beautiful and comfortable buildings it has ever had. Yet with all these advantages we are failing to give an effective witness to a lost world.
The great need of our day is not methods but message. We have the methods, but in some places it seems we have lost the message. "If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?" When the Church simply echoes contemporary philosophy, it never attracts a needy world. When it is confused about the person of Christ, who will turn to Him for salvation? When its theology reflects a pagan culture, who will be convicted of his sins?
To be effective the Church must have a sure message. It must have an authority greater than the finite mind of the latest theologian. It must have a message that is changeless and timeless. In our desire to be relevant we must realize that the Christ of the Scriptures is always relevant. We must be able to say, "Thus saith the Lord," and "I know in whom I believe."
The authority for evangelism is the Bible, the written Word of God. The message of evangelism is the message of the Scriptures. We shall reach a frustrated, lost world more effectively when we declare without apology the gospel message contained in the Bible.
There is at least one other requirement for effective evangelism. It is a burdened, concerned heart. We may have a great theology but a cold heart. We may be orthodox but strangely lacking in love. We may be so concerned with dotting every theological i that we lose sight of the purpose of theology. We may become too obsessed with our particular view of the sacraments to offer Christ in a winsome and wholesome manner. We may ride our theological hobbyhorses while the world goes to hell.
Some may become so concerned with proper liturgical worship that they fail to proclaim the living Christ to the lost sinner who knows nothing of proper liturgy and could not care less. It is possible to become so involved in the administration of a church—promoting a program, raising a budget, organizing committees—that we forget the purpose of the church. Regardless of what else a church may be doing, if it is not winning souls to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, it has failed in its mission.
The key to effective evangelism is the warm-hearted, Spirit-filled messenger with a vital concern for the souls of men. God's