LARGE-CITY competition for people's time and interest is feverish and devastating. Saying it bluntly, no evangelistic personality has the same drawing power, say in New York City, that he would have in a smaller city. Expert publicity notwithstanding, an evangelistic campaign in a metropolitan area tends to get swallowed up by a maze of secular events.
Under the circumstances, what do we do? Shall we retreat and abandon the big cities because of their inherent complexities and challenges?
The courage and determination with which we tackle urban evangelism may well determine the future growth of the church. By 1980 it is estimated that the great majority of people will be living in great strip cities. A church that effectively relates its evangelistic program to the metropolitan area will not only reach the masses with its message but will keep growing.
Our Lord spent much time in the cities of His day. In particular, He loved Jerusalem. The Scripture records that He wept twice, once over the death of Lazarus and once over the city He loved.
Paul also based his evangelistic strategy on the key cities of his day. Like a wise general, he developed Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, and other cities as gospel strongholds from which to expand his operations.
He also possessed a passion to preach the message of the cross in Rome—the axis of the empire. Finally succeeding, he wrote from Rome: "All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar's household" (Phil. 4:22).
Here is metropolitan evangelism at its best. Not only did Paul plant the banner of Christ in the chief city of the realm but also in the chief household in that city.
In addition to the foregoing examples, Ellen G. White has much to say about our responsibility to the large cities (Evangelism, pp. 25-44, 384-406). Anyone reading these startling messages obtains a clear picture of what God would have us do in the large cities. Surely God's purpose is any thing but a mass exodus of the church to suburbia.
Accordingly, whenever we consider metropolitan evangelism, three factors stand out in bold relief. First of all, any degree of success in a large-city campaign calls for proportionately more power of the Holy Spirit, more united prayer, more house-to-house witnessing by a faithful laity, more expressed compassion for the poor, and more interest in the problems facing the lonely apartment-house dweller and the hard-core ghetto resident. Briefly, this means a genuine and sustained Christian interest in the individual long before the campaign opens.
Second, more time needs to be spent in planning, praying, and preparing for the large-city campaign than in actually con ducting the campaign. Incidentally, a metropolitan campaign does not stop when the evangelist stops preaching. The end of the preaching campaign is the beginning of a well-planned and effective follow-up which in measuring the campaign's success is as decisive as the preparation.
Finally, a large-city evangelistic campaign calls for all the resources that Heaven and the church can provide. We certainly need to take God and His counsel, along with every church activity, into account at every stage of planning and execution. In a large city as in no other place no man stands alone. It is in the big-city evangelistic campaign that we become keenly aware that "the battle is not your's, but God's."
Without changing its Biblical content and objective, large-city evangelism could capitalize on legitimate public concerns. As no other generation, this generation is concerned for its youth. Any organization that shares this burden for the youth of today immediately attracts the attention of the public. More often than not, this type of attention surmounts the maze of secular activity that ordinarily swallows up the customary evangelistic publicity.
Why not use the church's carefully organized expressions of concern for preteens and teenagers in a long-range preparation for urban evangelism?
Where possible, Vacation Bible Schools, summer camps, Five-Day Stop Smoking clinics, and nursing classes could be supplemented by remedial classes for disadvantaged children, industrial classes for boys, homemaking classes for girls, and counseling clinics for parents and young adults concerned over their children's welfare.
Manifestly, this type of program calls for the coordinated activity of the church's educational, medical, and publishing personnel in the area. Could it be possible that such an involvement by a religious community would escape the attention of the business, social, and religious leaders in the city?
Any religious program which makes for responsible citizenry, and which enhances respect for law and human dignity, will compel the attention of civic leaders. Unbeknown to us, men and women in high positions often appraise and investigate the gospel message upon witnessing our concern for the less fortunate.
While the foregoing demonstration of practical Christianity is in progress, literature evangelists could engage in a massive saturation of the area with suitable gospel literature, augmented by laymen using the Bible in the Hand plan. These dedicated workers call on more homes and pray with more people than any other group of workers among us. Their involvement in city evangelism is a must.
Therefore, when and if the gospel is pro claimed against such a background, we can be fairly certain that the message will come through loud and clear to the general public. Possibly for the first time they will not only hear but see the everlasting gospel in practice.
What is holding us up?
Basically our city congregations lack the evangelistic dynamic and they need to re cover confidence in their Lord, God's mes sage for this time, and in themselves. In other words, the churches need a revival and awakening. Under the influence of stirring Bible preaching and the leading of the Holy Spirit, our city churches (and all others for that matter) need to be prepared, trained, and empowered before they can effectively involve themselves with those who need their help.
In view of this, union and local conferences may need survey commissions to properly redefine their city evangelistic mission and objectives. They may find it necessary to reshape their evangelistic structure around the needs of people in the cities, so that the verbal evangelistic witness will rest on a solid base of aggressive missionary action.
Involvement and not entanglement should be the motto of city churches. Each conference committee and church board should constantly seek for the best method of presenting a balanced diet of God's love to the largest number in an urban area. Evangelism in a large city is a year-round program.
Should a given method fail, the conference and church leaders should not hesitate to devise another method of communicating the gospel. In some urban areas a harvest has been reaped by working for those of foreign extraction. Experience proves that minority groups respond readily to Christian kindness and the gospel appeal. Therefore, rather than working over the same stony ground, why not sow the gospel seed in more fertile soil?
But whatever method is used, let it convey the impression that this preacher and his church are concerned about the individual, both before and after he enters the church. All of us need to keep in mind that it is only when love is felt that the message is heard.