Keys to City Evangelism

The training of the church necessitates an approach that utilizes the talents of each church member. Gospel-medical evangelism is divinely designed to achieve this goal.

Mark Finley is an evangelist in the Southern New England Conference.


THE GREATEST challenge to evangelism is the unwarned cities. In the past century a shift has taken place in the center of the United States population. Before 1870 most Americans lived in rural areas, but with the dawn of the industrial revolution, thousands mi grated to the cities. These giant megalopolises present a complex and formidable challenge for evangelism. How will the 10 million plus inhabitants of New York City, or the more than 3 mil lion in Chicago, or the 2 million in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Detroit be warned? Seventh-day Adventists have the unique and distinctive responsibility of not simply making accessions to the church but of heralding the three angels' messages to every man.

The challenge of the cities is not a new challenge. When God led Israel out of Egypt, they too faced the challenge of conquering the cities before entering into the Promised Land. The great walled cities were inhabited by unregenerate pagans. From all appearances Israel's defeat appeared certain. Large and well-trained armies prepared to resist their approach. Nevertheless, neither mighty giants, walled cities, armed hosts, or rocky fortresses could stand before the Captain of the Lord's host. One city after another fell before the armies of Israel. Gilead, Bashan, and Jericho were conquered.

The book Patriarchs and Prophets strikingly states, "This experience [conquest of the cities] has a lesson for us. The mighty God of Israel is our God. In Him we may trust, and if we obey His requirements He will work for us in as signal a manner as He did for His ancient people." —Page 437.

Obedience to God's instructions is the key to working the cities. Writing about evangelizing New York City in 1901, Ellen White admonished, "Our manner of working must be after God's order. The work that is done for God in our large cities must not be according to man's devisings." —Evangelism, p. 385. A careful study of the Spirit of Prophecy writings reveals five key principles in effectively working the cities. These principles may be applied in a variety of ways through workers with varying talents and abilities. They are the undergirding structure of a finished work in the great metropolitan areas. Beautiful in their simplicity yet profound in their implications they are God's smooth stones to slay the giants that stand be fore us.

1. A Revived Church

Repeatedly Ellen White calls for revival and reformation as a prerequisite for successful evangelism. We must face the fact that although God is blessing the efforts of our able evangelists, too often the condition of the church limits His power. A familiar statement bears this out: "The Lord does not now work to bring many souls into the truth, because of the church members who have never been converted and those who were once converted but who have backslidden." —Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 371.

When the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples at Pentecost in response to earnest prayer, heartfelt confession, genuine repentance, and a sincere desire to witness, three thousand souls were baptized in a day. A genuine church revival preceded their evangelistic effort. Every pastor contemplating public evangelism must raise this question weeks before the meetings, "Has my ministry led my church into a spiritual revival and a corresponding reformation? Can God safely bring new members into this church?" Likewise, every evangelist must query, "Have I spent enough time with the church and pastor in initiating, sustaining, and fostering church revival?"

2. A Trained Church

There are basically two approaches that guide in the church's relationship to public evangelistic meetings. The first is our traditional approach. The local church members are expected to help the meetings by attending, supporting financially, and, if possible, bringing their friends. The members feel that they are helping the evangelist. The second approach, although it includes all of the elements of the first, goes far beyond. Weeks before the meetings begin the church is organized and trained for service. Witnessing bands are formed. Instructional classes held. The church is thus mobilized for service.

The responsibility for a successful series is placed squarely upon the shoulders of the local church. The prophet writes, "The work of God in this earth can never be finished until the men and women comprising our church member ship rally to the work and unite their efforts with those of ministers and church officers." —Ibid., vol. 9, p. 117. The work will never be finished until the church is organized, trained, and led into service.

The training of the church necessitates an approach which utilizes the talents of each church member. Gospel-medical evangelism is divinely designed to achieve this goal.

3. Gospel-Medical Evangelism

There are three distinct advantages of gospel-medical evangelism. First of all, it utilizes a variety of church members. The very nature of the program (Five-Day Plans, Wa-Rite weight-control programs, cooking schools, Heartbeat, Home-Help, fitness, testing, et cetera) calls for more than simply the involvement of the pastor or evangelist. Since "strength ... is best gained by aggressive service" (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 105), gospel-medical evangelism leads not only to involvement but also to revival.

Second, gospel-medical evangelism is intensely practical in its thrust and deals with life-style. Thus it reaches many who would not otherwise be interested in a straight-on religious approach.

Third, since the physical nature of man is intimately related to his spiritual nature, gospel-medical evangelism prepares the mind for the reception of divine truth. Evangelism, page 513, puts it this way, "Nothing will open doors for the truth like evangelistic medical missionary work." Medical Ministry, pages 26, 27, adds, "Successful evangelistic work can be done in connection with medical missionary work. It is as these lines of work are united that we may expect to gather the most precious fruit for the Lord."

Each Seventh-day Adventist church, pulsating with the power of the Holy Ghost, surcharged with fire from heaven, is to be a trained, medical-missionary unit to reach out to the lost in the community. What a privilege! Yet what a challenge! How can it be done?

4. A Multifaceted Team Approach

One of the most striking presentations on city evangelism ever given by the Lord, came during the night of February 27, 1910. Writing of this vision the prophet stated, "I was plainly instructed that there should be a decided change from past methods of working. For months the situation has been impressed on my mind, and I urge that companies be organized and diligently trained to labor in our important cities." —Manuscript 21, 1910. The call for trained companies to work the major metropolitan areas came repeatedly.

As Jesus trained a gospel-medical missionary team (His twelve disciples) to work with the church (the seventy) to reach the world, so an evangelist working with a company of workers is to train the church to reach the community. Probably one of the most successful experiments in team evangelism in this denomination is Elder S. N. Haskell's work in New York City from 1899 to 1901. Elder Haskell and his wife rented an apartment in a strategic location and enlisted a group of Bible workers, nurses, colporteurs, and gospel students who formed a nucleus for the work in New York City. In a very short period of time (two years plus) Elder Haskell and his workers raised up four churches. Throughout his ministry from Portland, Maine, to San Francisco, Haskell was a promoter of team evangelism.

Seventh-day Adventist evangelists today are faced with some challenging questions. "How can I develop a self-supporting gospel-medical missionary company to work the cities?" Since the prophet calls for the "organization of companies," "How can I carry out this appeal in my work?" "Where can I find Bible workers, colporteurs, nurses, and dedicated youth who will form such a company?"

5. A Country Base

The last great principle in working the cities is a call for these gospel-medical companies to work the cities from a country base. "We are to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves in our efforts to secure country properties at a low figure, and from these outposts to work the cities." —Evangelism, p. 77.

After presenting these basic principles the logical question is raised, can they be carried out? We are convinced that all God's "biddings are enablings" and that everything He asks us to do He gives us power to do. A year and a half ago, I received a call from the Southern New England Conference to do city evangelistic work. After first discovering the five keys mentioned above we developed the following plan:

Our program in Southern New Eng land consists of a three-month evangelistic thrust in each area, with an additional period for follow-up. As we arrive in a district we begin soul-winning classes almost immediately. These classes present basic principles of witnessing and are carefully designed to produce a spiritual renewal in the hearts and minds of the church members as well as equip them to witness.

Throughout the classes individuality is emphasized, and each church member is encouraged to understand that God has given him unique talents to reach someone else. He has the key to some heart.

For the field work we divide the church into witnessing bands, with a local lay leader in charge of territory and one of our team members in charge of instructing the band in the utilization of a door-to-door health and Bible survey. The survey deals with questions people are asking today on the occult, the home, money, and health. In each church that we have used this approach, we have had baptisms as a result.

After two weeks of intensive soul-winning classes and field work the majority of our team attempts to develop a solid list of Bible-study interests and at the same time work closely with the members of their band in Bible work. We have discovered that no one method is a panacea for reaching a city. It takes a multifaceted approach, utilizing men and women of varying talents in a variety of programs. To organize a church and provide a variety of witnessing opportunities takes a trained team. The evangelistic company provides such a team.

Although we encourage each church member to participate, there are some who do not feel comfortable in the door-to-door survey work. We encourage these to help us in some facet of medical missionary work. In our Five-Day Plans and nutrition classes we need a solid core of helpers. Our basic philosophy is "Everyone cannot do everything, but everyone can do something."

Our health approach might begin with radio and TV interviews or news paper articles. It may feature booths in large malls on smoking and health, or lectures to civic groups or in local schools. After this, we follow with a Five-Day Plan and nutrition class. This past year we held nine Five-Day Plans and seven nutrition classes. More than 550 persons attended our Five-Day Plans, and more than 600 attended our nutrition classes. All of the health programs are conducted under the auspices of the Radiant Living Seminar. This unified approach, consolidating all of our programs under one heading, prepares the community to at tend the health and Bible lecture series conducted under the same heading. Health evangelism not only breaks down prejudice in the news media and is a valuable public relations tool but it also reaches scores who are not attracted to a conventional religious approach.

Throughout the year we have had from six to ten people on our team. The conference provides a small food and gas allowance and my wife and I take the full responsibility for food and lodging. Each young person donates his time for a year. Some stay longer. Both Brad and Tony are in their second year with our team. We usually work in the city five days a week and spend two days at our country home in Sterling, Massachusetts. This gives our youth one day to rest and work around the home and another day to earn money for personal expenses. It is our conviction that there are scores of youth who are willing to donate at least a year of their time to evangelism.

Our country home is centrally situated in the conference on two and one-half acres of land. It provides a retreat from the exhausting labor in the city and serves as a country outpost.

After our initial six-week thrust of training classes, health outreach pro grams and personal work, we begin the Radiant Living Seminar Lecture Series. This six-week series begins each evening at seven-fifteen with a nutrition demonstration, health film or talk, or a presentation on the family. This introductory feature is followed by a short song service, and then a full-scale prophetic Bible lecture. Our Bible lecture series is based on Revelation 14: 6-12 and presents twenty-two messages focusing on the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation. In a year and one-half more than 125 were baptized. We are thrilled with the prospects of gospel-medical evangelism. We believe that it is the wave of the future in Adventist evangelism. Truly medical-missionary team evangelism is Heaven ordained.

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Mark Finley is an evangelist in the Southern New England Conference.

February 1977

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