Go." Evangelism was born with that simple command from the risen Jesus. Our task is well defined: mission outreach. Our territory is well laid out: the local neighborhood to the world at large. Our message is plain: Jesus. And the needed means are made available: "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matt. 28:20).*
Since Jesus mandated that command, evangelism has become the watchword of every growing, concerned community of faith. No congregation, no minister, no member can afford to ignore the call of evangelism and yet retain the zeal and fervor of the Christian calling. "Do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (2 Tim. 4:5), wrote the apostle Paul to the young pastor Timothy, affirming that the work of the evangelist is inseparable from gospel ministry.
The question often asked is How can I be a successful evangelist? From my experience, let me share seven secrets of successful evangelism.
1. Biblical theology
Successful evangelism is rooted in a healthy biblical theology. God is passionate in His desire to save. No matter how much we may psych ourselves for evangelism, unless our understanding is rooted in the reality of God's unquenchable desire to save, His ability to save, and His purpose to employ us in the saving mission, we run the risk of leaving unused many of the vast resources God has provided to His people.
A healthy biblical theology will guide the pastor/evangelist to a complete dependence on God for the mysterious work of conversion that He alone can accomplish. Such a theology will also reveal the need for an approach that involves and incorporates the commitment of the church membership in the entire process. The call of the 12, the 70, and the seven deacons are insightful testimonies of a healthy biblical theology. Even our Lord cultivated and used the gifts of those around Him to accomplish His purposes.
Successful evangelism is well with in the reach of every member, for we have all been called out of darkness into God's marvelous light to be ambassadors, envoys of God's steadfast love, and the eternal redemption that is in Christ. Paul challenges each member of the body of Christ to "fulfill your ministry." Reaching out to others in the name of Christ is simply the mission of each member.
The timeless truths that reveal God's great love for us can be seen on the cross of Calvary. God's saving power is demonstrated in the empty tomb from which our Saviour rose. The love and power that enable us to engage in evangelism come to us directly from the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary. There is only One who ever lives to make intercession for the world, and who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. It is from this universal command center that Christ dispenses power to break the grip of the adversary, assuring the sinner of His unwavering love and His desire and ability to save to the uttermost all who will respond to His call to come to Him.
Successful evangelism is a consciousness. After the resurrection of Jesus, several themes emerged in the New Testament community: They saw the authority for evangelism rooted in Christ (Matt. 28:18); the purpose for evangelism in making disciples (verse 19); the method of evangelism as volunteerism (verse 19); the power for evangelism in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8); the message of evangelism as redemption in Christ Jesus (Luke 24:46, 47); the geographical dimensions of evangelism as cities, states, and the countries of the globe (Acts 1:8); and the duration of evangelism as until the end of the age (Matt. 28:20).
The impact of these themes on the consciousness of the apostles as recorded in Acts is striking. Their chief preoccupation was evangelism, and it resulted from the conviction that "we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20). For them evangelism was not a program but a way of life. For them each day was an opportunity to witness to the power of the crucified, risen, and soon-coming Lord. The result of the fulfillment of Christ's promise of the Holy Spirit and His commission to "go" was the birth among them of an irrepressible consciousness that constrained them to evangelize.
Because evangelism is God-ordained and God-inspired, it must be understood as a successful enterprise in and of itself. God has not left evangelism to chance. It works and is guaranteed to be successful when engaged in faithfully.
3. Involvement of laity
Successful evangelism is lay-centered. Evangelism can be defined as the person-to-person outreach of believers to nonbelievers with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the act of leading those who do not believe to repentance and to acceptance of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. All too common is the notion that this work belongs to the pastor alone. The danger is greater when the pastor believes it. This kind of thinking tends to build barriers. It creates a false dichotomy between laity and clergy. We are all the people (laos, from which derives "laity") of God, exercising the gifts given by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of building up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12). Every convert becomes an extension in the chain of evangelism (2 Cor. 5:17-19). As ambassadors we are called to represent Christ to the world through our particular gifts.
The fact that the pastor is called to lead does not relegate the work of evangelism exclusively to him or her. The consistent success of the South American and Inter-American divisions and the Philippines in this regard ought to underscore the point. The training of the laos (people) motivating, mobilizing, and managing is the key that unlocks the evangelistic prowess and potential of any church.
4. Three M's
Successful evangelism utilizes certain key elements. Our modern methods differ in some respects from the methods used in the first century. We have no evidence that the early evangelists pitched tents, conducted seminars, utilized sequence evangelism, or had any particular technique to reach the secular mind. Successful evangelistic methodology in any age consists of the ability to provide vision and leadership to the church in the task of evangelism. Such a leadership will motivate, mobilize, and manage every resource of the church to achieve its soul-winning objective.
Motivation for evangelism is generated through experiencing the gospel, encountering the Spirit, praying, revisiting the testing truths, having premeeting rallies, training so that confidence is generated, and cultivating an atmosphere of unity and expectancy.
Mobilization is achieved by planning, organizing, and staffing that includes recruiting, interviewing, and placing members according to their gifts, skills, and interests.
Management involves clarifying priorities, setting up timetables, keeping a positive perspective, and implementing a process of evaluation for the purpose of accountability.
5. An ongoing process
Successful evangelism is not seasonal. Nowhere in Scripture is there even a hint that evangelism should be a seasonal endeavor. On the contrary, Acts 2:47 indicates that accessions to the truth occurred daily. As the church heads toward the twenty-first century, it must, if it is to remain true to the Great Commission, rescue evangelism from the realm of the "occasional" and anchor it where it belongs: in the down-to-earth, ongoing, daily life of the congregation. The very nature of the church dictates that evangelism is not something that may be turned on and off. It is a year-round way of life mandated by God to invite "whosoever will" to come into God's kingdom.
Even when a church makes plans for public evangelism, those plans should reflect a process that encompasses the entire year. Three basic phases of public evangelism, when planned and executed, can help to climatize a church to evangelism as an ongoing enterprise.
Pre-evangelism is the preparatory stage in which the emphasis is on training, teaching, motivating, mobilizing, and preparing the members spiritually.
The public meetings are the engagement stage in which the battle for souls takes place as God's Word is presented.
Post-evangelism is the stage during which the back door is effectively closed. It is the phase when bonding, nurture, and grounding take place through spiritual guardianship and mentorship.
This last critical phase should be seen as an ongoing process in which church members shepherd their new believing friends.
6. Faithfulness to the task
Successful evangelism is measured by faithfulness to the task. If faithfulness is measured by numbers, then Noah would probably be considered a failure. We learn from the experience of Noah that faithful evangelism has to do with proclaiming God's message:
- as a witness or testimony even to those who do not accept it;
- with the full realization that sometimes those who embrace the truth may come from our own household; and
- in simple obedience to His command.
Here are a few questions that can help us to evaluate our faithfulness to the task:
Did I prepare myself faithfully for the task through fasting and praying for the church and for those who will be attending the meetings? Did I pray for the anointing of the Holy Spirit, confessing and forsaking known sin in my life and searching God's Word? Did I prepare my church members faithfully by recruiting, equipping, training, and motivating them? Were the evangelism finances expended with the utmost care and faithful stewardship? Did I ask for the best from those under my super vision? Did I stand faithfully against my detractors and critics, searching for God's guidance at every step?
If we have been faithful in the above and we have baptized only one, we still have been as faithful as if we had baptized 1,001.
7. Great results
Successful evangelism always yields great results for both the churched and the unchurched. Wherever successful (faithful) evangelism is done, revival and renewal result. The members become grounded. The great wonders of Christ and the claims of truth are again rehearsed before them, bringing about deeper conviction and a reformation in the personal life.
We should not become discouraged when, having been faithful, we fall short of our own expectations. Along with this, some who may be initially reluctant to embrace the truth presented may well be convicted at some later point. The parable of the seed falling in different kinds of soil puts things in-perspective for us. Inevitably, the word that we proclaim or teach falls, like the sower's seed, on a variety of surfaces. That is why successful evangelism cannot be linked exclusively to numbers. A great part of the success is that we have simply delivered the message faithfully. Even when it comes to closing the back door, there are variables that we cannot account for. Our task is especially to care for those who are represented by the good ground, and to continue to pursue the others in the hope that the ground of their hearts will soon be receptive to the seed.
Successful evangelism is well within the reach of every pastor. Paul's admonition to young Timothy to do the work of an evangelist is framed in a context of a call to faithfulness, consistency, and longsuffering. The evangelist who has these qualities can only succeed.
* Scripture passages in this article are from the Revised Standard Version.