Is public evangelism a thing of the past? Is it time to bury it and move on with more innovative, technologically superior, ways of communication?
After all, people no longer come out to the old standby public crusades.
You have heard the debate. It reminds me of a store that opened in our neighbor hood about five years ago. The store had changed hands five times in a relatively short period. All the previous owners had left with the same conclusion: "This corner is not suitable for any business except a funeral home." But today it is one of the most successful commercial intersections in the city. People from near and far come there to do their shopping.
What was the "magic wand" that turned failure to success? First, the new owner recognized the failure of his predecessors and sought to discover the reason for it. He listened to what the public told him rather than what was said by the previous, failed owners who thought they knew what was best. Second, he changed his dis play windows, provided adequate parking, hired capable help to serve customers, changed some of his merchandise, and displayed it in an attractive manner. He got both the customers' eye and their wallet.
Is it possible something similar is happening to our perception of evangelism? Could it be that we need to change our windows so that those inside can see the needs of those who pass by on the streets and those passing by can see an "attractive display" of that which supplies their deepest needs? Do we need to examine whether or not the "merchandise" we offer and how we offer it meet the public's needs? And could it be that we should be less concerned for our own reputation while ridding ourselves of our prejudice against evangelism, including the unnecessary, skeptical questions we ask about new communication methods?
Consider the following before you bury evangelism:
Be fully aware of your mission. Proclaiming the last warning message to this world should be our greatest concern and reason for existence. God raised up His church for this sole purpose. The fact that we are ministers and church leaders and that we are charged with the truth for this hour makes us debtors to a world in need. We are not just another church or one more religion; we are God's people raised for a special purpose.
Do not separate evangelism from church members. To consider that evangelism is the task of the evangelist, and to separate the evangelist from the pastor or the church member is a serious error that erodes the mission and life of the local church. The evangelist may be a dynamic speaker and a great persuader; but evangelism is the task not of one but of the entire congregation.
All talents in the church should unite to carry out this great work, even as evangelism focuses on the "audience of a single soul."
Do not forget the prophecies and the prophetic urgency of our message. Preaching the gospel is important and should not be neglected. But the Adventist evangelist should have something different and unique. The prophetic message provides that uniqueness, and it has a power to attract and hold the masses. We are a people of prophecy living at the end of prophetic time. We are placed here by God to "prophesy again" (Rev. 10:11).
"The present is a time of overwhelming interest to all living. Rulers and statesmen, men who occupy positions of trust and authority, thinking men and women of all classes, have their attention fixed upon the events taking place about us. They are watching the relations that exist among the nations. They observe the intensity that is taking possession of every earthly element, and they recognize that something great and decisive is about to take place, that the world is on the verge of a stupendous crisis.... There are many who do not understand the prophecies relating to these days, and they must be enlightened. It is the duty of both watchmen and laymen to give the trumpet a certain sound."1
Do not hesitate to use mass media to reach the masses. In Peru, Global Seminar 2000 tries to do just that. The results have been astounding, and we have been able to reach three to four times the number of people reached previously.
Global Seminar 2000 in Peru is a television outreach with local and global implications. The central theme of the seminar is "Jesus Christ: His Revelations and Prophecies Regarding New World Order." The television material is divided into two basic series: one of 64 topics, each 30 minutes in length. The other, 160 topics, each 15 minutes long. Complementing these television series are 52 one-hour video cassettes, covering all the major areas of our message. These cassettes are loaned or rented to interested persons.
No matter how interesting the television programs are, they will not produce the desired results without an adequate strategy and active participation of trained lay Bible instructors. Because of this we have designed and implemented the following:
1. We have a central coordinating headquarters. Here we plan and produce the programs and establish a systematic plan to air them over selected TV stations. The center also monitors interests and develops interest lists.
2. We organize training centers for each church district within our viewing area, mobilizing as many church members as possible and motivating them to be active witnesses.
3. We form small action groups of not more than eight church members. These groups meet weekly to pray, receive instructions, study carefully the content of the seminar, and be involved in the witness strategy worked out for their particular district.
4. We divide these small action groups into pairs. Each pair is a proclamation unit. They visit the homes of persons who want to study the message in the privacy of their homes.
5. Out of these study groups, we invite the genuinely interested people to a larger group study, perhaps in the local church or in another convenient location. Here the meetings may last anywhere from a week to a month. People are invited to learn the dynamics of Christian life. Video presentations are provided several times during the day, offering convenient time slots for those who wish to visit the larger group locations.
The result is a profound revival in every church and a great harvest of souls. Evangelism, reaching the masses, is very much alive in Peru.
Translated from Spanish by June Taylor.
1. Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1946), 194,195.