Rediscovering public evangelism

The Great Commission of Matthew 28 has led pastors and churches around the world to designate 2009 as the Year of Evangelism throughout the world.

Bernadine Delafield is the NET coordinator for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America.
Gary Gibbs is the vice president for Hope Channel.

Public evangelism is dead!” It was a board meeting long to be remembered, or in this instance, hard to be forgotten. Several of our members wanted to reach out to the community through a public evangelistic meeting. But instead of finding enthusiastic support, they were served a smorgasbord of objections.

“It doesn’t work.”

“The new converts won’t stay in the church.”

“We’ve tried it before, and no one came.”

“It’s too expensive.”

“We’re too busy.”

“It’s not a good time to hold meetings.”

When it comes to public evangelism, you don’t have to go far to find an objection to it. There are as many reasons against holding meetings as there are demons who object to evangelism.

However, if you are looking for a reason to hold a meeting, all you need is to pick up a Bible: “ ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’.” (Matt. 28:19, NKJV). Certainly one way to fulfill this commission comes through public evangelism.

Jesus’ command to give the gospel to lost men and women has led pastors and churches around the world to shrug off the naysayers and boldly designate 2009 as the Year of Evangelism throughout the world. In North America, for example, the theme for the year is Share the Hope. The goal includes every pastor and church holding two evangelistic meetings in 2009 and thereby sharing the hope we have in Jesus with their communities.

Evangelism—a lifestyle

Someone could rightly argue, “Every year is a year of evangelism.” Vibrant Christians are always actively engaged in sharing their faith, whether through personal witnessing, helping others, giving Bible studies, or holding public meetings. Evangelism, in the real sense of the word, progresses to a lifestyle—an inner love for Jesus and lost souls, which motivates the believer to find ways to help the lost come to Jesus.

Nevertheless, many Christians who sincerely love Jesus have not gotten enthusiastic about evangelism. They still lose their courage at the suggestion that their church hold meetings—some of them for good cause. While the negative experiences are few, they are often remembered the longest.

Such was the case in Pastor Shane Anderson’s church on the campus of Shenandoah Valley Academy in New Market, Virginia. While the board was very supportive, other members openly questioned the idea of public meetings when he presented the concept to the church at large. According to some members, public evangelism had not worked well in the past. Consequently, the community had not been invited to a full-message series in over 20 years.

“Most of the members, while very positive about Adventism and anxious to share their faith, had pretty much written off public evangelism,” said Anderson.

“This is the Year of Evangelism,” he later shared with the members. “Every church in North America is being encouraged to hold two meetings, and it’s great that we can participate.”

Pastor Anderson volunteered to conduct the meetings himself. It was a bold move—as his public evangelism experience was quite limited. The church approved the meetings and preparations were made. Anderson gathered evangelistic sermons and graphics from experienced evangelists Jac Colon and Bill McClendon, mailed handbills, and then anxiously waited, along with the members, to see if anyone would attend from their tiny community.

The New Market Seventh-day Adventist Church should have seen success coming. They were doing the right things to prepare. For more than two years, they had built relationships in the community through their nine adventure groups. These small groups focused on activities that were interesting and easy for nonmembers to join. Each adventure group had a specialty that attracted people with similar interests. They included quilting, women’s exercise, basketball, card making, and radiocontrolled airplanes.

Prayer, the all-important spiritual component, was generally offered at every gathering. The goal included creating lasting relationships so that when the time was right, friends would invite friends to a series of meetings.

And that is exactly what they experienced during their first evangelistic series in 20 years. Anderson describes the event: “Over 170 guests showed up during the course of the meetings, and about 50 of them attended all but one or two nights. This was a very encouraging response for our church. Morale is higher than it has been in years!”

Following the 16-night series, there have been regular baptisms. Nine have joined the church so far, while others are studying and preparing for that special day. Anderson expects that up to 20 more will make a decision for the Lord. He’s praying that those who weren’t able to make the commitment will be ready at the end of his next series.

Today, not only have the members been convinced that public evangelism can and does work, but Pastor Anderson has also caught a new vision for evangelism. He and his church are planning to hold two additional Share the Hope evangelistic meetings this year. By the end of 2009, Anderson will have held three meetings.

Where does he get the energy and focus? Anderson says it comes from the Holy Spirit and from seeing the miracles God performs in the lives of those who attend.

One couple, who had known of Adventism in the distant past but had never become members, commented that they appreciated the “firmness” of truth. They referred to the times in which we live when it is hard to count on anything. Although the economy appears very shaky and uncertain, they remain at peace, happy in the hope found in the promises of Scripture.

“The 170 guests exhibited a very positive feeling towards the messages, even when they didn’t agree with everything I said,” commented the pastor. “They were genuinely pleased to be there. Many of them mentioned that the high level of Bible study was foreign to them, but very invigorating.”

Value of pastor/ evangelist mentors

For pastors who have never held public meetings, to launch out on their own can be a bit daunting. Where do I get sermon material? What about graphics? Which handbill advertising works best? How can I get more people to attend? What are the keys to success, and how do I avoid failure? These and a multitude of other questions and concerns rise up to meet the pastor and lay person who vows to conduct a meeting.

Anderson found that it helped to have an evangelism mentor. He found two of them in the persons of Jac Colon and Bill McClendon.

They shared numerous resources and insights that helped Anderson succeed.

Every pastor or lay person can follow this model in the 2009 Year of Evangelism. Wherever you live in the world, there are successful evangelists and effective pastor-evangelists that will be happy to coach you through the process of holding Spirit-filled meetings.

Also, a variety of resources provided by evangelistic ministries can be found on Hope Channel that recently launched a special Web site dedicated to evangelism training. Visitors to www.HopeTV.net will discover more than 200 evangelism training videos for free online viewing. The Web site covers every aspect of evangelism—including personal relationship building, how to give Bible studies, answering objections, and how to hold successful meetings.

This resource is part of Hope Channel’s new Hope NET ministry. Adventists around the world are very familiar with the concept of NET evangelistic meetings. Up until now, the term NET has not been utilized as an acronym. This changed when Hope Channel went searching for a name for their new ministry.

Hope Channel is the official broadcast for the Adventist Church’s satellite NET evangelistic meetings. The leadership of Hope Channel felt that more pre-meeting training was needed for pastors and members to be successful in evangelism, and the idea of creating the Network for Evangelism Training—NET—surfaced.

Through Hope NET, experienced evangelists, pastors, and lay people network together to share their secrets of evangelism success through video training classes and forums. Many of the videos have been recorded by Hope Channel and others have been contributed by a variety of church departments, supporting ministries, and individuals.

“Hope NET comprises an evangelism college online that anyone can access whenever they need it,” says Mark Finley, a vice president for the world Adventist Church. Even nontraditional evangelism approaches to non-Christian religions are taught by some of the leading experts of the church.

Hope Channel also provides another coaching opportunity for those who want to hold their own evangelistic meetings. Hope Channel hosts regular evangelism coaching seminars called “Share the Hope Together.” People around the world can follow Hope NET’s coaching conference online. Schedules and a link to the live coaching sessions can be found at www.SharetheHope2009.com and www.HopeTV.net.

During these monthly “Share the Hope Together” seminars, Gary Gibbs hosts a variety of evangelists to discuss the important items that need to be accomplished that month in preparation for an upcoming series. Experienced evangelists such as Mark Finley, C. D. Brooks, and James Cress present insights that have helped them experience God’s blessing on their ministries.

Viewers may participate in the live programs by emailing their questions before and during the program. Their questions are then answered by the guest hosts on the air.

A very special date for the Year of Evangelism in North America is September 11, 2009. This date has been chosen to start fall evangelistic meetings all across the division. The “Share the Hope Together” programs will help pastors prepare for a fall series. In addition to this, a special series of “Share the Hope Together” weekly coaching sessions will begin on Monday, September 14, and continue every Monday for four weeks. These live weekly “workers’ meetings” will discuss what pastors and lay leaders should be doing that week during their evangelistic meetings.

The first week’s “Share the Hope Together” program will look at how to build and maintain your audience. The second and third weeks will explore how to present testing truths and help people make decisions for Jesus. The fourth week will delve into helping people commit their lives to Christ in baptism and church membership. Each program will invite live interaction with the audience so that their questions and comments can be addressed.

A large number of additional evangelism resources are available at www.SharetheHope2009.com. Archives of past “Share the Hope” broadcasts are also available to view or for listening, with a forum posted for people to discuss their experiences, share resources, and ask questions.

During this Year of Evangelism, God’s people will work together to share the hope we have in Jesus Christ. Are there reasons not to do evangelism? Sure. Dozens of them. But we only need one reason to do evangelism. And that reason is Jesus. In the light of the Cross, no reason exists to sit on the sidelines during the Year of Evangelism.

We might harbor fears of failure. Our schedules may be overloaded. Shane Anderson knows these feelings well, but when asked what advice he might extend to others who have been hesitant about holding an evangelistic meeting, Anderson said this: “Just do it. Commit to hold meetings. Take advantage of every evangelism training resource available. And most important, seek the infilling of the Holy Spirit to use you to lead the lost safely home to Jesus. God will bless your humble efforts, just like He did mine.”


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Bernadine Delafield is the NET coordinator for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America.
Gary Gibbs is the vice president for Hope Channel.

June 2009

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