The secret of success is to find a need and fill it, to find a hurt and heal it, to find somebody with a problem and offer to help solve it.”1 This well-known phrase, applied to many aspects of life, including business, may also be applied to evangelism. Jesus lived that principle, saying, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10, NKJV). He did for us what we could not do for ourselves.
What do people desire? What are their basic needs, regardless of culture, geography, age, and education? I believe there are four: guidance, practical help, friendship, and God. And that is what we as a church should offer people. They will respond to such an approach because it will meet basic human longings. To use a sports analogy, we can understand the four needs as the four bases on a baseball diamond (the shape of a baseball field),2 with home plate—the last base—being the ultimate absence in their lives: God Himself. Let us unpack the evangelism diamond.
1. People crave guidance
Working in northern Asia, I have come to realize that scores of people wonder why an all-loving, omnipotent God is even necessary. To be sure, a relatively small percentage of the world is strictly atheist. Still, many more have married a belief in naturalism (such as evolution) with trust in spirits and powers who are godlike but are completely different from our heavenly Father. In fact, according to the Joshua Project, a whopping 42.5 percent of the world population has no clue about the God of the Bible.3
So, before anything else can take place in their journey to a God they do not know, guidance is what they require—direction. They must have the leading of the Holy Spirit. But that need is not limited to populations devoid of Christian values. It includes many secular and even religious people in so-called Christian nations.4 The big question is, What can we as Seventh-day Adventists do about this?
We can pray. Faithful, focused, and strategic prayer is the first base of the evangelism diamond. We cannot get to the next step until we reach this one. Many may be tempted now to stop reading, considering it a religious cliché. But I am not speaking about casual praying. Many Adventists I know are sincere and yet still do not know how to pray, trusting fully in God’s promises and pressing with daily conviction before God’s throne for people to be saved.
Consider, for example, that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3, 4, NKJV). Jesus knows that many more people are ready to respond than we expect since the fields “ ‘are already white for harvest!’ ” (John 4:35, NKJV). John assures us that if we pray on behalf of those who have not yet committed the unpardonable sin, the requests we have asked of Him will be fulfilled (1 John 5:14–16). Christ urges us to ask, seek, and knock because God will surely answer, especially our need for the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:9, 13). He also said: “ ‘Whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son’ ” (John 14:13, NKJV), and, “ ‘If two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven’ ” (Matt. 18:19, NKJV). While they are marvelous promises, Christ had one concern about them: “ ‘When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?’ ” (see Luke 18:1–8, NKJV).
Intercessory prayer for unbelievers is a largely unexplored area of ministry in the church, but it is absolutely essential! The church desperately needs focused, serious, faith-filled, and systematic prayer intercessors, even for large, broad-based initiatives. Every congregation should have teams for strategic mission prayer. No longer an add-on to mission, prayer must take center stage. Otherwise, relatively few people will continue to advance along the evangelism diamond toward home base.5
2. People desire practical help
Unbelievers must come to realize that Christianity is different, that it works in real life. Practical and disinterested acts of kindness will go a long way toward softening the hearts of those searching for a God they do not yet know. Here is where our various community and health ministries enter into the equation. Cooking schools, stop-smoking clinics, parenting classes, financial seminars, stress-management seminars, and programs for the poor and disadvantaged will help. But just as necessary is a personal willingness to help friend and neighbor. “The strongest argument in favor of the gospel is a loving and lovable Christian.”6
Yet, how does a local church express consistent love for others? The truth is that human beings, Christians included, are inherently selfish. Most will give of their time and efforts for the sake of others but within boundaries. And yet, when you read the Sermon on the Mount, you find Jesus rejecting such limits (Matt. 5:13–16, 38–48). How can we reflect the lavish and unconditional love of God day in and day out? Ellen White helps us: “Whatever the profession, no man has pure love to God unless he has unselfish love for his brother. But we can never come into possession of this spirit by trying to love others. What is needed is the love of Christ in the heart. When self is merged in Christ, love springs forth spontaneously.”7
The only way I can consistently love and give time and again to others is if I go to the Source of love day after day and fill my heart with Him. It is the love of Christ through me that works, not my inherent capacity to love. Helping others in practical ways leads unbelievers to second base on their way home.
3. People want friends
Making friends with unbelievers, of course, is closely related to our previous point. Being consistently kind and generous to others will inevitably create friendships. And everyone needs friends. Studies on loneliness show people deteriorate and die sooner without meaningful relationships.8 However, at this point, many Adventists make a mistake. They value their human friendships above the one their friends may develop with Jesus Christ.
I have known well-meaning Adventists who have made solid friendships with nonbelievers because of work associations, family ties, or hobbies that both like. They find some affinity that binds them together, and they treasure doing things with them. However, they will become selfishly protective of those friendships to the point that they “guard” their friends from a closer association with the church.
For example, they may not invite people to attend church services with them because they fear the members’ flaws will turn their friends away. Or they do not ask them to attend evangelistic meetings because they “know” their friends are not ready to hear sermons on Bible prophecy. But that may indicate more of a lack of trust in God working with their friends than actual concern for them. All of our congregations have faults, and our methods, though well-intentioned, may involve risks. But we must watch what God is accomplishing with our friends, not what we are doing with them.
So, inviting others to our small groups, our Sabbath School classes, and our evangelistic meetings and spending valuable time with them while connecting them with others in the church is key to the spiritual development of nonbelievers. We involve them in the social as well as the spiritual aspects of what it is like to follow Jesus. This is the third base.9 Now, we are ready to point them to home plate.
4. People need the Lord
The most important objective when working with the lost is to get them home, to guide them to Jesus. Leaving people on third base without bringing them home ends in cruel disappointment. What people need the most is not our friendship, kindness, or prayers, as critical as those are in soul winning. What people require most of all is Jesus Himself. Without Him, we are only helping generate a thirst that will never be quenched.
How do we bring them home? The simple answer is by exposure to God’s Word. Having worked for many years in evangelism, I have seen countless people come to Christ. I am convinced that nothing is as critical when doing evangelism as exposing people to the Word of God. That is when the Holy Spirit can work most freely in people’s lives. Time and again, I have observed people brought to deep conviction of what they should or should not do as they came to understand the plan of God found in His Word. “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12, NKJV).
How does this happen? Primarily through two venues: personal Bible studies and evangelistic reaping meetings. Professional evangelists have learned that people must encounter a certain amount of biblical teaching if we are to expect them to make decisions for Christ, His teachings, and His last-day church. Not too many of our members have the experience and ability to lead people to decisions just through personal Bible studies. Offering a series of evangelistic biblical sermons on distinctive Adventist teachings meets a critical need today. While a person is listening to a Bible exposition, the Holy Spirit has the best opportunity to bring about conviction. Around the world, with very few exceptions, most new converts to Adventism come through public evangelistic meetings.10 Churches that hold one or more of them each year will see people “come home.” But it is much better to offer a full series of Bible teachings—20 to 30 sermons—than a shortened version of 6 to 10 sermons. Seeing the big picture is important for the Holy Spirit to drive home each aspect of God’s will.
Home at last
In baseball, a home run is scored when the ball is hit in such a way that the batter is able to make a complete circuit of the four bases and reach home safely in one play. Every person in the world needs the four bases: guidance, help, friends, and God. These happen more or less sequentially. The more a church keeps this in mind and works accordingly, the greater a fruitful harvest and the more people will reach home.
- Robert H. Schuller, Life Changers (Old Tappan, NJ, MI: F. H. Revell, 1981), 33.
- Baseball, basically, involves one team using a bat to try to hit a ball thrown by the pitcher of the opposing team and that team catching the ball hit by the batter. If the hitter reaches first base before the fielding team gets the ball to it, a hit is scored. The team scores a run when a player manages to reach the fourth base—home plate—without getting tagged by the opposite team with a ball they have fielded. The team with the most runs after nine innings—sequences—wins the game.
- "Global Summary," Joshua Project, accessed May 12, 2020,https://joshuaproject.net/. The Joshua Project is a research organization that quantifies the challenge of Christian missions in the world.
- Historically, the quintessential Christian nation has been the United States (US). However, closely resembling what happened in Western Europe, Christianity is declining as fast in the US as atheism, agnosticism, and secularism are rising. See “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace,” Pew Research Center, October 17, 2019, https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/. Some evidence, however, indicates that conservative Christianity continues to flourish. See Glenn T. Stanton, The Myth of the Dying Church: How Christianity Is Actually Thriving in America and the World (New York, NY: Worthy Publishing, 2019).
- I have just completed a 17-chapter book on this subject. While much more can be said, the key thing is to get busy and systematically pray for others believing that God will hear and answer!
- Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), 470.
- Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1900), 384; emphasis in the original.
- See, for example, the Harvard University study on happiness called Harvard Study on Adult Development mentioned in Liz Mineo, “Good Genes Are Nice, but Joy Is Better: Harvard Study, Almost 80 Years Old, Has Proved That Embracing Community Helps Us Live Longer, and Be Happier,” Harvard Gazette, April 11, 2017, https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/over-nearly-80-years-harvard-study-has-been-showing-how-to-live-a-healthy-and-happy-life/.
- Some readers may be wondering where the famous statement by Ellen White about “Christ’s method alone” may fit in this scheme. She wrote that Jesus mingled with people desiring their good, had compassion for them, ministered to their needs, gained their confidence, and then asked them to follow Him (see White, Ministry of Healing, 143). Such steps are, basically, part of the second and third bases in our structure. Mingling with them and gaining their confidence fits well with the friendship factor, and having compassion and ministering to their needs fits well with the practical help factor.
- Although I am not aware of empirical research on this point, personal experience and conversations with scores of evangelists and pastors of evangelistically oriented churches validate this belief. I have held some 30 public evangelism events, with dozens of churches, on four continents. I have often asked on Sabbath mornings, before starting evangelistic meetings, how many who were not raised in Adventist homes have joined the church thanks to public meetings. Unfailingly, the number is between 60 and 80 percent. Many attend Adventist churches due to friendships made with members, however, a significant percentage of those do not join the church. Joining the church seems to be a response to a series of Spirit-led Bible meetings for most people.