Great question! This was probably NOT what you were thinking about this morning as you were sipping coffee and eating your bagel, but it’s a great topic to consider in light of the day and age we live in.
Over the years, I have had some very long conversations and even arguments over this question. I know full well, whenever we approach this topic, the first thoughts go right to Billy Graham and the global crusades he has orchestrated during his lifetime. Oh, I know this is holy ground for many. Honestly, I have no “target” on anyone’s backs. I think we need to reassess our involvement in Gospel movement though!
I spent twelve years as a staff pastor to students, camp and retreat speaker and the last eighteen years focused on world missions and Gospel movement among the nations. Today, my focus is unreached and unengaged people groups, regions and nations. I was brought up and mentored as a Southern Baptist, pursued a masters degree through one of the SBC seminaries. All of my mentors, both current and past, are deeply embedded in global work to move the Gospel. I have some very deep roots in “Great Commission” work…to which I am extremely grateful for!
So, why did you just rehearse your Resume, Rex? Some of my “friends” need to be reminded that I am a “team player”. Also, I remain grateful for my “spiritual roots” and continue to enjoy the fellowship with so many workers that call themselves Southern Baptists. BUT…by in large, HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM!
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
In a nation I will not name for the sake of staying focused on the issue…that is 140 years old in mission work from our nation, seventy four percent (74%) of the nation has been considered evangelized yet the percentage of evangelicals has remained static at four percent (4%) for over sixty years (60). That’s right…we have proclaimed the Gospel message with precision, sent teams in to share in schools, arenas, on the streets and asked for a decision, “…praise God hundreds prayed to receive Christ last night!”
I had lunch with a dear and long time friend a few years back and as I shared with him about what the Lord had called us to, he began talking about how “easy” it was to share the Gospel in other nations. Just returning from a short term team trip to Central America with his church, he shared, “Everyone we shared the Gospel with prayed to receive Christ. I alone, led 29 people to Christ!”
So…PRAISE GOD! Yep, Praise God for sure! Any movement towards a relationship with Christ is something to encourage and marvel over…it’s still the greatest miracle of heaven! I have never been to the nation he went to but, by in large, the nations of Central and South America are deeply spiritual cultures, bathed in Catholicism and fear of judgment for their lives…they heavily believe in judgment and Hell and that there is a God…or many gods!
Still, a nation that has been resourced for 140 years with mass evangelism…and yet the numbers of Followers of Christ has not increased one notch! Is it just that nation? Surely this is a single incident….right?
Why has this happened?
When you use mass evangelism as your main tooling to share the Gospel, the typical effect is asking them to say “Yes” but no one is teaching them to do “Yes”.
Go back to the “Great Commission” now. Read ALL of the words as if they are connected together and stacked, working simultaneously with the word “Go”. Make a list of the verbs (Go, make, baptize, teach, obey). Each verb holds the same amount of weight as the one prior to it. Most never include “obey” as one of the action verbs when breaking down these verses.
Let me illustrate: When sharing Gospel one on one in our own nation, approaching the question, “Have you come to a place in your life where you know for certain you have eternal life and will go to heaven when you die?” The answer is often, “Oh yea, I prayed the “sinners prayer” years ago.” Then you ask them where God is at work in their lives and anything they might share about their relationship with Him, they got nothing! Actually, they aren’t even interested in any form of discipleship or accountability…they just want to go to heaven.
Doesn’t everyone? I mean, even if the Bible is wrong…at least cover the bases just in case! Frankly, I believe much of what and why our nation is in the “shape” it is in, is because we have asked everyone to say “Yes” but have done nothing about walking in obedience with Christ daily, growing and reproducing what God has done in that persons life. They end up with no concept of kingdom living or even their role in kingdom work! But we still tend to count them as in!!!
“Share the Gospel, ask for a show of hands that prayed “the sinners prayer”, get a count and then let God sort them out!” REALLY???
This is my opinion and I operate with full conviction…and I know full well I will probably never get invited to speak at a evangelism rally or conference in my denomination…but hey, I have way too much in front of me to worry about speaking gigs away!
So…is mass evangelism biblical? My answer: Unless we intend to remain in place afterward and call those that made decisions to an accountability and teach them, baptize them…as long as baptizing, teaching and obedience are in full force for a extended time frame…SURE! If not…then we need to be very careful we aren’t injecting a impurity into a people and nation that will only produce a “Yes answer” but not a “Yes lifestyle”! BOTH are biblical points of salvation. The former without the later…according to Jesus, is not Eternal Life!
Should I get ticked when my friends hit the streets in other nations to preach in mass settings? No! I need to remain grateful for any movement of the Gospel…whether I agree with the process or not!
In the Book of Acts, We can all agree that Pentecost was a scene for mass evangelism. But, after the preaching and invitation…what did it look like? They were meeting daily, praying together, meeting each others needs, the Word was taught… (Acts 2:41-47). The Great Commission was being fulfilled…ALL the verbs were at work!!!
Being on the global mission field now for many years and living in ‘Merica, being a Follower of Christ now for thirty-two years, I have found that mass evangelism RARELY ever includes a immediate and concise call to discipleship as strong as the push to share the Gospel. And these things tend to happen:
- Loss of purity of the Gospel message. Jesus is one of many options. My salvation is based on a prayer. The Salvation is the end of the Gospel rather than the beginning of Eternal Life. Eternal Life is heaven and not here and now. (John 17:3)
- Baptism/Discipleship-teaching obedience is not as intentional as evangelism. Teaching does not stay in even step with the evangelism efforts…because it is the harder thing to do and requires more time, planning and intentionality. It’s lopsided and you end up with a people group or area that has had no actual evangelical movement!
John 14:15-21 tells us, in Jesus’ own words, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” And, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.”
If you look at the movement and growth of the Church at large, the pattern is not mass evangelism, but households and one on one encounters. This keeps the Gospel message pure and keeps discipleship in even step with evangelism.
Am I concerned about this topic? Yes indeed! I have seen the effects of mass evangelism without infrastructure and it becomes a much harder field to work than one that has never heard the Gospel!
I am afraid of how skewed evangelism “numbers” might really be when it comes to people reached.