Evangelism in America

Evangelism is the art and science of telling others about Jesus with the intent of the hearer becoming a follower of Jesus. In short, it is the art and science of conversion. Evangelism characterized the ministry of Jesus. He said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19.10, ESV). The church, the body of Christ, continued this ministry as they “went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8.4). So preaching is more than just what I do every Sunday morning; preaching characterizes the lifestyle of every Christian.

Joseph Aldrich has written a book by the name of Life-Style Evangelism. His central thesis is that the normal practice of all Christians is evangelism and every Christian can do it! Aldrich writes, “Not many nonbelievers are reading the revelation of God’s graces revealed in Scripture. Many are reading the revelation of God revealed in your life and relationships. Like it or not, Scripture call us living epistles, read (as a book) by all men” (36, emphasis original). As someone else has said before – people are looking for a sermon long before they ever hear one.

The ever-constant threat to the church is failure to “keep the main-thing the main-thing.” In other words, there is always the potential that the church will not pursue its mission of following in Jesus’ footsteps and seeking and saving the lost. When the church fails to do the work of Christ, she becomes the corpse of Christ instead of being the body of Christ. Or to build on Aldrich’s imagery, the world reads a dead letter instead of a living one. “How readest thou?”

Do you realize how vital a role you have in evangelism?

Research shows that 9 out of 10 people who visit a church and are ultimately converted come because of a friend or relative who brought them. 90%! You never know how your efforts, no matter how small they may seem, could have an eternal impact on someone.

Even if we follow conservative figures the number is still very high with 3 out of every 4 Christians being a part of the body of Christ because of friends or family. Win and Charles Arn in their book The Master’s Plan for Making Disciples summarize the situation very well: “The majority of people today can trace their ‘spiritual roots’ directly to a friend or relative” (46). Consider your own situation: are you a Christian because of a friend or relative who led you to Christ? With a few exceptions you probably are. Therefore, the growth of the church numerically takes place naturally through preexisting relationships Christians have with non-Christians.

The problem is that many (most?) Christians do not have that many relationships with non-Christians. Here is a trait of Christ Christians must once more reclaim – He was a “friend of…sinners” (Matthew 11.19; Luke 7.34). Sinners drew near to Him to hear Him and He received them and ate with them (cf. Luke 15.1-2). Are we cultivating relationships with those outside of the church? In addition, Jesus’ relationship with “sinners” was aimed at calling them to repentance and salvation. What is the aim and purpose of our relationships with those outside of Christ? No program or committee can ever replace the natural, or perhaps supernatural, overflow of a disciple being a disciple by making disciples of those whom they love and care for.

Furthermore, studies are showing that today’s unchurched American goes through a long “preconversion process.” That means it could take upwards to a year or two for them to come to saving faith in Christ. Why does it take so long as opposed to 50 years ago? Because the unchurched today have to fight through the curtains of relativism and pluralism, both of which are symptoms of the much larger curtain of postmodernism (which brother Sanders is discussing during out meeting). In Growing Your Church Through Evangelism and Outreach (a title I have theological issues with, but that’s beside the point), the authors note that the unchurched today “need a safe and often long preconversion stage, in which they build confidence in the church, establish the authority of Scripture, and cement relationships” (6). Therefore, we need to exercise patience and loving concern with those outside of the church if we would see them inside the body of Christ. Indeed, “love is patient.”

There is a reason it is called the “simple gospel.” I think sometimes we can make the message far too complicated. So the challenge this week is to make the message simple and plain. It’s a common understanding that the fewer syllables a word has the easier it is to understand. Therefore, I have tried to produce the “monosyllabic gospel.” In other words, I want to capture the core message of the gospel using only single syllable words. Here goes: God loves us. He came down, put on flesh, lived with us, had no sin, died on a cross, was in a tomb three days, and was raised by God’s might. He lives and reigns now! We must turn from sin to God. We must be made one with Christ through faith that leads to immersion.

Pretty close – immersion is three syllables. So this is the message lost people need to hear. Chances are they will need to hear it over and over again before committing to Christ.

As previously mentioned, research shows that most people today have a longer preconversion period than people had decades ago. “One particular study found that those who were vital Christians and active church members had heard the gospel presented an average of 5.8 times before they made their Christian commitment,” according to Win and Charles Arn in The Master’s Plan for Making Disciples. “On the average, church dropouts heard the gospel only twice prior to their decision” (114). So our friends and neighbors, loved ones and co-workers need to hear the gospel a few of times before they obey the gospel. Let us make sure that when they hear it from us, they hear the gospel in all its simplicity and plainness.


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