by Edgardo Silvoso
“Mass evangelism is obsolete!” Why? “Because it has always failed to produce solid growth. Public decisions seldom become responsible church members.” This is what we often hear. Is it true?
"Mass evangelism is obsolete!" Why? "Because it has always failed to produce solid growth. Public decisions seldom become responsible church members." This is what we often hear. Is it true?
I don’t know about other crusades, but let me share about a crusade in Rosario, Argentina, that lasted fourteen days and yielded a result of 3,127 decisions. Six months after the crusade, 57 percent of those who made a decision are attending church regularly, 26 percent have already been baptized and another 14 percent are in line for baptism. The number of baptisms during the five months following the crusade was 90 percent higher than the number during the ten months prior to the outreach. In the same period, attendance rose 46 percent and church membership 25 percent. (The membership increase rate from 1964-1969 was 3.4 percent annually, and from 1970-1974 it was 9.8 percent.) It must be borne in mind that these increases have taken place only five months after the crusade and have been compared to figures of the ten months prior to the outreach.
Of the total number of converts won by the churches after the crusade, that is to say, during the normal life of the church, 59 percent came to Christ by means of people converted in the crusade. This shows what effective soul winners new converts are!
Something else: a comparison was made between the total of decisions made during the Easter season prior to the crusade axed the Easter after the crusade. The latter was 214 percent higher. It looks as if believers did not yield to "evangelism fatigue" and did not become "fed up" with evangelism. The same can be said with regard to attendance.
Two years previous to the crusade, pastors and leaders got together and set up a goal for themselves. It was a plan to open 69 new congregations before the crusade. These congregations were described as "silos" in which to gather the harvest.
Did they reach their goal? No! They were only able to plant 42 new worshipping groups. Did all these groups continue to function and to grow five months after the crusade? You guessed again! No! Only 27 have survived so far. Of those, four have already become full-fledged churches and 17 more will soon follow.
How many people are attending these new congregations? About 740, including 174 full families and 272 of several members of families. They meet in 19 homes and eight halls. These house churches are divided as follows: 3 percent meet in upper class homes or halls; 44 percent in middle-class surroundings, and 5 3 percent in the working class area. It is recorded that the highest percentage of incorporation is 85 percent and the lowest, 4 percent, with the majority of churches in the 35 to 50 percent range. This all this happened between September, 1975, and May, 1977, as a result of the so-called "Rosario Plan," which climaxed with a region-wide crusade held by Luis Palau and his team, in full cooperation with the local Body of Christ.
WHAT IS THE ROSARIO PLAN?
In its simplest form the Rosario Plan is a combination of intensive mass evangelism (‘TV, radio, house-to-house visitation, stadium meetings and counseling centers) and biblical discipleship. Discipleship began two years prior to the crusade when pastors began to "equip the saints for the work of the ministry," to spend time with their leaders and with those who had the potential to become leaders.
Pastors were encouraged to start new worshiping groups in order to provide practical experience and "on-the-job" training. The trainees were in that way provided with a less critical environment in which to learn from their mistakes. Rosario City had, at the time of the crusade, 3,840 church members. Of those, 1,192 were personally involved in the crusade. They visited 101,000 of the estimated 110,000 homes in Rosario City.
The visitation to the 3,127 who made decisions during the fourteen nights of stadium meetings had to be done within 72 hours from the time the decisions were made. If a church failed to do so, the decision cards were given to other churches willing to do the work. Every new convert was assigned an "elder brother" (a layman), who visited him, nourished him spiritually, and brought him to the "Noche de Bienvenida" (Welcome Night), which was held the Sunday following the end of the crusade. Then there was the "Cinco Noches con la Biblia" (Five Nights with the Bible), which began the following day (Monday). This was done in order to root the new converts in the Word. The "elder brothers" saw to it that the new ones attended these services.
THE PLAN’S UNIQUE FEATURES
Follow through instead of follow up. In short, this is done by equipping the saints so that they in turn may do the work of the ministry; by visiting the new converts within 72 hours of their decisions; by starting new house churches that may function as "silos."
Silos built before harvest time. In the past, entire harvests were allowed to rot in the fields while silos were being built. Quite often, by the time the "silos" were ready, the harvest was already lost. In Rosario, new churches were started and skilled workers recruited prior to the crusade.
Mass media was conquered and cared for the service of Christ. By painful and prayerful work, all available mass media were used for Christ. The two TV channels and all three radio stations, plus all the newspapers, carried the gospel. Polls taken during the pre-crusade effort showed that 90 percent of the people listened attentively to the programs. A poll taken the week after the crusade showed that 100 percent of the people had heard the gospel at least once.
The meetings held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday were carried "live" on radio immediately after the soccer games. A total of 36 hours of radio and TV were used during the crusade, and a grand total of 252 hours and 20 minutes for the crusade and precrusade combined. Two main obstacles detected and neutralized in advance. It was determined that the two main obstacles to church growth in the past (a total of 3,840 believers in a city of almost one million, after 70 years of evangelical work) were clericalism, that is to say, leaving the work of evangelism entirely to the pastor, and templism (introversion), that is, churches too busy with activities centered around the temple (building), with no thought nor desire for the "regions beyond." Clericalism was defeated by equipping the saints so that they would do the work of the ministry, together with their pastors. The "one man show" was replaced by the more biblical collective ministry represented by the elders. Templism was, if not eliminated, at least attenuated by the planting of daughterchurches.
The evangelist war a catalyst rather than the factorum. Luis Palau was used of God to free the potential already present in the Body of Christ in Rosario. By the time he left, the potential by him released was in operation affecting the church and the new converts, thus minimizing his absence. Luis Palau and his team were an important part of the strategy, but not the only one, nor the main one.
The goal of the church and of the minister rediscovered. By bringing into focus Matthew 28 and Ephesians 4, a new set of priorities emerged for the churches and the ministers. Many timeconsuming, unproductive activities were replaced by solid training. The cry of "discipling the nation" was once more heard with renewed enthusiasm. Ministers found out that their biblical task was twofold: to nourish the believers (which most were already doing), and to equip them according to Ephesians 4:11. This approach proved most helpful at the time of the harvest, when many skilled helpers were at hand.
HAVE WE FOUND THE MISSING LINK?
Definitely no. The "Rosario Plan" is not the answer, much less the final answer. It’s rather the raising of new issues. Many more similar plans must be implemented until a clearer profile emerges. God forbid that the impression be given that someone down here has "discovered how to make gunpowder" when the Chinese did that thousands of years ago.
In my opinion a few principles seem to have emerged from this partially successful experiment:
(1) Discipleship and mass evangelism need not to be divorced, neither opposed to each other. When properly combined they produce solid, visible results.
(2) The mass media are an effective vehicle for evangelism. Decisions were made, seeds were planted, and the gospel was proclaimed to an entire city (population 867,000). More attention should be paid to mass media as a tool for evangelizing. Mass media should become to us what Gutenberg and the press became to the Reformers.
(3) House churches neutralize the vices of traditional clericalism and excessive introversion. They provide "on-the-job" training for potential leaders and silos for the harvest. They must be built in advance. It’s easier to make a home into a church than to make a church into a home.
(4) Collective church leadership is more effective than the unipersonal leadership. To share the leadership of the church is biblical, is practical, and practicable, too! It produces results and lifts a burden from the pastor’s shoulders, a burden that God never put there!
(5) Follow through is the name of the game! The incorporation of the new converts is planned one or two years before their conversion. This approach is a person-to-person one. People must be equipped long before the crusade, for the purpose of relating themselves to other people during and after the crusade.
Before we can say these principles are universal ones – that as such they are valid anywhere and for everybody – many more sililar plans must be implemented. At the time of this writing a similar plan is being attempted in the Republic of Uruguay. We are trying to implement on a nation-wide scale what in Rosario was done on a city-wide scale. The experience gained in Rosario was very helpful, and many variables that in Rosario went unchecked are being brought under control in Uruguay.
So far, the principles seem to be working effectively. God willing, the "Uruguay Plan," once implemented and evaluated, could provide us with valuable information. If successful, it will make available to the Body of Christ a highly effective tool for bringing to happen God’s dearest desire: "Let the whole earth heat his voice."
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