by Gordon Mulknix
Because there are so many techniques on the market, missionaries need discernment, they need to know how to weigh the pros and cons. To help them do that, I’ve put together a list of test questions. Apply them ruthlessly to every method.
One of the toughest questions a missionary faces is how to pick and choose among the welter of successful evangelism plans and methods. We all know how the various approaches are promoted; we know that God has blessed and used them. But what the promoters of the various methods don’t tell us are some of the drawbacks. For example:
Some work best in urban situations. Most of them require a literate audience. Some can’t be used in a different culture. There are well known cases of financial and psychological dependency as byproducts of certain evangelistic efforts. Probably the most general problem is what to do with new converts who don’t know the implications of their decision.
Because there are so many techniques on the market, missionaries need discernment, they need to know how to weigh the pros and cons. To help them do that, I’ve put together a list of test questions. Apply them ruthlessly to every method. These questions grew out of my own observation of various evangelistic programs, my study of the Scripture, and my research into social change. I have found them extremely helpful when, in the course of my work, I’ve been asked to review project proposals, or to evaluate the impact of evangelism activities. I hope you will find them helpful, too.
1. Does the program require laymen to witness personally to family and neighbors?
Evangelism is the exchange of the good news from one person to another. Such an exchange works best among people who trust each other and who share a similar lifestyle, so the Christian’s witness can be examined for consistency and power. A good evangelism program should help people to share Christ with their neighbors and friends-those with whom they have a natural, continuing contact.
Too often pastors and evangelists attempt to witness to people from whom they are far removed in everyday life. Their message can easily be dismissed because of insincerity or irrelevance: insincerity because it’s their job and they’re paid to preach; irrelevance because they don’t know their listeners’ problems. As long as evangelism is the work of professionals, the credibility of the gospel is weakened.
To look at it practically, there aren’t enough pastors and evangelists to do the job anyway. Evangelism must somehow involve every Christian. If there are yet two billion unreached or hidden people, the only conceivable way to reach all of them is by the Holy Spirit-guided witness of individual believers. Any plan for outreach must be built on this fact.
2. Does the program include an overt challenge to accept Christ?
The challenge to repent and believe the gospel is a clear theme of Scripture. It’s true, of course, that in some situations a Christian witness can only be exercised by a quiet presence. Among strongly resistant people, or in countries where calling for public decisions, or change of religion, is illegal, overt challenges to accept Christ are counter-productive. Nevertheless, while we recognize the place of caution and sensitivity, an evangelism program should not skip confronting people and giving them a chance to accept Christ.
The potential convert must understand who Christ is and what Christ expects. This can’t happen without some form of teaching. In some cases this can be done by a quiet, person-to-person approach; in others, it takes a message to the masses, delivered publicly. Whatever the method of giving it, the overt challenge is an essential part of successful evangelism programs.
3. Is there a plan to teach converts how to deal with opposition?
Whether attacks come from individuals, families, or communities, we must prepare new converts to deal with opposition. If we don’t, the fruit of the evangelistic effort may be spoiled.
How we deal with opposition influences the response. For example, if Christians love their adversaries, opposition stimulates a powerful witness, but if new converts withdraw from their community, or renounce their faith, there is little chance for further harvest. Systematic, practical help is vital at the early stages of a campaign.
4. Does the program aim to put converts into local churches?’
Effective evangelistic campaigns have a clearly stated plan for incorporating young Christians into local churches. This is important for several reasons. First, of course, is the biblical command for believers to assemble for worship, teaching, and discipline.
Second, to buttress converts’ decisions, it’s helpful to get them to know those people who will affirm their step. Decisions are always evaluated. If converts are not guided into a church, chances are strong that they will fall by the wayside, or be stunted in their growth.
Third, the evangelism program should guide converts in their choice of a church, especially where there are a lot of different churches, religions, and cults. Unless this is done, the gains of evangelism may be lost.
5. Does the program reach people in social units?
A good evangelism program considers social structure. Believing the message should not bring unnecessary disruption. Sometimes, unfortunately, the gospel is presented in a way that implies that converts must renounce family, political authority, and friends. The extent to which this is done often determines the resistance encountered.
When there are many different social groups, converts should be established in socially compatible churches. Cultural diversity must be taken seriously, if an evangelism program is going to produce lasting results.
6. Will the program be conducted in the mother tongue of non-Christians?
Dayton and Fraser have explained the drawbacks when evangelism is done in language other than the one the audience understands best. For example, using a trade language discriminates against women, the elderly, and the poorly educated. Christians are accused of rejecting traditional culture. The content of the gospel itself is short-changed. And, the evangelist may never understand those whom he is trying to reach, because he does not understand their language.
Essentially, evangelism programs that use trade languages, or translations from other languages, have less impact than those that use an original language.
7. Does the program use the media effectively?
The tools of evangelism have expanded tremendously: radio, literature, films, and television are among them. Communications experts have studied how to use them most effectively. Engel concludes: "The mass media generally do not play a decisive role in any type of major decision. Rather, their primary effect is contributory through the stimulation of awareness and interest and subsequent attitude change."
Evangelism that relies on the mass media may not achieve the desired results in decisions. When using the mass media, Christians must provide some way of contact between readers, viewers, and listeners and a local believer. Of course, where this is impossible-in China or Russia, for example-people do find Christ on their own through radio and literature, but that doesn’t negate the fact that personal help is critically important.
Whatever media are used, they must be compatible with local culture. Audience research must be done to get the strongest media impact.
8. Does the program recognize that evangelism is a process?
Evangelistic efforts usually concentrate on how to get people to make a decision. Although we tip our hats to the teaching of Jesus and Paul about sowing and reaping, and planting and watering, many programs emphasize only reaping. In addition to the biblical data, research shows that decisions are the result of a process. Sowing is part of the process along which people move from ignorance to commitment.
If we understand evangelism as a process, we will plan evangelistic activities geared to our audience’s position in the process. Good evangelism programs do not press for immediate decisions from people who do not know enough, or who are against the gospel. In such cases, evangelists must present the facts and concentrate on building trust before requiring a decision.
9. Does the program rest on wide prayer support?
Effective evangelism programs make prayer a conscious effort on the part of the church and the evangelist for several reasons. Prayer is the source of the evangelist’s power. Prayer protects the evangelist from personal sin. Any flaw may become an excuse to reject the gospel. And prayer overcomes opposition. Often, prayer is the only response we can make to some situations.
The Christian community, praying fervently for a fruitful evangelistic program, is prepared to accept new Christians and provide them teaching and support. As God answers prayer, Christians grow in faith and churches get stronger.
10. Does the program encourage Bible study?
New converts should understand that their new life is based on God’s plan, which they can study in the Bible. This is not to say that all Christians must be literate. The oral transmission of Scripture is a valid technique for instructing illiterate converts. The basic need is for Scripture study to lead to changed behavior. Lack of Bible study often leads to syncretism and defection to cults.
These guidelines are offered to help you decide how the various evangelistic tools and programs can be used best. They do not include some vital spiritual requirements, such as the Spirit-filled evangelist walking in the light of God’s will. I understand the necessity of such qualities. In this article, I have discussed things that can be built into a project’s design.
God is not limited to bless the principles outlined above. However, that does not remove our obligation to learn what he has taught us in Scripture and in research, when we plan and pray about our evangelistic campaigns.
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