by O.S. Hawkins
Moody magazine recently devoted much of an issue to the subject “What’s Ahead for Missions?” The series of articles, which presented a mixed picture at best, addressed some serious concerns plaguing world missions today:
Moody magazine recently devoted much of an issue to the subject “What’s Ahead for Missions?” The series of articles, which presented a mixed picture at best, addressed some serious concerns plaguing world missions today: a waning interest in worldwide outreach on the part of the North American church, a decline in missions giving despite rising costs, and a recognition that much of the remaining work in missions will be among difficult populations such as Hindus, Muslims, and unreached people groups in remote nations and closed countries.
There was some good news, however—a global impetus for missions outside the U.S., and increased involvement of national workers.
Into the midst of this mixed picture came the news that Evangelism Explosion International (EE) had established its training ministry in all 211 political nations of the world.
More widely known for its North American ministry than its international ministry, EE exemplifies an emerging phenomenon in evangelical ministry today: the globalization of successful North American-based ministries.
In an otherwise difficult environment for missions, what accounts for EE’s success in branching out from its North American ministry to the rest of the world? And what lessons can be gained from its experience?
Having served on EE’s board for more than a decade, I attribute EE’s success to two things: its ability to address many of the critical concerns facing the modern mission movement, and its ability to capitalize on positive developments in missions.
1. Waning interest in missions. A primary concern of mission leaders today is the lack of long-term vision and commitment among North American Christians. A study by James Engel of Eastern College cited in Moody magazine states, “North American Christian commitment to world evangelization is in sharp retrenchment. Unless there is an intervention by God leading to an across-the-board willingness in churches and agencies to cope with changing paradigms and realities, North America will become a secondary force in the global church.”
Dr. Kennedy’s bold goal of reaching all the nations in the world with the EE ministry is an example of the vision that North American churches need to complete the task of world evangelization. After hitting the milestone of establishing its training ministry in all 211 political nations, EE is not resting on its laurels. It has now extended its vision to the next logical stage of reaching all people groups.
Perhaps EE’s most valuable contribution is its role as a catalyst in mobilizing Christians throughout the world for evangelism.
2. The role of North American missionaries. Another issue plaguing the missions movement is confusion and concern about the appropriate role of North American missionaries. EE resolved this issue for its own work by keeping its focus on equipping the saints and building the local church. EE begins and ends in the church where pastors and lay leaders are trained to carry on EE ministries.
EE’s concept of multiplication—leading people to Christ, bringing them into the church, discipling them, and training them in EE—also helps to address another concern regarding traditional mission activities: a limited reach into broad populations, which equals slow progress in achieving the Great Commission.
As many pastors and missionaries have learned, despite its name, Evangelism Explosion is not so much an evangelism tool as it is a discipleship tool. It is a tool that leaves believers with the ability to become missionaries to their own peoples. Equipping national soul winners allows those most capable of reaching a culture to do so, while quickly freeing international leadership to focus on unreached groups. Furthermore, it capitalizes on the growing enthusiasm and involvement of majority world nations in taking on a greater part of the responsibility for global outreach.
Even in this age when a single live broadcast can reach billions, and organizations can send thousands of missionaries, these efforts will still leavethousands of people groups and vast portions of the world’s population unreached. The ultimate key to achieving the Great Commission is to equip and enable the nations to reach themselves through personal, face-to-face evangelism. That is the strength of the EE approach to world evangelism.
3. Work among difficult populations. Still another area of concern in world missions is that much of the remaining work will be among Hindus, Muslims, and other peoples not familiar with Western forms and practices. In its accomplishment of reaching all nations, EE has proven that its methods are easily translatable across languages and cultures. One reason for this is the simplicity and straightforwardness of its presentation and methodology. Another is that it combines faithfulness to biblical practice and principle with the flexibility of conforming to the personality and culture of the evangelist.
In North America, the EE presentation is designed to be adapted to the user’s interests and emphasis. This has allowed churches and leaders in all cultures to adjust the content and emphasis of the presentation and its training to fit their needs, without losing the force of the gospel.
For example, the illustration of a rotten egg in an omelette—symbolizing sinful acts among life’s good deeds—is replaced with another example, such as a bug in a cup of tea, in countries where rotten eggs are actually considered a delicacy!
4. Rising cost of sending missionaries. Perhaps the most critical issue facing North American missions today, addressed by Jim Reapsome, in the recent Moody issue, is the high cost of keeping missionaries and their families on the field.
EE International has managed this concern because its structure and methodology are low-cost and lean. As a training ministry, it does not require an extensive infrastructure or the high cost of keeping missionaries on site. A clinic leader can equip a pastor and trainers in one location and then move on while the work continues. Also, despite its global reach, EE has not built a large worldwide organization. EE International’s budget last year, including North America, was just over $3 million.
For all its strengths, EE has been the subject of criticism. Some have criticized its “confrontational” approach to evangelism in a relational age. Others have maintained that the program does not place sufficient emphasis on follow-up of new believers. Or that its training is too long and takes too great a commitment. In the North American context, these are valid concerns that the organization is addressing, which is certain to benefit the international ministry as well.
Also, despite its lean structure and low cost, EE has not been totally immune to the cost pressures facing other ministries. The organization is addressing this issue through a more focused and comprehensive approach to development.
Still, other mission organizations could benefit from the valuable lessons of EE’s accomplishment: its setting and pursuit of a visionary goal (and the extension of that goal once the milestone is achieved), its focus on equipping and building soul-winners within the context of national churches, its mobilizing of an eager world to, in effect, participate in its own evangelization, and its low-cost structure and lean organization.
In achieving and building on its goal of reaching all the nations, Evangelism Explosion has done an excellent job of not only anticipating “what’s ahead for missions,” but providing a model to follow.
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