by C. Peter Wagner
The success of Carlos Armacondia requires our close scrutiny.
Urban evangelism soared to the top of our missions agenda during the 1980s. Ray Bakke, Harvie Conn, Roger Greenway, and others have paved the way for evangelizing today’s cities. True, there are thousands of unevangelized villages in India, multitudes of Afghan peasants without Christ, and large numbers of unreached tribes in Papua New Guinea. But in terms of sheer numbers, the cities have become the primary focus of our evangelism and church planting.
OUR KNOWLEDGE OF THE CITIES
We know more about the cities than we ever have. We know how to "exegete the city." We read Urban Mission. We enroll in seminaries to study urban ministry. We read extensive reports from the Lausanne Committee. Seminars on urban evangelism give us access to experts in the field. We have learned how to network our urban resources.
It might have been expected that as our knowledge of urban evangelism increased, our effectiveness would have increased proportionately. Apparently this has not happened to any significant degree. In fact, the notes of despair that were so common in the literature at the beginning of the past decade seem to be continuing 10 years later. In a Christianity Today (May 14, 1990) interview, Ray Bakke said that things are not getting better. Speaking of inner-city Chicago where he pastored, Bakke says, "My city neighborhood looked a lot worse after I’d pastored there for ten years. The city as a system is like the Titanic. You can’t just minister to people; you’ve got to patch the holes to stay afloat."
If our theories are to become practice, we need to highlight and analyze more than we have previously successful models of urban evangelism. I think of such innovative leaders as Kriengsak Chareonwangsak of Bangkok, W.F. Kumuyi of Lagos, Eddie Villanueva of Manila, Fred Price of Los Angeles, Omar Caberera of Argentina, Albert Kang of Singapore, and Paul Yonggi Cho of Seoul.
ARGENTINA: THE RESISTANT, NOW RIPE
One of the more successful models of urban evangelism is taking place in Argentina. Throughout the history of Protestant missions to Latin America, Argentina has been one of the more resistant nations. With the exception of the Tommy Hicks crusade and its aftermath in the early 1950s, the evangelical movement in Argentina has been pretty lackadaisical.
But this changed dramatically with the Falkland Islands war in 1982, when Argentina tried unsuccessfully to occupy the Malvinas Islands, as they call them. The British victory caused a radical change in Argentine social psychology. National pride, for which Argentines were internationally notorious, was severely damaged. The church had failed them, the military had failed them, Peronism had failed them-they were ready to try something new.
Actually, well before 1982 the basis for Argentine pride had severely eroded. Once the world’s 10th strongest economic power and boasting a standard of life higher than that of southern Europe, Argentina was the jewel of South America, peaking during the reign of Juan Domingo Peron and his followers through the 1950s and 1960s. As his influence waned in the early 1970s, Peron linked up with a powerful occult practitioner, Jose L6pez Rega, known popularly as el brujo (the warlock). Lopez Rega served under Peron as social welfare minister, and after Peron’s death in 1974 became the chief advisor to his wife, Isabel Peron, during her two years as president. He erected a public monument to witchcraft (since dismantled), and is said by many to have publicly cursed the nation when he lost power with the military coup of 1976.
Spiritism, principally from Brazil, began to flood the nation. Under the military rulers 8,000 political suspects "disappeared" forever, the bodies of many recently being uncovered in mass graves. Once the 10th strongest economic power, Argentina now finds itself 10th from the bottom by some measurements. Little wonder the nation is ripe for the gospel message. True, in such a spiritual vacuum, any change is seen by many as a change for the better. The power of witchcraft continues to escalate. False cults such as Mormonism are growing rapidly. A huge, ornate Mormon temple dominates the highway leading from the Ezeiza airport to Buenos Aires. But with all this, the power of God is being manifested in extraordinary ways.
Hector Gimenez The largest church in downtown Buenos Aires is pastored by Hector Gimenez, 33, an ex-drug addict and gunfighter. He started the church in 1983 and now leads a congregation of some 70,000. The official name of the church is The Miracles of Jesus Renewed Christian Church, but it more popularly carries the name of Gimenez’s radio broadcast, "Waves of Love and Peace." Their church home is a 2,500-seat theater in which they hold eight services daily, seven days a week. Gimenez himself preaches five services per day, 35 sermons per week.
I preached to a packed house at the 8 p.m. service on a Tuesday night In April, 1990, and saw more than a dozen profess salvation and 50 profess miraculous healing, numbers totally disproportionate to the usual results of my speaking. When we left just before 10:30 p.m., a new crowd had totally jammed the space between the theater door and the street, waiting to get in for the next service.
Gimenez told me that a couple of weeks previously on Easter Sunday, they had rented the largest enclosed auditorium in the city, Luna Park, which seats 15,000. They needed three services to accommodate the 35,000 worshippers, and they baptized 3,200 by immersion in portable pools.
SPIRITUAL WARFARE THE DOMINANT FACTOR
What is the secret behind such effective ministry among the urban masses? The answers to such a question must not be oversimplified. All church growth is a complex interweaving of many things. Much of what is happening in Argentina can be explained by well-known church growth principles. I do not believe, however, that they can adequately account for the sheer magnitude of the phenomena I am describing. My conclusion is that spiritual factors, particularly power evangelism and spiritual warfare, are paramount.
Powerful intercessory prayer is our chief weapon of spiritual warfare. For instance, backstage in Hector Gimenez’s service I saw three women interceding on their knees on the hardwood floor throughout the entire two-hour service. I was told there are usually more. I doubt that Gimenez would see the spiritual power he enjoys without these intercessors.
One of today’s most knowledgeable Argentine leaders is Edgardo Silvoso of Harvest Evangelism, based in San Jose, Calif. Silvoso did a workshop at Lausanne II in Manila in 1989 on spiritual warfare in Argentina. There he said, "If there is one dominant element that has emerged in the theology and methodology of evangelism in Argentina, I would say it is spiritual warfare. It is an awareness that the struggle is not a political or a social system. Nor is it on behalf of those who are captives, but it is rather against the jail keepers, against the rulers, those in authority in the spiritual realm." Silvoso contends that understanding this allows Argentine evangelists to get to the root of the problem, instead of dealing merely with symptoms. He suggests that the results seem to validate this approach.
The national director of Harvest Evangelism in Argentina is Eduardo Lorenzo, who also serves as pastor of the Adrogue Baptist Church. When I visited Adrogue, an upper-rniddle-class section of Buenos Aires, I saw a thriving church of 600, a new auditorium with seating expandable to 2,000, and a goal of filling it with church members by 1993.
This is not a new church. It has been there for over 70 years, but never had more than 100 members until recently. When Lorenzo took the pastorate in 1974 he saw it grow from 70 to 250 in 13 years by using standard church growth procedures. But in 1987 the current growth surge began and Lorenzo says, "If we do not make 2,000 by 1993, it will be because we are not trying,"
What happened in 1987? Lorenzo explains that it took them several years to get to the root of the problem and to understand the spiritual dimensions of their evangelistic challenge. The process began in the early 1980s when Lorenzo cast a demon out of a woman without really understanding what he was doing. His training and background had not prepared him for such a ministry. At that time one of his church members went to the United States, learned about spiritual warfare, and reported to the congregation. Lorenzo then sponsored two spiritual warfare seminars in his church, one led by Edward Murphy of Overseas Crusades and the other by John White, the Christian psychiatrist and author from Canada.
Soon afterwards, the battle began in earnest. A woman who professed Christ was soon discovered to be an undercover agent sent by the enemy. Demons manifested in church services. Satan was counterattacking. Lorenzo says, "Satan was happy if he could keep that little Baptist church on its merry-go-round. He had effectively blinded the minds of the unsaved in Adrogue to the gospel. Through the years several other churches had been planted in Adrogue, but ours was the only one which had survived. Now we ourselves were under direct attack."
Through prolonged prayer, ministry, and discernment, Lorenzo and his leaders finally identified the chief prince over Adrogue. Sensing God’s timing, they recruited a team of 35 to 40 church members who would spend Monday through Friday of a certain week in prayer and fasting. Then on the Friday night all members joined together for strategic intercession. They took authority over the territorial spirit. At 11:45 p.m. they collectively felt something break in the spiritual realm. The spirit had left. The church began to grow. Until then virtually no one who resided in Adrogue itself had ever been converted. Now 40 percent of the church members are from Adrogue proper.
CARLOS ANNACONDIA: CONSISTENTLY SPECTACULAR RESULTS
After observing the ministry of Carlos Annacondia for several years, I am prepared to offer a hypothesis: Annacondia may well be the most effective city-wide, interdenominational crusade evangelist of all time. If this turns out to be only approximately true, his approach to winning the masses of the cities to Christ deserves close scrutiny.
Annacondia was the committed Christian owner of a prosperous nuts and bolts factory in Quilmes on the outskirts of Buenos Aires when he was called into evangelistic ministry. It was probably no mere coincidence that the day he launched his first public crusade was the day the British sank the Argentine battleship General Belgrano in the 1982 Falkland Islands war. He was 37 at the time.
When I use the term "effective evangelism" I follow the lead of Donald McGavran in arguing that biblical evangelism means bringing unbelievers to a simultaneous commitment to Christ and also to the body of Christ. It means bringing men and women to faith in Jesus and into responsible membership in a local church. Carlos Annacondia is highly successful in seeing this happen.
On a recent visit to Argentina I worked with pastors of four cities. Without any leading questions on my part, in each of the four cities I heard Christian leaders in a matter-of-fact way refer to recent trends in their cities as "before Annacondia" and "after Annacondia." In more than 20 years of studying urban crusade evangelism I have never heard such consistent testimonials of one evangelist across the board.
Several pastors showed me new sanctuaries they had constructed to contain the growth after Annacondia’s crusade in their city. One showed me a basketball stadium they had been leasing for six years. Another church now holds 17 services a week in five rented theaters. Another pastor reports "a notable change of attitude among the people of our city as a result of Annacondia’s ministry."
WHAT IS THE SECRET
What is Carlos Annacondia doing that other urban evangelists do not usually do? Annacondia has a great deal in common with traditional crusade evangelists. He preaches a simple gospel message, gives an invitation for people to come forward and receive Christ as their Lord and Savior, uses trained counselors to lead them to Christ and give them literature, takes their names and addresses, and invites them to attend a local church.
Like Billy Graham and Luis Palau, Annacondia secures a broad base of interdenominational support from pastors and other Christian leaders. Like Dwight Moody and Billy Sunday, he has had no formal academic theological training. Like Reinhard Bonnke and T.L. Osbome, he features miracles, healings, and deliverance from evil spirits in his meetings. He is not the only one who preaches in the open air, conducts three-hour services, or has on-the-spot intercessors praying for the ministry.
If I am not mistaken, the major difference is Carlos Annacondia’s intentional, premeditated, high-energy approach to spiritual warfare. A permanent fixture of Annacondia’s crusades is what has to be one of the most sophisticated and massive deliverance ministries anywhere. Under the direction of Pablo Botari, a wise, mature, and gifted servant of God, literally hundreds of people are delivered from demons each of the 30 to 50 consecutive nights of a crusade. The 150-foot deliverance tent, erected behind the speaker’s platform, operates from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. each night. Scores of teams whom Botari has trained do the actual hands-on ministry.
I have never observed a crusade evangelist who is as publicly aggressive in confronting evil spirits as Annacondia. With a high-volume, high-energy, challenge, he actually taunts the spirits until they manifest in one way or another. To the uninitiated, it looks like total confusion. But to the skilled, experienced members of Annacondia’s 31 crusade ministry teams, it is just another evening of power encounters in which the power of Jesus Christ over demonic forces is displayed for all to see. Many miraculous healings occur, souls are saved, and so great is the spiritual power mat unsuspecting pedestrians passing by the crusade meeting have been known to fall down under the power of the Holy Spirit.
A typical Annacondia crusade will have a radical influence on the philosophy of ministry of many cooperating local churches. A case in point is Pastor Alberto Prokopchuk of the Los Olivos Baptist Church in the city of La Plata. He told me that his church had been stuck at 30 members for years before Annacondia came. After Annacondia left, his church persuaded him to hold an evangelistic crusade. "I don’t have the gift of evangelist," he protested. The lay leaders responded, "You preach and we will pray that God gives you the gift of evangelist."
They held their first service, gave the invitation, and no one responded. Then Prokopchuk felt an inner voice saying, "Try it the way Annacondia does it." Although it was not part of his Baptist tradition, he began challenging the spirits and praying against them. He gave the invitation again, and 15 to 20 people actually ran up front to receive Christ. He now has 900 in his central church, with 2,100 others attending satellite congregations around the city; his goal is 20,000 members by the year 2000. He has been "doing it like Annacondia" ever since, with obvious results.
WINNING THE URBAN MASSES
Among the many things we have learned from our evangelical urbanologists is that the masses of people living in the world class cities today belong to the lower social classes: the poor and oppressed. While it is extremely important not to neglect the upper classes, and to encourage ministries such as Eduardo Lorenzo’s in Adrogue, if we do not win the poorer masses to Christ, we will not effectively evangelize the cities.
The 5,000 to 20,000 who crowd into night after night are lower class people. The 14,000 per day who attend Hector Gimenez’s services in the Roca Theater are lower class people. Omar Cabrera, pastor of the Vision of the Future Church of 90,000, which is Argentina’s largest, uses aggressive spiritual warfare in his own style and is filling his meeting places in 40 to 50 locations with those from the lower class.
What are people like Annacondia, Gimenez, and Cabrera doing that others with perhaps an equal desire to reach the urban masses are not doing? Spiritual warfare is part of the answer, but why are power evangelism and spiritual warfare so effective?
The most helpful analysis I have yet seen to explain something of what is behind this has come from Peter Wilkes, pastor of the South Hills Community Church of San Jose, Calif. His study of the evangelistic effectiveness of the high-profile Argentine leaders has now been set up in what I call the "Wilkes Spectrum" (see chart p. 137). It amounts to a sliding scale of class preferences for Christian values. On the extremes we find a fascinating and immediately recognizable contrast between personal and Christian preferences of the upper class and the lower class. Most people, of course, are on neither extreme, but many will profile toward one side or the other.
Notice four important applications of the Wilkes Spectrum to urban evangelism:
1.From the point of view of personal and Christian preferences, the middle class in the West would shade toward the left, but the middle class in Latin America, Asia, and Africa would shade toward the right. This is obviously a function of world view, among other things.
2. If there is a trend worldwide, it would seem to be a movement toward the right side of the spectrum. Ironically, both the charismatic movement and the New Age movement are nudging significant numbers of former left side people toward the right. Scientism may have seen its day.
3. The masses of the huge cities of the world, whether Chicago, Calcutta, Cairo or Caracas, are found toward the right side of the Wilkes Spectrum. Effective Argentine evangelists such as Annacondia, Gimenez, and Cabrera are skillfully contextualizing their message and methodology to communicate with and meet the needs of the lower class. One of their discoveries, which less successful urban ministers would do well to look into, is the efficacy of power evangelism and spiritual warfare for that particular audience.
4. Most of our theological training institutions in the Western world, and many in the non-Western world, talk a great deal about ministering to the poor and oppressed of the world’s urban centers, but they have recruited faculty and designed their curricula to train for ministry toward the left side of the Wilkes Spectrum. A surprising number of the urban megachurch pastors in world class cities lack theological degrees, while many with theological credentials are frustrated.
I believe that the great days for urban evangelism are yet ahead. God is helping us to understand the nature of the city through our urbanologists. He is providing us with practitioners who are demonstrating that it can be done. He is helping us to understand some of the reasons we have not been as effective as we would like to be. My prayer is that we will combine the theoretical with the practical, the technological with the spiritual, in such a way that city after city will be brought to faith and obedience under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
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