Ed Stetzer on Reconsidering Our Approach to Evangelism in a Pandemic

Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. The Exchange Team contributed to this article.

Many churches have found effective and creative ways to be on mission and to engage in evangelism during the coronavirus crisis. At the same time, some evangelism approaches have been affected just like church life (and, let’s face it, all of life) has been disrupted.

If you aren’t a scholar or researcher in the field of evangelism you may not realize the many ways it is carried out. On the one hand, we all understand that evangelism involves the proclamation of the good news of the gospel and an invitation for women and men to respond by grace, through faith, to that invitation of the gospel. There is biblical, gospel content involved: “How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14).

Mass Evangelism

On the other hand, there are different ways actually to practice this by different people and groups in diverse contexts. For example, many people are familiar with the category of mass evangelism. I direct the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center; the most famous evangelist in history was Mr. Graham. Masses of people in large arenas hearing the gospel illustrates a form of mass evangelism. Evangelism remains as long as somebody is telling others about Jesus and how to respond and receive.

But there are other means of mass evangelism like open air evangelism. That’s also a kind of evangelism, in the category of mass evangelism.

Small Group Evangelism

Small group evangelism has become an increasingly used tool today even as small groups have become an important part of culture both inside and outside the church. Alpha is probably the best known; another example is Christianity Explored.

Small group evangelism existed in earlier forms. John Wesley’s Societies gathered small groups of people hoping to flee the coming wrath of God in the 18th century Great Awakening. Sunday school evangelism was a very effective approach for generations, gathering people in groups to learn the Bible and hear the gospel.

Other Categories

There’s also ministry or service evangelism, where people are served or helped in Jesus’ name. This ranges from disaster relief to “servant evangelism” popularized in the book Conspiracy of Kindness. There’s also literature evangelism where people pass out tracts or Bibles. These are all parts of what evangelism can and should be. I don’t want to leave anybody out—door to door evangelism can be a thing as well. I’m for everything.

Church Evangelism

For a time, one could argue that the most commonly engaged form of evangelism in the Western world was church evangelism, focused on the whole church being engaged in reaching their community, often employing a variety of other types.

What we have primarily done in the Western world for the last decades is a form of church evangelism, where the church became central in evangelism. Whole systems have been created over the past generation to involve churched people in reaching unchurched neighbors and friends.

The seeker movement, which had both strengths and weaknesses, emphasized church evangelism. Go back earlier to the fifties before the seeker movement and you saw a big focus on bringing a friend to church or to Sunday school.

A common practice in church evangelism during the seeker movement was to encourage believers to invest and invite: invest in your unchurched friends, coworkers, and neighbors, and then invite them to church. There, a well-crafted message by an articulate pastor shared the good news of the gospel. It was effective in reaching many; but an unintended consequence was to focus the actual gospel proclamation to a small number of gifted people.

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Source: Christianity Today