I affirm that the church exists for evangelism, to reach out, to teach. I affirm that the church is God's instrument for spreading the good news. You probably agree, but how can we do this? How can we fulfill this purpose of God?
We have failed and are failing miserably in the statistics are to be believed. The churches of Christ continue to dwindle in number of congregation and in number of attendees. The church is not growing, certainly not growing rapidly, and is in fact decreasing. What is God's plan for evangelism? How can we effectively touch the lives of this city? our state? our community? our world?
Cannot really imagine it, but try very hard, think with me, imagine a man or woman who has never before heard the gospel of Christ proclaimed. You and I, most of us, have heard the gospel proclaimed all of our lives. We know the message of the cross of Christ. But imagine with me, even if you have never experienced it--a person hearing for the first time, in a New Testament church for the first time, first time to experience NT worship. Hearing about the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for the first time. Can you identify with that person? How would you feel if you had never heard the gospel? From the moment I could know anything, I have know about church, Christ, cross, Bible. Bible stories, worship, Bible study, gospel meetings.
The word gospel in fact means good news. But to the average person in our world today, it is not even news. That person has already heard it. How many thousands of Bible are there in Oklahoma? How many churches are there is your city? county? state? I am saying it would be rare to find the person in our circles of acquaintance who has not heard something about God, the Bible, Jesus. It is possible there are none. So this message of the gospel is not really news. We invite people to come to church, because we have news, but they have already heard.
A second thing, although gospel means good news, it may not be good. This man we are considering may have been hurt in the name of God. May have lived next door to a hypocrite, maybe watched us, prejudice entered. When I speak of evangelism at the beginning of this new millennium, it is not like the first century, when Paul went to Macedonia, Thessalonica, etc., to announce the good news for the fisrt time. The gospel is not news to many folks, and it is not good news to many because of past experiences.
Are we aware of these facts? What approach shall we use? Here we are dealing with our modern society, youthful but graying, mobile, experienced. Our communities continue to grow, our world continues to explode. People continue to move around in our society and world. These are often without roots, from different cultures, and there are many opportunities to influence others. These people will seek a church, but they want a church that is friendly, that meets felt needs, that is comfortable, that is open, and they will go. Many in our world are ripe for the gospel. We have opportunities to address people and their needs.
Another factor is the decrease in denominational loyalty. There is less of the entrenched prejudice. Many do not know what to believe, and so they are seeking. In our universities, religion courses continue to be popular. A recent poll said that 76% of high school students in the US considered religion important to them personally. We are in a world awakening to the realities, meanings, and there is a quest for the importance and meaning of life, and we must see our society as it is.
But a negative we must know--these do not want organized religion. They do not want the party line, they do not want our pet peeves and pet scriptures. They want an open, honest search for the message of God applied in their lives. We will not convert many to our preferences. This is not evangelism, but proselyting. The church that presents the gospel of Jesus, that focuses on Jesus, is going to take the day. And folks, that's us! We must learn and grow. We still have our pet ideas, and we want to line people up with this idea, and make people right on this point and that point. Doctrine matters, but we have made people right on the points and that person has never been confronted with the Christ. We must do both. In Acts, they preached Christ, people obeyed, and that made the church. We can do the same. We can focus on Christ. What does this person know about Jesus, is what he knows right, can I help him meet the Christ?
Look at Acts again. The church is criticized, we are not doing enough evangelism. There is not must evangelism occurring. Look at Acts. Evangelism is vibrant, active, changing. We must learn. Tents are not in vogue, campaigns are largely not in vogue. We cannot live in the past. The past is not law and gospel. The past is past. We may say that people do not have religion today because they won't come to our gospel meeting, but the truth is that people do not have religion today because we have not addressed them with the gospel of Jesus.
We must be honest with ourselves. The key is not in small groups, personal work groups, filmstrips, videos, visitation programs.... They did not convert the whole world in a year. Acts 5:42 is the apostles teaching. Acts 8:4 is not organized evangelism. Acts 6-7 provide key to understanding Acts 8. Acts 6-7 is story of divided church, trouble, problems. Eventually led to Jerusalem meeting in Acts 15, and meanwhile Peter had trouble with this concept in Acts 10-11. The Jews were rigid, and the thought of evangelism was far from the mind of the News. Philip started a mission work in Acts 8, but that is after 8:4. In Acts 11, they were still only telling Jews. Read Acts. They were still trying to bind Judaism. When you read on down, Acts 20-21, Paul in Jerusalem was in some fashion, it would appear, still observing Judaism. The NT church was not as evangelistic as some would lead us to believe. There are no statistics as we continue through Acts, nor in the epistles. No thought of a 100-year plan, and by Rev. 2-3, severe problems exist. Evangelism is not mentioned, and John does not write about their lack of evangelism, he does not put pressure and guilt trips on their lack of evangelistic fervor.
We prod, talk about it, but in the early church it was natural, coming out of their lives. No pressure was placed on NT Christian to be soul-winner. We must rethink our approach. We must reconsider how we can proclaim gospel of Jesus, as news, as good news, and life-changing.
I. Focus on discipleship more than decisions.
Some people are too focused on decisions. The denominational world calls is decisions, we call it baptism, but the fact is that getting someone wet who is not committed to becoming a follower/disciple of Jesus Christ is futile. I believe in baptizing sinners, I believe baptism washes away sins. But then what? Do not leave that person at the baptistry to drip dry and fend for self. Matt. 28, our text, says that when we disciple, we are to teach. We make disciples, mark those disciples in baptism, and then we must mature those disciples. We are born to be born, baptism is not for baptism's sake. We are born to live. We must be interested in more than the statistics--we baptized this number of persons. How many disciples are there?
We must think more broadly than to do something in a certain way with certain people on a certain night. That is the fallacy of visitation programs. Matt. 28 says, literally, as you are going. As you live, where you are, you can share good news. You are part of a global search party. You are searching 24/7. All you do ought to naturally bring people to Jesus Christ. It is not in techniques, gimmicks, gadgets.
I saw statistics that said one congregation was losing 86% of those it baptized. To address our world will require more than a few select answers to a few questions. We must refocus on Jesus, and the gospel. We must proclaim the gospel. Not a little here and a little there. John 10:10. Church is not a redemption center, but life center. This is for all of life. We are born to live. Baptism is means to end, not end. We do not stop at baptism, we begin. If just giving birth so people can die, we do not understand.
II. Focus on the personal arena rather than the public.
There is a place for the mass media, preaching, but that is plowing and prospecting. Effective outreach is personal. What makes doorknocking work is not doorknocking, but when someone invites one into the home. That works. Cold turkey doorknocking is not effective, but it leads to what is effective--talking to people personally. We have misunderstood the place of advertising and mass media. We have made mass media confrontational. We have battered people but not bettered them. We must open door, allow a viable voice, help people hear. Come and see. We are here, we are honest, we are helpful, we are trying. Sometimes, in some communities, in some churches, I think it is better than they do not know us. If we cannot be personal with family and friends, how will we be personal with strangers? This is not how we have seen it, but this is the method of Scripture. Not in organized programs and techniques and the big bang. We are not in sales. Forget that. If we understand the gospel, we are heralds, preaching the message of the King, telling what God did in Jesus Christ.
III. Focus on witness, then the word.
We must recover the concept of telling what we know. Our religious friends testify and witness. We are obviously not eyewitnesses, and there are no eyewitnesses today. But in a court of law, there are witnesses besides eyewitnesses. You can testify to what you have seen. If you read your NT, God's word for evangelism is witness. One can witness what he has, what he knows, can be an expert witness, can testify concerning the competency of another. Evangelism in 1 Thess. 2 is the story of what God did for us, to us, and through us. The witness is not the attorney, not a salesman, and not judge nor jury. I am a witness, but I can only tell what I am qualified to tell, and that is evangelism. I do not have to serve as police nor judge. One witness does not tell another what to say. We go to those we know, and we share what we know. In the NT, witness is martus, our word martyr, because often the witness went to the point of death.
We must recommit to service. People serving one another, our community, our neighbors. What can I do to serve? We are not self-serving. When was the last time you were accused of being the friend of sinners? Are we afraid of serving sinners? My Lord was not.
IV. We must focus on Christ, then the church.
What I see in Acts is networking evangelism. Here is a group, joining together, reaching out, encompassing others. People do not respond of the first sermon, most already know about Christ, and in our assemblies, most are already Christians and know Christ. We have been taught by friends and family. It is a network, not a lecture. It is day in and day out dialog with people. It is bringing people to see the Christ, what his followers are like, what we are not, and to demonstrate God's love. You do not have to be a theologian to be evangelistic, but you must be a committed, in love with Jesus, Christian. Evangelism is loving, not coercison, not intimidation, not manipulation.
I am afraid the church in many places is more interested in tradition, culture, and projects and programs than in saving souls. Let's learn how to reach out and do it. Let's adjust. Let's recommit to telling the good news. Let's make disciples, be personal witnesses of the Christ. In Acts 2:47, there were daily baptisms because they were praising God, and had a good reputation with all the people. Let us praise God, let us build the favor of those around us.
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