Evangelism is not recruitment. Evangelism is not even outreach.
Outreach can lead to evangelism, but you can have outreach all day and never announce the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Evangelism is when people are challenged directly with the gospel and invited to respond.
Many people may stumble at that point, but we always want people to hear and respond to the good news of the gospel.
Evangelism Never Changes
Evangelism always involves a bloody cross and an empty tomb. It always involves Jesus' death on the cross for our sin and in our place.
Those facts are a constant. Without that message, there is no evangelism since there is no good news.
Evangelism is transcultural and universal, and it goes throughout every era of time. It is men and women being called to trust and follow Jesus, to believe that the power of the gospel transforms upon repentance of their sins.
But how we do evangelism—how we get to the point of gospel proclamation—is impacted by the when and where of culture.
Methods of Evangelism Change Over Time
Evangelism is always going to involve calling people to repentance, to trust and follow Christ, and to be born again by the power of His gospel. But we can think about eras of evangelistic methodologies.
A few decades ago many people came to Christ when they heard great radio preachers. Radio evangelism was significant and cutting edge.
The bus ministry in the 1970s and '80s was once a meaningful evangelism method. (My sister rode a bus to a church on Long Island outside of New York City.)
She heard the challenging claims of the gospel, then trusted and followed Christ as a young girl. That led to my mother hearing the gospel, and then me hearing the gospel.
Evangelistic crusades were large gatherings typically in a stadium or arena where people could bring their friends to hear the good news of the gospel. God is continuing to use meetings like that around the world and even here.
In 1988, I started my first church in Buffalo, New York, on the heels of a Billy Graham Evangelistic Crusade. Consider that Graham's largest meeting in the world was in Seoul, Korea, in 1973 with more than 1 million people.
But currently, meeting-based evangelism has declined in frequency and some debate effectiveness. Still, that method has not ended if God has gifted someone as an evangelist to equip God's people for works of ministry to the building up of the body of Christ. Graham, his son, Franklin, and others can still preach a meeting and people will come to hear the truth of the gospel and many will respond by grace through faith.
Evangelism always involves a bloody cross and an empty tomb.
I lead a small group in my neighborhood every Sunday night. I might not be able to take them to a Billy Graham crusade, but I can invite them to my home because they already know me and they trust me. My neighbors two houses down on one side and another three houses down on the other side come regularly. We don't have to rely on large-meeting evangelism.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association itself has concluded that home-based evangelism is the next method of evangelism that God is using in our society. In what may have been Billy Graham's last great opportunity to share the gospel on a national stage, they put together the My Hope America evangelistic campaign to get the message of the gospel into as many homes as possible.
Jesus Christ is the only hope for any country in every era. Our honor and joy is to participate with Christ in evangelizing the not-yet believers in effective ways.
While we should be thankful the message of evangelism never changes, we should pray that we will always be sensitive to the changing methods so that many people will have the opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.
Ed Stetzer is the executive director of LifeWay Research. For the original article, visit edstetzer.com.
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