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What is Successful Evangelism?

Given that the Gospel itself is God's powerful agent in evangelism through which he reveals himself (Rom 1:16,17), and given that it is in the mind of God to whom he chooses to reveal himself (Matt 11:27), we then have the right framework to discuss what constitutes success in evangelism.

Without this perspective on the sovereignty of God and the Gospel as his chosen means of bringing people under his kingly rule, we will be liable to see success in terms of head counts and look for power in evangelism in all the wrong places - in fact anything other than the Gospel itself.

So evangelists will whip up emotions, raise the tone of their voices, bring on the soft background music, claim miraculous healings, spend whole nights in prayer, and concentrate on techniques in bringing people to the point of decision. Of course people can be converted in the context of all these things, but their conversion still depends on them hearing the Gospel. Faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17), and what people need to hear is actually the Gospel itself.

Three Criteria for Measuring Success:

  1. Non-Christians Must be Present.

    This rather basic thought actually calls the lie to many of our efforts in evangelism. Churches are often solely dependent for their outreach on non-Christian people attending their Gospel services. Twenty-five years ago this may have been a reasonable approach and in ten years' time it might be worth relying on again, but today very few rank outsiders will darken the doors of our churches and then only for very special occasions.

    It is the perpetual fear with all attempts at mass evangelism that over 95% of those present will be the faithful flock. We must therefore find methods where complete outsiders will be able to hear the Gospel. Dialogue Supper Parties are one such method, Michael Wooderson's scheme 'Good News Down The Street' is another. Perhaps you can think of a third?

  2. The Gospel Must be Clearly and Persuasively Presented so that People Can Understand It. This of course addresses the evangelist and questions whether he can speak the same language as his audience, whether he is 'accurately handling the word of truth' (2 Tim 2:15), whether he distorts the message perhaps to make it more palatable to his audience (2 Cor 4:2), whether he is gifted and able to 'argue persuasively about the Kingdom of God' (Acts 19:8).

    This must not be an excuse for the rest of us to opt out and leave the work to such gifted evangelists! (Gospel work would stop overnight!) Rather it is a challenge to all of us to be prayerfully critical of what we are doing, to work hard at the task before us and to learn from our mistakes. Some may be better evangelists than others, but we are all called to give a reason for the hope that is within us (1 Pet 3:15).

  3. The Atmosphere Must be Conducive to Listening.

    If you have gone to the trouble of getting your unbelieving friends to attend, and found an evangelist who will faithfully and clearly proclaim the Gospel, it is tragic if they cannot hear what he is saying. So a dialogue supper can be ruined by the rattle of washing-up going on in the next room, an open-air can be (and in my experience invariably is) ruined by the noise of the traffic and other events occurring nearby. Mass evangelism is ruined if the sound amplification isn't working. Our personal witness is ruined when we ourselves are the distraction. This may relate to personal mannerisms or bad breath, or more importantly to our lack of Christ-likeness. 'I cannot hear what you are saying because your life is shouting too loudly.'

If these three criteria are fulfilled - unbelievers are present and the Gospel is clearly presented in an atmosphere which enables them to consider the issues carefully, then our work in evangelism has been done successfully irrespective of how many people become Christians! It is the work of God's Holy Spirit to cause people to be born again. We must do our allotted part in evangelism and wait prayerfully for God to do his part - to honour his Word as he chooses.
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