It has been said, with the recent pass of such a great man of God, that there will never be another like Billy Graham. This is true on more than one level. Billy Graham did what no other person was able to do. He could gather a crowd and speak to them about Jesus like no one else in history. He has often been said to be the greatest evangelist since the apostle Paul, if not of all time.
But here’s the thing: mass evangelism is not the norm; it’s the exception. American Christianity especially, though not singularly, somehow fell into the notion that mass evangelism is the way to go. It is thought to be the most effective, when it is–in fact–the least effective way to go. History shows (except on very rare occasions) that the masses do not come to faith in Jesus; however, individuals do. Because of revivalism that was popularized by Charles Finney and others, American Christians have sought to gather a bunch of people together and preach to them, hoping for mass conversion. The old tent, week-long revivals are rarely ever held anymore, but we do still hold to the idea of mass evangelism.
The church that I am so grateful to pastor is about to have our third annual Easter Egg Hunt. It is looking to be the biggest we’ve had so far. There will be a devotional with a strong emphasis on the gospel and we all hope to see people come to Jesus. All that is right and good, but if it is at the expense or gives credence to the idea that “the church” has done our job for us by giving the gospel, then something is wrong. Let me reemphasize: the masses do not come to faith; individuals do. Personal evangelism is so much more effective than mass evangelism.
That, it would seem, includes Jesus and Paul. Andrew and John follow Jesus and ask him where he is going. Jesus told them to come and see. The next thing we know Andrew goes and gets Simon. Jesus spoke with Simon and called him. The same thing happens with Philip and Nathaniel. Matthew was sitting at his tax table and got up and left it all when Jesus called him. Yet when Jesus spoke at the Sermon on the Mount or during the feeding of the 5,000 (men; up to 20,000 total), we don’t actually see any conversions. At Jesus’ death he only had a couple of handfuls of believers.
Paul led many to Jesus. He led the proconsul in Cyprus to Christ, the Philippian jailer, and Lydia as well. He had his “masses” at synagogues and such, but usually just as many rejected (if not more) than believed. Who can forget Mar’s Hill in Athens? He preached and was mocked by most. Others wanted to hear him again. “But some men joined him and believed…” (Acts 17:34, ESV). Some did, but it would seem most did not.
Mass evangelism does not seem to be the norm in the New Testament. There are cases of it, of course. There is the first sermon of Peter in Acts 2 and then another in Acts 3-4, but these are the exceptions that prove the rule. We are surprised when mass evangelism works because intrinsically we know that this is not a normal experience. Let’s keep it like that. May we not rely on mass evangelism to bring the masses, instead, let’s be pleasantly surprised when mass evangelism works and keep (or become) faithful with our personal evangelism.