Category Archives: Evangelism

The Masses Do Not Come

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.

I AM is With Us

Last night, our small group (Outpost) was studying John 9.  In this chapter, there is a man born blind, who receives his sight when Jesus makes mud out of spit and dirt, puts it on the man’s eyes and tells him to wash in pool of Siloam.  Upon receiving sight, the Jewish leaders are incensed.  They peppered him with questions, and he answered them all.  Not believing this man, they called the parents.  The parents confirmed that he was their son and that he was born blind, but they would not go any further than that.  You see, the leaders had already vowed to throw any confessor out of the synagogue.

We tend to not have the right idea of synagogues.  We tend to look at them as places of worship.  They were more like places of learning, but they were much more than that.  Synagogue is a combination of two Greek words that means “gather together.” This was a place of gathering.  It was a place of learning, but also very much like a community center.  Being kicked out of the synagogue was practically being kicked out of the community.  Thus for the parents to confess Jesus meant giving up everything–a cost too great to bear.

However, the man born blind–now healed–did not hesitate to confess Jesus.  In fact, while not knowing exactly who (or what) Jesus was, he got a bit snarky with the Jewish leaders.  “He answered them, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen.  Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples,” (John 9:27, ESV)?  What boldness!  I’m not saying whether or not the snarkiness was necessary, but one cannot help but see that there is a stark contrast between parents and child.  The healed man defended Jesus to the leaders, until: “They answered him, ‘You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?’ And they cast him out” (John 9:34, ESV).

This man gave up all he had known for the sake of Jesus.  He was an outcast because he confessed Christ.  What courage!  But here is the most interesting part of all: “Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man,” (John 9:35, ESV)?  Jesus heard that the man was cast out and went searching for him.  Jesus would not abandon the one who confessed his name before man.

It is so easy to allow the threat (real or imagined) of becoming an outcast to dictate what we say, and Who we confess.  We don’t want to be shunned at next year’s Thanksgiving dinner.  We don’t want to be the one person at work that no one will talk to.  We don’t want to lose a friend or be the “Ned Flanders” of the neighborhood.  But we have the promise, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” (Matthew 28:20b, ESV).

Seven times, in the book of John, Jesus declared Himself as the I AM.  In John 9, Jesus reiterated what he had already stated in John 8: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world,” (John 9:5, ESV; cf. John 8:12).  Jesus made this statement in connection with the healing of this blind man.  When the man became an outcast, the “I AM” found him.  If we too will face the fear of being an outcast, we will find the beauty and peace that comes with the presence of Jesus in a way we never thought possible.  The I AM is with us always, even to the end of the age.  Let us never fear being outcast since it only brings us nearer to the I AM.