From revivalism to management

Evangelism was the focus of American Christians for the past 150 years during the great revival and holiness movements and great awakenings. There were great outdoor campaigns aimed at bringing people to Christ. The Holiness movement published thousands of books and held hundreds of prayer meetings mostly by lay people. Evangelism and Holiness were everywhere in society. Some towns even closed their jails because all the criminals had become Christians. By 1900 the population to Church ration in the USA was 1 to 74. Most were beautiful small churches.

In 1909 there was a revolution in management by Frederick W. Taylor. This revolution systematized business and had a great influence on the thinking of all American’s about the “most efficient way” to solve problems. Christian believers naturally applied this thinking to the process of personal evangelism leading to the new Birth and to the process of a believer becoming entirely sanctified. For an American, if a good system was applied the problem could be solved.

Evangelism systems
Small Church in Ohio

Through the first half of the 1900’s the question gradually became “how to present the Gospel to a person who was not yet saved?” Especially from the 1950’s to the 1990’s the focus was on having a pattern memorized to repeat to a person who was not yet a Christian. Examples of these are “The Roman Road,” “The Four Spiritual Laws,” “Evangelism Explosion” with D. James Kennedy and Dr. Chic Shaver’s adaption of “Evangelism Explosion.” At times these presentations were detailed and at times simple but with all of them the focus was on moving a person from unbelieving to believing. In a mainly Christian culture with large numbers of shared stories these were powerful and helpful.  The systems built on the stories that were common in the culture at the time. Many came to Christ with these methods. Many are following Christ because of these system, but now we are loosing the shared stories. Today many families have not gone to church for two or three generations. They have never heard many of the Bible stories! Whatever happened to evangelism today? 

Small church challenges

The simple systems methods for evangelism have always had challenges. As a pastor I was exposed to many patterns for evangelism. Over and over I tried train my congregation in some evangelism method to bring people to Christ. The methods rarely seemed to fit. Trying to memorize a pattern and get people to actually implement it is very difficult in a small beautiful church.

There are many reasons but most of the people attending a small church don’t know how to use these simple systems with the close friends and family. They know few strangers in the small town. In the urban setting those “strangers” could be dangerous.  Whatever happened to evangelism?  Many believers could not understand how to apply it in their context.  When I present the gospel, (use a simple system), to my family and they don’t respond. What do I do now? 

From Evangelism to Discipleship

Whatever happened to evangelism?  The Mission of the Church of the Nazarene is to Make Christlike Disciples in the Nations. Church leaders have generally moved from using the term “evangelism” to using “discipleship.” Both of these are deeply Biblical concepts. I believe we are making a mistake by dropping the term “evangelism.” These are two distinct types of work though they blend with each other.

Jesus did both public evangelism and discipleship. Jesus started his ministry preaching alone and used a very SIMPLE sticky phrase. Matthew 4:17 “Repent! for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (WEB). This simple sticky phrase built on John’s message and pointed to the new hope Jesus was giving. It was easy to share in a village. Jesus preaching would be the big news event of the day. For those who listened it was easy to repeat “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Likely there was a vigorous supper discussion about the preacher. Villages like to talk about strangers. This is clearly Evangelism. The presentation of Good News to those who have not heard it yet. Jesus, our example, shows that this is important.  In some ways we can follow His example. 

Jesus selected his first disciples after a few months. He began to teach them by example. They followed him, living where he lived and listening to his teaching both in public and in private. They watched Jesus heal thousands of people and cast out hundreds of demons. Their faith was increased by what they heard, saw and experienced over several months. They talked with each other about what he taught. Soon he was giving them various responsibilities for the ministry. He sent them out on their own two by two. He finally left and the whole work was in their hands. This is clearly discipleship, the molding of character and the development of ministry in another person.

Evangelism = proclaiming the good news to a not yet believer in Jesus.
Discipleship = Accountable conversations urging each other to full spiritual obedience to Christ.

How does this work in the small church?

We think deeply about our local church culture.

What stories do we tell? What kinds of victories do we celebrate? What do I hear people talking about? What kind of testimonies do they give?

The small church actually has an advantage in this process since everyone knows everyone else.  We need to leverage that advantage by building a culture of spiritual accountability. It is possible for every Christian to help anyone saint or sinner to move closer to Christ. The hostile person can become less hostile. The sinful can be encouraged with hope. Believers can pray for hurting people. Honest business and work practices set an example. If we overhear these stories from many in the congregation, and often hear public testimonies about them, we have a discipleship culture. If we rarely overhear these stories or testimonies we have work to do.

Discipleship is independent of church size or structure.

How to make cultural improvements

If we need to improve our culture, the best place to start is with the most spiritual people in the congregation. Help them to begin to tell the stories each week of their spiritual interactions with others. Share your stories with them, your failures and successes. How did either of you help someone toward Christ this week or this month?

The goal is making the spiritual progress of others and ourselves a congregation wide topic of conversation and celebration.  Culture is made by the stories we tell to each other which create a world view.  By using stories we can help people understand the subtle change in focus (from system to culture).  We give them a new picture of how they can engage in fruitful conversations.  We tell stories of how these kinds of actions help people come to Christ.

We are the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit. So that wherever we go – Christ goes. We are literally the hands and feet of Christ. So we are able to be bold with wisdom for Christ with all the people we are already meeting on a regular basis. We also don’t need to be responsible for their whole response to Christ. We just need to help everyone move one step closer.

How do you see the relationship between Evangelism and Discipleship?