The Coral Ridge Strategy
This article originally appeared in two parts in the July 28, 1972 and the August 25, 1972 issues of Christianity Today.
The program of training laymen for the of evangelism at the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, grew out of the specific situation of that church; yet it has within it some readily transferable techniques that have been successfully used by other congregations. We believe its principles embody some of the New Testament teaching on evangelism. It is program of personal lay evangelism and does not begin to encompass many of the other sound and biblical methods, such as mass evangelism and pulpit evangelism.
Realizing that laymen are perhaps the most strategic and also the most unused key to the evangelization of the world, we have tried to build a program that will motivate, recruit, and train men and women to begin the job of evangelism and then keep doing it. This is not an easy task. And yet the basic principles of New Testament evangelism seem to require this mobilization of the laity.
Christ's first command to his new followers in the first chapter of Mark was, "Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men." His last words on this earth to his disciples were, "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." Christ began and ended his ministry with the command to be witnesses and fishers of men. This thrust of his teaching is summed up in the Great Commission, where he tells his followers to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. The first principle, then, is that the Church is a body under orders by Christ to share the Gospel with the whole world.
How is this to be done and by whom? One of the greatest victories Satan has scored against the Church is the idea he has foisted off on probably 90 per cent of it that sharing the Gospel is the task of ministers and evangelists only, not of laymen. So successful has Satan been with this stratagem that probably 95 per cent of our church members never lead anyone to Christ. I am thankful that today there is an obvious trend in the opposite direction, as more and more laymen are realizing and accepting their responsibility to witness. The second important principle, then, is that laymen as well as ministers must be trained to evangelize. Laymen make up over 99 per cent of the Church. If they are AWOL, there is little doubt that the battle will be lost.
It was the witness of the entire early Church that produced such a tremendous impact upon the world. In Acts 8:4 we read, "Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word." Some have said, "Doesn't this refer to the apostles? What do laymen know about such things?" This text has been ripped from its context and used as a pretext for idleness. But let us examine its context. In Acts 8:1 we read, "They were all scattered abroad except the apostles." This means those who "went everywhere preaching the word" were all the believers "except the apostles." And the term translated "preaching the word" is from the Greek verb that means "to evangelize." In the early Church, then, the laymen went everywhere "evangelizing." This is the lost ideal we are striving to regain.
We have seen what needs to be done and by whom. Now, how are we going to get them to do it?
Hundreds of thousands of messages have been preached on the responsibility of Christians to witness, and yet a formidable army of lay witnesses is notably absent. Something must be missing. This brings us to the next important principle: evangelism is more caught than taught. The average person can no more learn to evangelize in a classroom than he can learn to fly an airplane in the living room. The missing link in evangelistic instruction is on-the-job trainingsomething Christ provided.