“Mass evangelism has been permitted by the Devil to keep the Church from practicing the biblical ideal of community evangelism,” a British bishop asserted. That is pretty strong language. One wonders about the biblical undergirding and the historical support for this sweeping statement.

In some evangelical circles, the idea of mass evangelism is encountering resistance that, though not as disparaging as the bishop’s, runs all the way from cool indifference to hot opposition. “Count on the mass evangelism campaign only for its psychological impact,” advises Pablo Pretiz:

In some places a united campaign has proved to be a milestone in evangelical advance (e.g. the Hicks’ campaign in Buenos Aires). But in cities where united efforts have repeatedly been made … [such] campaigns may be a waste of energy. People who respond may get “inoculated” against further contact with the Gospel and opportunities for really integrating them into evangelical churches may be lost [In Depth, July 17, 1973, p. 29].

Although Pretiz admits that crusade evangelism has scored some real breakthroughs, he says that it “may be a waste of energy” in some situations, it may inoculate people “against further contact with the Gospel” in others, and it may fail in its goal, church growth—“integrating [the converts] into evangelical churches.”

So what do we do?

All too often when we reject mass evangelism we make new plans, set new goals, establish new priorities—but we don’t win souls! As a substitute for mass evangelism some recommend charismatic renewal. Others go for church-growth workshops. Some turn to graphs and charts. To others the only answer is home Bible classes. But we don’t plant churches!

All these things are valid. I myself am involved in almost all of them. But they are not legitimate substitutes for mass evangelism. In themselves they, too, can become hindrances to fulfilling the Great Commission.

No wonder one of Latin America’s leading evangelists, Luis Palau, complained:

I am tired of the impractical ideological rationalizations pushed by absentee ideologists and strategists … prepared in 72° air-conditioned offices. We don’t need any more armchair strategists, we need battlefield officers. We’re supposed to reach the world … and bring men to Christ. We need all the tools God has given us to get the job done and that includes mass evangelism [“Overseas Crusades’ Role in Mass Evangelism,” unpublished].

We cannot reject mass evangelism without violating the Scriptures. We cannot deny its effectiveness without ignoring church history.

Jesus, The First “Christian” Evangelist
And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching … proclaiming … curing.… When He saw the throngs, He was moved with pity … because they were bewildered—harassed and distressed and dejected and helpless—like sheep without a shepherd [Matt. 9:35–37; this and subsequent quotations are from the Amplified Version].

We see the Evangelist in the midst of his three years of mass evangelism. His target? The multitudes. His burden? Their salvation. His method? At least two-part.

Jesus spent time with individuals: he was a personal evangelist. Samuel H. Moffett has written:

Jesus evangelized the woman at the well, not standing on it and preaching to her, but by asking her for a drink, then talking with her.
When He evangelized Nicodemus, the great evangelistic phrase, “You must be born again,” was not thundered from a pulpit, it was said in secret to a young Pharisee who came to Him by night for a very private conversation [“The Biblical Background of Evangelism,” First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, Pa., n.d., p. 11].

“That’s it, that’s it,” the one-by-one advocate. “Jesus was a personal evangelist, not a mass evangelist. He reached men one by one, not in bunches.”

Article continues below

But that’s only half of the story. Jesus spent time with the multitudes. Moffett continues:

Jesus also had a dramatic ministry to multitudes. So did Peter at Pentecost and Finney and Moody and so does Billy Graham. Jesus was mobbed and surrounded and crowded and pushed and adulated by the multitudes. So beset was He by the crowds that at times He had to escape from them by boat. But He evangelized them. He spoke to 4,000 at a time. Again to 5,000. Mass evangelism is as biblical as personal witness and vice versa [ibid.].

Jesus maintained the ideal balance between personal evangelism and mass evangelism. We would do well to follow his example.

The Father And The Holy Spirit Joined The Crusade

The Father took upon himself the responsibility of gathering the crowd. In modern terms, he took over the leadership of the publicity committee.

Horrid! Blasphemous! How uncouth to compare God’s activity with the carnal methods of a crusade publicity committee!

Read the text. What God did on the day of Pentecost makes our publicity stunts look pallid: “Suddenly there came a sound from heaven like the rushing of a violent tempest blast … and when this sound was heard, the multitude came together” [Acts 2:2, 6a]. What a way to draw a crowd!

Next, the Holy Spirit did his part, and it was even more spectacular than what the Father had done:

There appeared to them tongues resembling fire, which were separated and distributed and that settled on each one of them. And they … began to speak in other languages as the Spirit kept giving them clear and loud expression.… And the multitude were beside themselves with amazement [Acts 2:3–7].

Evidently God enjoys the noise, the display, and the emotion of Spirit-filled people striving to break through to get the attention of lost men. Paul must have learned the lesson from God’s example when he declared his willingness to become “all things to all men that I may by all means save some.”

Soon God launched another evangelistic crusade in the same city. This time it was a healing crusade. Acts 3 tells the story, that of the crippled man whom Peter healed. After he was healed, the man could not restrain his joy. He went into the temple “walking and leaping and praising God.” He “firmly clung” to Peter and John. And “all the people in utmost amazement ran together and crowded around them.”

God seems to like spiritual excitement. He enjoys seeing men break with restraint when there is good reason for doing so. He evidently is pleased when they throw aside enslaving traditions and preach the Word, anywhere, any time.

In Acts 5 God sent the apostles right back into crusade evangelism again. They were probably carrying on an effective personal ministry in jail. It wasn’t the moment for personal work, however. They hadn’t finished their crusade evangelism yet, and so God sent a jail-breaking angel to pay them a visit. “Go, take your stand in the temple courts and declare to the people the whole doctrine concerning this Life” (Acts 5:20). They went. They launched the third evangelistic crusade in the same city, and evidently, in the same place, the temple courts.

And so the account goes on and on and on. In the temple courts, in homes, on the streets, by life and soon by death, the risen Lord’s witnesses were driven out into the open. Soon the Gospel had saturated the cities of Jerusalem and Judea. Then a transition event occurred. The Gospel crossed into Samaria. What evangelistic tool was used by God to break through into the new subculture? An evangelistic crusade. Soon Philip was engaged in what was probably the greatest citywide evangelistic crusade in the history of the early Church:

Great crowds of people with one accord listened to and heeded what was said by Philip, as they heard him and watched the miracles and wonders.… Foul spirits came out of many who were possessed by them, … screaming and shouting with a loud voice. Many who were suffering from palsy or were crippled were restored to health. And there was great rejoicing in that city [Acts 8:6–8, italics added].
Article continues below

More noise! Demons shouting as their enslaving powers were broken! More healings! More emotion! What a crusade that was! What a way to bring a whole city under the power of God in a matter of hours!

Mass evangelism is biblical. It has its origin in the activity of God himself.

The excitement of mass evangelism flows like a mighty river through almost 2,000 years of church history. Think of the great leaders God has given to the Church from the time of the First Evangelical Awakening to today! Palau mentions some of them—John Wesley, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Charles G. Finney, Dwight L. Moody, Elias Schrenk, R. A. Torrey, Billy Sunday, John Sung, Billy Graham—and comments: “What a sense of vibrating excitement grips the imagination at the very reading of the names of such great men.” He goes on to say:

They were more than individuals, they symbolized potent movements of God. God used them to write history … nation-changing history. Their lives touched millions and brought hundreds of thousands into the Kingdom of God by faith in Jesus Christ.… All had one thing in common: Each practiced citywide crusade evangelization and the power of those crusades … by the continuing action of the Holy Spirit through their anointed writings, life stories and stillstanding institutions … continues to inspire young men to serve Christ in every land. [“Mass Evangelism Is Alive and Well,” lecture given at 1974 retreat of EFMA mission executives].
What’S The Problem?

After we move through the fog of the objections raised about mass evangelism, we discover the real issue. It centers in the follow-through question.

After the feverish activity of the crusade, the poor showing in new, countable disciples as a direct result of the evangelistic effort haunts us. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

The real problem relates to us, not to the strategy of evangelism we are discussing. We have done little to discover where and when mass evangelism is the best strategy and where and when it is not. But, thank God, help is coming. Two of the sources of greatest help are the Engel Spiritual Decision Process Model and the Palau-Silvoso Model.

Jim Engel is director of the Graduate School in Communications at Wheaton College. His Spiritual Decision Process Model is an attempt to deal visually with the twofold question faced by every evangelist: One, where are the target people in their understanding of the Gospel? Two, which evangelistic approach best communicates the Gospel to them?

The diagram tells the story. God and the Christian are seeking to bring the Gospel to the target people. Those people are classified according to their understanding of and/or acceptance of the Gospel.

The model helps us realize that people vary in their understanding of the Gospel and their attitude toward it. Engel’s scale of gospel awareness runs from —8 to —1. Some people are aware of the existence of a Supreme Being, but that is all. They fall at —8. Others have a slight advantage over these in that they have some initial awareness of Christianity. However, they show little or no interest in knowing more about the Gospel. Engel rates them —7. Then there are others who combine some interest with their sparse awareness of Christ. They are classified as —6.

We continue moving on down the scale till we break into a new area of relationship with Christianity, from —3 to —1. Here we move from personal recognition of need for what Christianity offers to the decision to repent and place faith in the Lord Jesus.

Article continues below

As Engel says, we habitually assume that all unsaved people are in stages —3 to —1. What we fail to recognize is they can vary all the way from —8 to —1. This variance in understanding and interest demands different evangelistic content and method.

How does this apply to mass evangelism (Include in this term not only crusade evangelism but also evangelism through literature, films, radio, and TV)? In at least three ways. First, the effectiveness of mass evangelism depends more on the status of the target people than on the spirituality of the evangelist, the biblical purity of his message, or the validity of the media. Second, mass evangelism is probably more effective among persons in stages —4 to —1. On those in —8 to —5 mass evangelism may have little lasting effect. Third, we must adopt the discipline of research before we decide on our evangelistic method and the exact content of our evangelistic message. As evangelists and researchers we must discover the answers to the following questions:

1. Where do the target people line up on the scale of gospel awareness? This will help determine the content of the evangelistic message needed.

2. What are the life-styles of the target people—their values, felt needs, and so on?

3. What are their attitudes toward the type of media to be used in the evangelistic effort?

I know several cases in which the chosen evangelistic means was to leave some gospel literature in every home in a given area. The “evangelists” declared that the success of this venture justified their promotional boast that the city was now evangelized. It did not seem to trouble them that more than half of the people in the target area were functional illiterates. If they had done any research they would have realized that some other evangelistic strategy was called for.

Indonesia presents a different example. One of that nation’s leading churchmen, the Reverend Pendeta Maiti-more, told me:

We Indonesians are very attracted by big things like revival movements. We call such great events “happenings.” You can get 200,000 people in a single meeting if you have a big “happening.” Look at the riots against the Japanese in 1974. Twenty thousand students gathered in Jakarta in the matter of an hour. Mass evangelism therefore can be very strategic in evangelizing my country.

To date, however, little has been done in large-scale mass evangelism in Indonesia. One wonders how many Indonesians have moved from —8 to —4 since the 1965 aborted coup and could be brought to Christ through mass crusades!

When research shows that mass evangelism is strategically desirable, the evangelists should move ahead to establish their goals, choose their priorities, and do their planning. As the program progresses they should continually measure its effectiveness according to their previously established goals. When it is all over they should engage in a thorough “post-mortem,” so that they have a good idea of how well they did at achieving their objectives.

I know one evangelist who is willing to go through this extensive preparation. He is a colleague of mine in Overseas Crusades, Argentine evangelist Luis Palau. Palau has just released one of his key team members to try a two-year experiment in this type of evangelism. This young man, the Reverend Ed Silvoso, has moved to an important city in Argentina. There he will follow a general plan he and Palau worked out with the advice of several people from Fuller Seminary’s School of World Mission. Silvosa will then evaluate the results in light of the plan and write the whole thing up for the benefit of the Palau team and the whole missionary effort of the Church.

Article continues below

The Palau-Silvoso Model begins with the first major goal, expansion growth: a given number of existing churches must measurably increase their rate of growth, at least half of this increase through conversion. The second major goal will be extension growth: a given number of new churches will be planted over the two-year period. The figure now under consideration is fifty churches. These goals will be stated ahead of time in fellowship with the participating churches. Progress will be measured only in terms of these goals. The evangelistic tools employed will be mass-media evangelism and crusade evangelism.

If successful, this controlled experiment in combining mass evangelism with church growth may score the breakthrough in crusade evangelism we have been looking for.

Haphazard mass evangelism can produce a mess, it is true. But mass evangelism like that which we have been describing can do nothing but good for the Church.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.

Tags:
Issue: