1. Large evangelistic events have an unhealthy focus on numbers.
Sometimes evangelists are criticized for caring too much about numbers, but God loves numbers so much that there is a book in the Old Testament named Numbers. A quick look at this book reveals that God really does care about the number of people who serve Him.
2. Large evangelistic events cost too much money.
One of the criticisms of crusade evangelism is the massive cost associated with doing large crusades. It is true that renting a sound system, doing advertising, and coordinating churches can cost thousands of dollars; but everything type of ministry costs money. Churches in North America might spend a million dollars on a youth facility that is used once a week. They fill it with pool tables, video games, and couches in order to make it an environment hospitable to young people. They spend millions on their buildings, but begrudge spending that same money on crusade evangelism. A youth facility may reach two hundred and fifty youth once a week. A crusade might reach fifty thousand people in a single night. Both have their place; both produce fruit.
Often critics raise this money issue because of a limited pie mentality. It is pointed out that if the church had infinite resources, it would be fine to do crusades, but since the church has a limited amount of resources, it would be better to use the money in a way that might get a better ROI (Return On Investment). This ignores the fact that we serve a big God who does happen to have infinite resources. Jesus said that one soul is more valuable than the whole world (Mark 8:36), so if just “one soul is saved, all the expense and effort would be worth it.” But, in reality, the cost per soul saved in our crusades is much less than that of most church outreaches.
3. Large evangelistic events do a poor job of following up on new believers.
I will address this big issue in a future post.
4. Large evangelistic events are not as effective as one-on-one evangelism.
What is the best way to catch fish? Should you use a fishing line, or fishing net? The answer depends on whether you are fishing for tuna or for trout. Different fishing methods are effective at catching different types of fish. Some souls can be caught one-on-one, and some can be caught through mass evangelism. In Acts 8, Philip the evangelist used mass evangelism to save people in Samaria, and he used one-on-one evangelism to lead the Ethiopian eunuch to Jesus.
5. The day of large evangelistic events are over.
Missionary Statesman David Shibley writes, “There is a story of two liberal clergyman who attended a Billy Graham meeting years ago in a packed-out stadium. One of them said to his friend, "Why doesn't somebody tell this guy Graham that the day of mass evangelism is over?" His friend waved his arm across the sea of humanity and said, "Why doesn't somebody tell all these people?”
6. Only a small percentage of people saved at a large evangelistic event remain saved.
The low percentage of people at a crusade who get plugged into a local church is the most common criticism of mass evangelism. So, Biblically speaking, what would be considered a good success rate for a crusade? Let’s look at the Parable of the Sower.
In the parable, Jesus compares four different types of soil. When a farmer goes out to sow, some seed falls on hard ground, some on stony ground, some falls among thorns and some falls on good ground. The seed that falls on good ground produces thirty, sixty, and one hundred fold.
So, according to Jesus, 75% of the evangelist’s seed will fail because it is thrown on bad soil. Of the remaining 25% that is thrown on good soil, some of it will only produce a 30% return, some will produce a 60% return, and some will produce a 100% return. This means that the best-case scenario in the Parable of the Sower is a 25% return on the seed the farmer sows. The worst-case scenario is a measly 8.75% return. (Thirty-fold return on the seed thrown on good soil).
What does the Parable of the Sower tell us about mass evangelism? Sure, some seed is chocked, baked, or stolen away, but that is no reason to stop throwing seed. The evangelist is called to be a farmer. Sometimes he sees big harvest and other times all his seed is snatched away by the devil. However, it is said, “Do not judge today by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you sow.”
Jesus preached to multitudes of people. At one time, he preached to 5,000 plus woman and children, perhaps a crowd of 15,000. Yet, only a meager one hundred and twenty disciples gathered together in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. A snapshot of the church on the day before Pentecost gives Jesus a tiny success rate of only 0.08%. Of course, after Pentecost the church quickly grew and now over two billion people claim to be followers of Christ. Even crusades that initially have low success rates can still produce long-term fruit.
Besides, what percentage of one-on-one witnessing is effective? How many people does one have to talk to in a coffee shop before one finds someone who is willing to get saved? Sure, lots of people will talk about religion, and some might express an interest in God, but if one talks to one hundred people in a coffee shop, finding two or three who would show up at a scheduled time for another conversation might be considered good results.