Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Are Evangelistic Crusades Effective? Part 1

I am called by God to be an evangelist and I have conducted over one hundred evangelistic events in nations around the world. So far, I have traveled to sixty-nine nations in my quest for souls. Our evangelistic events have attracted anywhere from one thousand to fifty thousand people in a single service. I also train other evangelists in how to conduct a large-scale evangelistic campaign.
As an evangelist, I frequently hear criticism from individuals who do not believe that crusade evangelism is effective. I have heard seminary professors, local church pastors, and ministry leaders say that crusades are not effective.  However, this assessment is directly contradicted by my experience and what I have witnessed with my own eyes. Based on my experience, on Scriptural evidence, and on church history, I believe that crusades are an effective evangelistic method. Mass evangelism is an important method (although not the only method[1]) for leading people to Jesus. This article will explain some of benefits of mass evangelism and address some of the criticisms of mass evangelism.

What do the critics say?
Ray Comfort argues, “Evangelical success is at an all-time low. Modern evangelism, from large campaigns to small gospel meetings, boasts only a 20 percent holding rate.”[2] I remember hearing the Professor of Evangelism at Oral Roberts University making the assertion that mass evangelism does not work, even though he works at a university that was “forged in the fires of healing evangelism.”

Matthews points out the following:
In his book Church Growth Principles: Separating Fact From Fiction, Kirk Hadaway asserts, "there is no evidence that mass evangelistic events help churches grow...." (1991:29). To say there is "no evidence" is surely an overstatement. More accurately perhaps, is the conclusion of George Barna, in Marketing the Church, that "the cost is of dubious value considering the low returns" (1988:13). C. Peter Wagner carefully analyzed the results of an Evangelism-in-Depth campaign held in Bolivia during 1965. After the study he "was greatly surprised to discover that the year-long program had not increased the rate of growth of the churches" (1987:140,141). In fact, he went on to say, the percent of annual growth was greater the year preceding--than during and the two years following--the Evangelism-in-Depth effort! (Wagner 1987:141).[3]
Matthew also quotes TIME magazine that said, “in reference to a Billy Graham crusade, it is a "redundant anachronism" (1966:64).” [4]  

            In July of 2007, Christianity Today asks “Is mass evangelism dead?” and “Are city-wide crusades a thing of the past?” In their survey of a variety of scholars and ministers, 62% say “No, mass evangelism is not dead” and 38% say “Yes, mass evangelism is dead.” In the article, those who believe mass-evangelism is still viable today offer four reasons. First, Luis Palau's organization continues to see fruit at large evangelistic festivals. “It appears that some people are still interested in this method of learning about the gospel.” Second, they point out that “You wouldn't be asking this question if you were focusing on the two-thirds world, where mass evangelism is still huge.” Third, “in a world that is more celebrity-conscious and less serious by the day, the ambiguous opportunity presented by fame will continue to draw crowds for better and for worse.” Fourth, they assert, “there will always be the need and opportunity for large public events in which the Good News is proclaimed.” Those who felt that mass-evangelistic events are no longer viable, give the following three reasons. First, “In youth culture worldwide, the typical ‘evangelistic crusade’ may now be in the process of being replaced by concerts and other forms of gatherings that have an evangelistic byproduct.” Second, “Billy Graham appears to be the last of a noble but dying breed.” Third, “While millions of "decisions" may have been registered, any strategy that has a 1 percent success rate has to be deemed a failure.” However, even those who feel that evangelistic events are of limited effectiveness acknowledge, “in the majority world, it appears that large-scale evangelism is still finding a place.”[5]

[1] Crusades are not the only method of evangelism. One-on-one witnessing, cell groups, feeding programs, Sunday morning services and an infinite number of other evangelism methods are all effective at bringing souls into the kingdom.

[2] Ray Comfort, Hell’s Best Kept Secret, (Springdale, Pennsylvania, Whitaker House, 1989), 9.

[3] Ed Matthews, “Mass Evangelism: Problems and Potentials,” Journal of Applied Missiology, Volume 4, Number 1, (1 June 2016).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Harold B. Smith, ed.,“Is mass evangelism dead?” Christianity Today (July 2007) 54. ATLA Religion Database, EBSCOhost (19 June 2016).