(I am not talking about THOSE crusades (murdering, pillaging, etc.) I am referring to another type of “crusade”.)
The immediate response in answering this question is to look to the results and measure the benefits of holding a community-wide evangelistic campaign—and the benefits are numerous. They go way beyond the main objective, which is the conversion of souls. There are many other residual benefits that often fly under the radar.
A well-run community campaign builds bridges and unifies neighboring churches. It provides a focus and new passion for the community about evangelism. A clear and public presentation of the gospel often opens opportunities in the media that piques the interest of the secular community. Add the incredible fellowship that develops between believers when they put aside their distinctive doctrines to rally around the essentials of the cross, and many find that these campaigns provide much more than simply bringing people to Christ. None of those things are any less relevant today than they were 50 or 100 years ago.
Recently, a local university’s physics professor who walked forward to receive Christ into his life, said one of the main reasons he came was the unusual sight of seeing Christians of varying denominations come together in one place.
“I’d always known Christians for how they were divided,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine seeing them all together in the same room. That’s why I had to come.”
That professor has remained active in the faith, serving in his church for the past seven years—testimony to the fact that mass evangelism can produce fruit that remains.
Despite the testimonies of those who are truly converted, the biggest obstacle we face today is convincing pastors that a community-wide campaign can have a huge impact. Their doubts hinge on the question of effectiveness. Despite the fact the history is filled with men like D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham, the naysayers continue to try to hammer nails into the lid of the mass evangelism coffin. Their argument: Do these professions truly last? Citing studies such as the one taken in the 1980s by Thomas Arn, they come armed with what appears to be statistical proof that crusade evangelism isn’t worth the time and effort. A cumulative 1-2 percent response rate, they claim. Because of these “questionable” results, they conclude that the church is sophisticated enough to find more effective means of communicating the gospel beyond that of one man standing behind a pulpit!
They argue that today’s church is armed with video, music, art, drama, and a host of friendship evangelism scenarios that should be considered before dragging everybody out to a stadium, gymnasium, or tent.
While any or all of those means should be employed, it doesn’t mean we should discount the primary method the Bible teaches and that the church has used throughout the ages—PREACHING! In fact, the gift was important enough to be included with the other primary gifts given to the church mentioned in Ephesians 4. They are apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher. It seems to me that if we’ve been given evangelists, we ought to use them! I know of no better place for an evangelist than in front of a stadium filled with people!
One problem that the critics of large-scale evangelism have to contend with is the people who have come to faith at these events. In the years the crusades I have been a part of, I can point to dozens of men and women who have come back to us to say they are now serving in the church as pastors and missionaries. Indeed, in our ministry in the United States and abroad, we have run into numerous people who now hold positions of leadership in the church after having been saved at Billy Graham’s crusades in the 1950s and 1960s. Two of these men hold national positions in the Anglican Church, another in the Baptist church. All of them are helping to hold the line for evangelicals in their respective countries.
Unfortunately, these nice stories from history don’t satisfy the critics.
But even if I couldn’t present tangible conversions and visible fruit from our ministry, I’m not sure we should stop heralding the message in public events. It seems to me that Jeremiah wasn’t slowed by “results.” Are we, or are we not, commanded to “proclaim” and “herald” the good news of Christ? It is a command that is not qualified by “results.” Conversion is not our responsibility. It is only accomplished through the power and work of the Holy Spirit. The evangelist’s role is to simply declare the message and make it clear. That in itself should be reason enough to continue crusade evangelism.
There are other reasons to consider why statistics are not a good measure for the church. In a nutshell, it’s crazy to think that every person who walks forward at an invitation is truly being converted. I say that it’s not enough for a person to come forward at an invitation; they need to go forward in a walk with Christ. How does one measure that accurately? Some hear, respond, and are truly converted on the spot. Others hear and don’t respond, but find that the planted seed blooms weeks, months, or even years later. That’s simply not measurable. But it’s unfair to say that it’s not fruit of an evangelistic campaign.
There is no program that can, or ever will be, designed that can guarantee taking somebody from stadium invitation to church the next Sunday and eventually to maturity in Christ. Nevertheless, the process of discipleship employed by crusade organizations to follow the progress of inquirers.
“But today we have a need for community today. Coffee houses, art galleries, and social gatherings provide better moments of connectivity to the gospel message.”
We understand that the deck is stacked against these safety net measures. I’ve yet to run into anybody who has told me that their road from the altar call to maturity in the faith followed the exact path of a crusade follow-up program. Surely they exist, but most crusade testimonies I’ve followed are filled with unexpected turns and hit-and-miss church attendance. That makes tracking their journey statistically immeasurable.
Rather than attempting to measure the success rate of “inquirers” from mass evangelism campaigns, the critics might get more measurable responses if they simply surveyed mature believers who are active in the church. Ask them how they came to know Christ.
It’s my contention that they’d find a sufficient percentage of believers who found Christ though a public proclamation of the gospel to silence their criticisms. This can be easily done in any church.
Simply put this question to people in the pews on Sunday. How many of you heard the gospel and responded to an invitation at a public outreach? My guess is that the response will be much higher than the 1 to 2 percent that critics of large-scale evangelism always put forward.
Another excuse for seeking to shelve crusade evangelism is that America is no longer middle class, Protestant, and white. Because of that, critics say churches in multicultural communities will not rally around a single culture. There is some truth to this argument. In today’s society, it seems more and more Americans identify less with America and more with their roots. Like the liberated woman, we are now hyphenated Americans. We are African-American, Mexican-American, and Asian-American. Gone are the days, even post 9-11, when we’re content to simply identify with our founding fathers and think of ourselves in terms of being only American.
The result is that there no longer seems to be a mainstream America. We’re more of a series of parallel streams. It may be for this reason that some think that when Dr. Billy Graham makes his final exit, there will be no clear successor. Many believe it’s more likely we will see a number of multi-cultural preachers paddling their own canoes up parallel streams.
It seems that the problem is that “crusades” have a connection to “evangelist”. And the office of “evangelist” has been downplayed to something everyone should become. I know the stigma first-hand that comes with someone who is itinerant in travel ministry. Maybe it’s because the evangelist tree has shook and some real nuts have fallen out. You can’t cut down a tree of calling that God himself planted as an official office of His church, just because you did not like some of the bad fruit that fell.
Right now, overseas, crusades are drawing in millions per night at some meetings. Some people walk two or three days to one event in remote areas. The truth is that you will feed off of what you are hungering for in life and faith. I guess the appetite potential for massive results of conversions and implemented has switched a bit: a switch that moved to other continents that are now seeing massive church growth.
But there are still those, myself included, who have a grand vision for seeing the masses won to Christ through the gospel in America. Some of us still believe that, in the end, people are not rejecting the gospel because it comes packaged in race, culture, or statistics.
A simple reading through the first four chapters of Acts seems to indicate that cultures, races, or languages never impeded the apostle Peter in his first two crusades! Thankfully, they didn’t stop preaching because statisticians questioned their results.
While there are always obstacles that we in crusade evangelism must overcome, there is reason to challenge the notion that large-scale mixed gatherings are on the path toward extinction. I believe stadium-sized rallies, missions, crusades, festivals, or any other politically correct term that describes these unique events will continue, should continue, and indeed must continue.
If we are to uphold our calling as believers in the 21st Century, the amplification of our best and most talented evangelists must enhanced by every means, whether it be in stadiums, living rooms, or chat rooms. Paul declared, “I am not ashamed of the gospel. IT is the power of God unto salvation. . . ” It still is, and it always will be.
If there is room for criticism, it is that we do not proclaim our message enough. If there should be criticism of the church, it is not that she is wasting her time in crusade campaigns and other public events that seek to proclaim the gospel.
No, if there be criticism of the church, it is that she has turned inward, content to coddle the saint and ignore the sinner. If it is the call of every true pastor to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, then pastors ought to be active in seeking out gifted evangelists who hold to the Word of God, proclaim it accurately, and deliver it passionately.
People in the pews should be challenged to seek God for a missionary zeal, not that it would drive them overseas, but that it would drive them across the street. That is the accomplishment of evangelistic, community campaigns. They force us out of our churches and homes, and into our neighborhoods and market places. Such was the work of the early church, and so it should be ours.