Methods for Urban Evangelism in the Downtown ChurchThe Gospel evangelist-the speaker of the world's best news-is a dealer in the greatest intangible in the world! And like others who are interested in the promotion of intangibles, the preacher of the Gospel must be keen to ascertain the best and most effective ways by which to uphold his Lord and His kingdom. While there are no basic differences between the people who reside in our urban areas, and those whose homes are in the suburban sections, yet experience has taught us that we would do well to become careful students of both urban and suburban problems, and seek the most satisfactory methods of Gospel proclamation for each type of situation.
Volume IV -- Number 1
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Cincinnati Bible Seminary
People living in our cities do have some special problems. For one thing, I believe that while we are spending more for homes than in any other time in our history as a nation, we actually spend less time in those homes than our forefathers spent in theirs. When a mother of two children, living in one of our large cities, complains that she must spend at least 75% ( of her time carting the children to school, or to parties, or to music lessons, or to some other activity outside the confines of the home, she but demonstrates a significant trend in our time. We are living in such a time that we have no time to live. In turn, we become frustrated because we cannot get done all that we desire to do. As a result, very few people living in our cities have the time to attend to spiritual things. If a person can move one foot before the other one, he joins more clubs and committees and drives than he can remember-all on the theory that it must be done for civic betterment. Yet, when the time comes to seek that person for Christ, he has no time or money or energy left. This means that particularly in our downtown areas, we shall have to be definitely alert to the ways and means of trying to "flag down" the attention of people for Christ. For this reason we must recognize the fact that what may have operated well in the field of evangelism some ten or fifteen years ago, may not so serve today.
We are familiar with the methods of conducting protracted meetings when such meetings ran for three, four and even six weeks. Alas, it seems that such meetings are a thing of the fondly remembered yesterdays! Very few churches would have the courage to announce that an evangelistic campaign of unlimited duration (four weeks or more) had been scheduled, and that the entire community would be expected to turn out night after night for the meetings. And yet, there was a day in our America when meetings would continue week after week until the whole city was aroused! Such a program of evangelism as was in force a generation ago, produced, also, a type of professional evangelist who was a master in such work. Some may argue that with the disappearance of the professional evangelist, the long protracted meeting was forgotten. On the other side of the picture is the stubborn fact that the professional evangelist disappeared because fewer and fewer churches called for his services. Shorter meetings, and the "borrowed" preacher from another congregation served to discourage the type of mass evangelism so popular thirty years ago. This but serves to point up the fact that a change in methods had to come.
Following the era of lengthy evangelistic meetings led by the professional evangelist, there came a time when the emphasis was centered (in some quarters) upon a strong program of week to week evangelism without the formality of a set evangelistic campaign. This type of program was often determined, as to success, by the ability of the local minister to handle such a program. This is still a good and solid form of evangelism, and should be the pattern of activity for every congregation. However, in some cases, the results have been far from the ideal.
A method of evangelism which seems to be most productive today, especially in the downtown areas, is that which has been termed, "Visitation Evangelism." We understand, of course, that all evangelism involves visitation of some kind, but this program lays a special emphasis upon a well coordinated and directed campaign which is designed to use the church membership in a most I effective way to win the unsaved. Three phases of this type of evangelism are worthy of passing note. First, let it be remembered at all times that evangelism is the extension of the Gospel of Christ by means of personal influence. It is a well-known fact that non-church people are attracted to the local church, not because of some personal ability of the local minister, but because someone has extended his influence to interest that person in the work of the local congregation. Here is the greatest argument in the world for making sure that every member of the congregation spends some time each week seeking to enlist friends for the church. We win people to Christ by exerting our influence in His behalf. Following acquaintanceship and fellowship comes a studied consideration of the claims of Christ on the part of the one brought into the circle of influence of the local congregation.
Next, let it be considered that evangelism is the building of the church through decision. This is the definite commitment of people to the terms of the Gospel. In other words, the non-Christian is compelled to make a decision either for or against the Christ at a given time. It is at this point that we have so often failed. We do a splendid job in presenting the credentials of the Christ, and the blue-print of the church, and the terms of salvation, but when it comes to gaining the decision NOW-we lose our punch. This fact is clearly comprehended in the plan of visitation evangelism. As a result, the needed emphasis upon gaining decisions NOW, is made.
The third phase of visitation evangelism, as such, has to do with the concept that evangelism is the extension of the Gospel message through growth in it. This implies that the person is not completely evangelized until he has been assimilated into the local congregation, and is made aware of his responsibilities and opportunities.
The foregoing plan, as discerned, involves the entire church in a definite and result-proclaiming campaign. Such a campaign is usually set up on a 100-day basis. Members of the local congregation are enlisted in advance of the intensive program. They agree to serve as callers in one or more "cycles" of cultivation calls during the established 100-day period prior to Decision Day. They are encouraged to make their contacts at any and all times of the day, and in the early evening. They are directed to call upon prospects who are thought to be the best prospects for church membership. Such prospects may have been in attendance at the services of the local congregation. They may have been in the Bible School. Their names may have been obtained from community new-comer lists, etc. At any rate, after a series of cultivation calls, some pertinent facts are gathered by those who make the calls, and the information is tabulated. The minister then makes the final evaluation call, and soon the final prospect list is ready for the intensive part of the program. Usually, four evenings of intensive visitation are used in which the cultivation callers now turn to the specific task of making decision calls. The best prospects are now known, and the callers go out two by two to obtain decisions for the next Sunday-Decision Day! The mechanics of this program are quite extensive, but the results are usually most gratifying! The church members are put to work, and decisions are gained for a definite date! If properly handled, the work which culminates in the Decision Day is one of the high spots of the church year! Such a Decision Day should be followed by at least one week of preaching services so that all possible decisions for Christ may be gained. In this way, men and women may be won for Christ even in the midst of our hectic whirl of events which we call, "living."
Observe, if you will, that even this type of campaign demands and involves at least a short time for the formal, public proclamation of the Gospel message. For this reason, the public proclamation of the Gospel by word and song must become the most sincere and masterful activity of the community in order to attract the people. Junk stunts are not worthy of the message of our Lord. When a busy person goes to church in these days, he expects to hear something that he hears in no other place. He expects to hear the Gospel message clearly put, honestly and sincerely explained, and backed up by a contagious enthusiasm. He does not care much about the personal accomplishments of the preacher. He does not care about the record of the preacher's own conversion, so much as he cares about what he should do in order to find eternal life. He has time for only the essentials. He wants something upon which he can build his faith and his life. He therefore demands that the man to whom he listens be informed, sincere, and enthused.
Let us pause long enough to consider the place of Gospel music in appealing to men and women. In these days of television and long-play phonograph albums, our American people are becoming effective music critics. Therefore, we are compelled to face the fact that song evangelism in our time has indeed become a dedicated art. People want to hear Gospel music that will thrill their souls They desire to be lifted up with a sincere and artistic performance. Our schools and seminaries are not only held responsible for the preparation of true preachers of the Book, but also for the preparing of great musical artists for Christ! This turns us back again to the idea that the man in the world must find in the church that which he finds in no other place. The idea that a person who has a good voice, can be a powerful preacher or singer without an intense and honest dedication of life to the cause of Christ Jesus, is one of the devil's biggest lies. Let us truly prepare for this mighty task!
When our Lord came teaching and preparing His followers to do His will in the sounding forth of His message and the building of His church, He emphasized the fact that the most important person to Him was the servant. In other words, Christ has a task for the person who is willing to be used. This is important to our thinking in this matter of evangelism for our cities. While some people in the church are too busy to serve Christ, yet there are always those wonderful spirits who are willing to do what they can for God! Give them a task! Carefully outline their work. Establish a system for their operation. Give them instruction and encouragement, and behold, they will move cities for Christ! And, having expended themselves in such a work once, they are all the more ready for further activity of like nature! Teach a man to become a fisher of men, and the more he works the works of Christ-the more enthused he will become. Many a person whose faith had worn thin, has been re-won to win!
Scanned: Michael Riggs
Corrected: Daniel Dyke