Sunday, March 5, 2017

Two Limitations of Impersonal Evangelism

A Philosophy of Personal Evangelism 5

Let me say at the outset that I am not against the types of evangelism I will mention in this post, or in the ones to come. The only kind of evangelism I am against is unscriptural evangelism. I am against witnessing that does not point people solely toward Christ. I am against unclear or incomplete or manipulative explanations of the Gospel. I am also against using worldly means or methods to attract attention to the Gospel. But outside of those parameters I am not against anyone anywhere who is witnessing in any way. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. (Philippians 1.18) It is important to me that you understand I am not attacking certain kinds of evangelism with this series.

At the same time, I do want to speak up for confrontational personal evangelism, what is more commonly called soul winning. There are good reasons to do it, and some of those reasons include the fact that personal evangelism is better than any other form of evangelism. In order to explain this it is incumbent upon me that we examine the limitations of impersonal evangelism. Again, I am not attacking these types of evangelism; I am explaining why they are not as useful or as helpful as personal evangelism.

First, impersonal evangelism cannot win the world to Christ.

Billy Graham Crusade, 1967
Take mass evangelism, for example. It is premised on gathering into one location as many unsaved people as possible. But the simple fact is that no matter how stirring or popular the preacher is, and no matter how accessible the venue is you will never get everyone to attend. The same facts are true about media evangelism. No matter how many people you invite to your small group or your Sunday School not all of them will attend. No matter how well produced your Gospel podcast is or how well designed your tracts are you are never going to get everyone to listen, read, or watch the Gospel.

Let me illustrate this with enlistment evangelism. Studies I have read show that the average Gospel preaching church wins one out of every five people they enlist in a small group, Bible study, or Sunday School class. By enlisted I mean they get them to attend at least once. At the same time, the average church only wins one out of every 240 unsaved people in the community that they do not enlist. Those two sentences support this supposed solution: we need to enlist more people. After all, a higher percentage of those enlisted trust Christ then those who do not. I understand that, but the simple fact is that the vast majority of people refuse to be enlisted. Roughly 97% of the unsaved people in the community that I attempt to enlist in a class will refuse to attend. If my basic evangelistic thrust as a church is enlistment evangelism I have just essentially thrown away any ability to win almost the entirety of my community to Christ.

Chicago proper, the city in which I serve, has a population of about 2.7 million people. According to the above numbers, even if I could possibly try to enlist all of them roughly only 81,000 would respond. If we win one out of every five of these we have won about 16,000 people to Christ. Let's say by dint of hard work and prayer we manage to double that number to 32,000 people. That is nothing to sneeze at by any means but do you see the problem? There are another 2.6 million people I will never reach. After thirteen years of pastoring in this city these statistics ring true to me. If there are more than 32,000 people in this city regularly attending services at a sound, Bible preaching church I would be very surprised. Yet what are these 32,000 Christians in Chicago doing to reach the rest of the city? You guessed it, didn't you? They are busy inviting people to attend their church service, small group, Bible study, concert, or event. The result is that most of the city will go to hell.

The painful truth is most of the churches in this city have no plan to reach people who will not enlist in their programs or attend their services. I am not saying we ought to stop enlistment evangelism. It reaches people, and beyond that it ministers to them in a very real way. It gives them fellowship. It teaches them the Bible. But what it does not do is reach this city with the Gospel.

Secondly, impersonal evangelism is limited in its ability to make sure every person clearly
understands the Gospel.

Every unsaved person is trusting something other than Jesus Christ. In order for them to get saved you must demolish that misplaced trust, help them understand they are rotten and deserve hell, and then help them to trust in Christ alone for their salvation. But each individual is different. They are different in their understanding of biblical words and terms. They are different in which illustrations will bring clarity. They are different in their concerns and their hang ups. They are different in respect to which Scripture verse or passage will pierce their darkness and bring them light. In every setting other than a one-on-one setting the unsaved man practically cannot ask any questions. He cannot object that he does not understand or agree. The person witnessing to him cannot probe his thought process and belief system. The plan of salvation cannot be effectively tailored to any personal situation in mass evangelism or media evangelism, and its ability to do so in enlistment evangelism is limited.

Again, I stress, I am not saying it is wrong or even bad to attempt to broadcast the Gospel, to place it on billboards, to put it on web pages, to put it on television and radio, or to invite your coworker to attend church with you next week. I am saying, though, that as good and as helpful as these are they are limited. They cannot possibly reach your community for Christ.

…and if we are going to build a philosophy of personal evangelism we must come to the place where we grasp this, and allow that understanding to inform our chosen evangelistic emphasis.


  1. I've found with our work in Inner City Ministries that your thought are right on target. That is why we must keep doing what we can to get the good news of the gospel to everyone.

    1. I like people who are reaching the inner cities of America. Which city are you in?