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Evangelistic Efforts through the Years

Alvin Reid

Evangelistic methods refer to those approaches or techniques that seek to present the timeless gospel to a given culture. Although biblical principles and the essential message (see Kerygma, Gospel) must be constant, methods must be changed to reach various cultures and eras in history. Examples from history illustrate this.

The Apostle Paul

Paul used the following methods:

1. Personal evangelism. This timeless method was used often by Paul (e.g., Acts 16:25-32).

2. Urban evangelism. Paul focused on the great cities of his day. He knew the gospel would spread from these centers to surrounding areas.

3. Reaching those with common interests. Although called to be apostle to the Gentiles, Paul always began by witnessing to the Jews, with whom he had much in common.

4. Church planting. Paul planted churches, which continued the spread of the gospel.

The Eighteenth Century

Examples of methods in the eighteenth century include:

1. Field preaching. Preaching the gospel outdoors to common people was begun by Whitefield and Wesley during the Evangelical Awakening in England.

2. Small-group evangelism. A basis for Wesley’s small-group development was to gather persons who desired to “flee from the wrath to come.”

3. Itinerant preaching. Whitefield and Wesley, along with others, resurrected the practice of preaching from town to town.

4. Lay preachers. In the First Great Awakening, John Wesley and Theodore Frelinghuysen used lay preachers to assist in ministry.

The Nineteenth Century

1. Camp meetings. These gatherings began in Kentucky in the Second Great Awakening at the turn of the nineteenth century, and continued to be an effective method for generations.

2. New Measures of Charles Finney.

3. Evangelistic literature. The American Tract Society, evangelistic music attractions, citywide crusades, the public invitation and evangelistic Sunday Schools all depended on literature distribution.

4. The “faith” mission movement. This was an organization of interdenominational foreign mission boards who sent missionaries. These missionaries raised their own financial support apart from denominational resources, hence the name “faith.”

5. The Rescue Mission movement. These missions were established in growing urban areas to evangelize homeless people (primarily men).

The Twentieth Century

More recent methods include the use of television and radio in evangelism, seeker services and special-event evangelism. It should be noted that the most effective methods in history were born out of revival or renewal. This fact should cause sincere believers to avoid merely secular approaches in developing methods. The best methods are born in the heart of God and are utilized by Christian leaders.

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