Journal of Applied Missiology, Volume 4, Number 1


Mass Evangelism: Challenges and Potentials

Tex Williams
World Bible School
Austin, Texas

On the cover of George Barna's book, The Frog in The Kettle, this statement is made:

In just a few years, we will enter the 21st century. And life as we know it will have radically changed. But those changes won't all come at once. They'll come subtly and imperceptibly. And that's what makes the coming changes so dangerous. Like a frog in a slowly boiling kettle of water, the church has found itself in an environment that is gradually changing. And that environment could become life-threatening if we don't stay aware of the changes and how to respond.

Barna's book is principally about the coming changes in 21st century America and the church's response to those changes. However, the basic concept of unprecedented change presented by the book can realistically apply to all the world. Those changes most certainly apply to the purpose of this paper regarding the church's task of world evangelism. In the context of such change, we must not be like the frog in the kettle; that is, unaware of what is taking place around us.

For instance, we, God's people, the church, must be cognizant of the tremendous changes that have taken place in the last few decades in the world's population. It is also important that we recognize that change is still the order of the day. But it is even more important to our task of evangelizing the world to comprehend, as best we can, what world population changes will be in place at the beginning of the 21st century and beyond.

Change in population growth and character means that never before in the history of Christianity has the church had more people to teach about Jesus than we have today. It means that never before have we had such diversity in economics, politics, religion and other cultural mores than we have in our time. Never before have we been more aware of the existence of "other people" than we are today. The next century will be even more challenging.

Succinctly stated, we have more people and more different kinds of people to teach about Jesus than the church has ever had. And such changes are continuing and will continue as long as God allows the earth and man to exist. We must get on with the job of evangelizing the masses in the setting of such change with skill and precision! Since we have the masses to evangelize, we must develop methods of mass evangelism that are workable and economically feasible.

The mass of masses

The challenges, potential and need to develop methods of mass evangelism can be better understood when we have some specifics about the focus and size of our task. It is important that we understand what we mean when we speak about the need and challenges of mass evangelism.

In raw statistics, the Population Reference Bureau estimates on their most recent "World Population Data Sheet" that in mid-1992 there were 5,410,000,000 people living in the world. The birth rate per 1,000 population was 26, while the death rate was only 9 per 1,000 population. With that kind of increase, the population of the world will double in only 41 years. Thus, by the year 2010, which I hope to reach, the population is projected to be 7,114,000,000 and by 2025, which I am not sure I want to reach, the population is projected to be 8,545,000,000. In a more digestible way of expressing statistics, Frank Kalbe Jansen in an article entitled "World Population Growth" (Target Earth) wrote, "Every two seconds, five people are added to the global population. Three are Asians. The earth houses about 7% of all humans that have every lived." He also states, "A look at the population growth chart shows that this 'population explosion' is a recent phenomenon. About the time of Christ there were 169 million, and over the next 1650 years it grew to 500 million. The first billion was pased in 1830. The next billion took 100 years. The third billion took only 30 years to complete, then 15 years for the fourth billion." It is easy for the average American Christian to be like the "frog in the kettle." Population growth and change can occur without our realizing it as graphically as we should, especially since we have the responsibility of evangelizing the world.

We are living in a state of emergency of catastrophic proportions. Our present efforts are not enough and our effectiveness is lacking. We must develop adequate methods and skills in mass evangelism to meet the challenges and potential of a growing, changing world to whom we must preach the gospel.

Receptivity demands masssive evangelism

The challenges and potential of mass evangelism have already been described as they relate to population growth and change. Coupled with this is another very important factor that calls for mass evangelism. That factor is the growing receptivity among peoples all over the world.

In an article entitled "Church Growth in the 20th Century" (Target Earth) Peter Wagner points out the growing reception of Christianity in many parts of the world. He begins his article by stating,

The twentieth century is witnessing the greatest ingathering of men and women into the Christian church that history has ever known. What we read in the Book of Acts was a mere pilot project in comparison to today's unprecedented spiritual harvest.

He then supports his contention by pointing out that " the 20th century the rate of growth increased until every day there are 78,000 new Christians and every week 1600 new Christian Churches." Statistically, those professing to be Christians rose from less than 500 million in 1900 to an expected 2 billion by the year 2000.

Wagner then points out that the greatest potential for mass evangelism seems to be outside North America and Western Europe. In these areas the growth of Christianity is barely keeping pace with population growth. But, look elsewhere in the world.

In Latin America, for example, Wagner states that "...Evangelical Christianity grew from a mere 50,000 in 1900 to a projected 137 million in 2000." He then gives some statistics concerning Africa. He wrote,

There were fewer than 10 million Christians in Africa in 1900, but the projection for 2000 is 324 million. This is an increase from 8% of the population to almost 50%. Asia is a real challenge for mass evangelism because of the sheer number of people who live there.

Wagner says, "Asia as a whole did not exhibit spectacular church growth during the first part of the century, but it seems to be making up for lost time as the century closes."

A paradigm of the opportunities and potential of preaching the gospel in Asia through mass evangelism might be Indonesia, a nation with the fourth largest population in the world. Hans Christian Linnartz in an article in World Pulse explains that most of the growth of Christianity in Indonesia is among the country's growing transmigrant population. He explains,

Amid fears of famine, food rebellions, and the stripping of the land's resources due to predicted overpopulation, in 1967 Indonesia began paying inhabitants of Java and Bali to move to the less densely populated major islands of Sumatra, BornEo, Sulawesi, and Irian Jaya. In the 25 years since, local churches and parachurch organizations have planted thousands of congregations among the mostly Muslim transmigrants.

The blessing of such a move is explained by Linnartz. He wrote, Migrants in a new territory are separated from their roots and integrated cultural framework, of which their religion is a part. Few know anyone outside their immediate families, so they are more open to new ideas, especially during the early days of settlement. Most settlements are near local churches who can do some outreach.

Denominational groups are distributing large quantities of printed materials, instigating radio preaching and other resources to tap into such an opportunity.

Duane Morgan and his family, missionaries with churches of Christ, have confirmed that such is true. Duane works in Irian Jaya in an area assigned by the Indonesian government. Accepting their assignment to a particular place was the only way he could get a resident visa for himself and his family.

In his letters, Duane points out three things that confirm the challenge of this movement in Indonesia. First is the fact that the transmigrants are open to evangelism, confirming Linnartz's statements. Duane and those working with him have no problems converting transmigrants as well as local people. Churches are being established and are growing.

Second, those who are converted have contacted their people back home (Java and Bali), and Duane has been able to visit them and convert them. Also, some transmigrants that have been converted have returned to their former homes in Java with their Christianity still intact and have invited Duane to come and preach to them. Third, the government has determined to develop these remote areas which will pull in millions of workers, many of whom will stay. In a recent letter Duane wrote,

Last week, on January 14, 1993, Indonesia's Minister of Research and Technology announced that the Mamberamo River watershed of Irian Jaya is to be the focus of intense high-technology development over the next 25 years and throughout the 21st century. All of Indonesia's government ministers are meeting to discuss proposed "mega-projects" in steel, aluminum, and other modern industries.

Since the church is there with the approval of the government, we need to consider NOW, ways of mass evangelism as the area develops and new people move there to live and work.

Indonesia is one of many nations where "mega" economic and social changes are taking place that are opening new doors for "mega" (mass) evangelism. Characteristically, we have not met the demands of such opportunities. When the Morgans were given their "hard-to-get" visas to settle in Serui, Irian Jaya, they were also given permission to bring in 17 other missionaries to work with them. They have been able to get only one, so the government has reduced their quota to 8. More will be taken away if we do not respond.

Methods of mass envagelism

With mass evangelism comes the need for practical methods; they are unavoidable.

In Target Earth, Ralph Winter lists what he calls "Six Tools for Targeting All Peoples." Though he does not exhaust all prospective resources, we will use some of his suggestions for methods of mass evangelism.

  1. Television. Winters first lists television as a major tool. In commenting on the effectiveness and potential of this method he wrote, "Satellite TV will jump as receptor dishes drop in cost. Right now, out in the remotest mountain valleys of the lofty Himalayan mountains, you can find TVs and video cassette recorders! Satellite dishes may become even more widespread than VCRs, since they don't wear out as easily, and tap into a much more extensive resource programming - but not in a lot of different languages."

    The love for television is exhibited everywhere it has been made available. American homes are one of the best examples of the romance people attach to this media. Anyone who travels recognizes its popularity.

    As technology increases and network cable and satellite television become more available all over the world, evangelism through this media is an absolute.

    Many Third World nations are introducing VCR television in their education systems. They are less expensive than multiple teachers and also fill the gap of so few qualified teachers. Not only that, they give exposure to materials and information that would not normally be available in their often remote school systems. Many of those countries require religious education as a part of their curriculum and they will readily receive good quality Bible tapes.

  2. Radio. Ralph Winters wrote, "Missionary radio today is an enormous, global force. Nothing comparable is to be found in the secular world." Winters feels, however, that radio broadcasts from smaller, local stations placed in more strategic places are more effective than the large 500,000 watt missionary radio stations. He feels they can "focus in on thousands of different local groups and can use the 'trade languages' of the people." Inexpensive tapes can be produced with reasonably inexpensive equipment at home or in other facilities and then mailed to the radio stations who play the tapes.

    In an article in Earth Watch entitled "Radio-Intimate and Personal," Phillip Sandahl lists the following positive assets of radio evangelism:

    1. It "crosses cultural, political and religious barriers."
    2. "Radio has a multiplying effect. It can be in many places at once."
    3. "Radio is dependable. In spite of bad weather and washed out roads, it gives constant witness."
    4. "Radio is intimate and personal.
  3. As someone listens in the privacy of his or her own home, the voice of an announcer becomes a close personal friend." Sandahl lists several other blessings of this media.

  4. Print. Another medium mentioned by Winters was print. He says, "The printed page plunges us immediately into a much larger world of diversity, simply because the kind of diversity becomes feasible when so relatively inexpensive a tool of communication is employed."

    Printing covers a large expanse of different types of literature. Books, magazines, tracts and other kinds of printed teaching materials are especially important in evangelizing the masses.

  5. Audio Cassette. Winters also affirms the importance of audio cassettes being used in evangelizing the masses. More and more this type of teaching is becoming popular. At the World Bible School office in Austin more and more requests for audio cassettes are being received.

    Winters says,

    Audio ministries, interestingly, employing as they do the "ear gate," enjoy the most penetrating and emotional impact. The marvel of the cassette is that cassettes are much more easily produced in the most specific situations.

    Whenever a lesson in a specific language is needed, it can be prepared and presented rather quickly on cassette tapes. Also, if a specific lesson is need for a special event, opportunity, or problem, making a cassette is an easy way to answer the need.

    Inexpensive tape players are produced that can be turned with the finger. Also, a popular new version of solar tape players can be used where electricity is not available.

    Cassette tapes offer a number of other qualities that are attractive. For instance, they can be produced rather inexpensively. Neither sophisticated nor expensive equipment is required to make a master tape. After the master tape has been produced, reproduction is reasonably easy and inexpensive.

  6. Medical, Benevolence and Service Missions. Evangelizing the masses through medical, benevolence and service missions is almost as old as missions itself. The Lord's "compassion" is revealed over and over again during his ministry.

    When one considers the growth of poverty among the masses, it is recognized that evangelism to the masses will require holistic efforts, ministering to the whole man and woman. In 1982, the World Evangelical Fellowship and the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelism jointly sponsored a six-day meeting to consider the relationship between evangelism and social responsibility. A major topic addressed was the balance required between evangelism and social justice. The official report from the meeting reached the following conclusion:

    Seldom if ever should we have to choose between satisfying physical hunger and spiritual hunger since an authentic love for our neighbor will lead us to serve him or her as a whole person. . .

  7. Church Planting, the Missionary, and the Preacher. The sixth tool that Ralph Winters lists as essential to evangelizing the masses is Church Planting. He includes in this the importance of the missionary. He wrote, "Personal contact: The oldest form of communication is the missionary, the concerned loving person."

Actually, when one speaks of evangelizing the masses, it almost goes without saying that the importance of the "foot-soldier" cannot be overlooked.

In all the methods we have mentioned in this paper that contribute to evangelizing the masses, the success of each is enhanced by the presence of missionaries or native evangelists who can be church planters.

Networking for evangelization masses

In all the areas we have discussed in this paper, each would be more productive if more networking among all groups and programs could occur. Anita Dyneka in the January 1992 issue of EMQ wrote in an article entitled "Good Things Come to Those Who Network,"
Each of the Christian organizations involved in networking have pursued independent initiatives, while remembering that each one has something to contribute to and receive from others.

This fits churches of Christ well. Without violating the independence of each entity—whether it be a local church or a parachurch group—we must work with, and beside every other effort being carried on by our brothers and sisters.

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