Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Personal Evangelism or Community Evangelism?

David Watson touched on an important issue on his blog today. It’s really worthwhile reading. You can find it here.
I’ve always been more positive about personal evangelism as opposed to mass evangelism. I’ve just seen too many cases of masses of people in an audience praying the sinner’s prayer but never making any commitment to the Lord. (Yes, I know that many people can witness to the fact that they met the Lord on such an occasion, but I’m still not positive about this.) I prefer a one on one method of evangelism where I can be fairly sure that the person I’m talking to really understands what is going on and where I can make an appointment to return if I am not convinced that the person to whom I spoke were ready for a commitment.
The question David asks is whether personal evangelism is Biblical. The argument he has is that we read very seldom about individuals only coming to repentance. In the case of Cornelius (Acts 10) it is not only Cornelius but also his family and friends who come to repentance as is the case with Lydia and the prison guard. I believe that he may have a valid argument, although I would probably not feel as strongly about it as he does. The point that he is trying to make is that, in many countries, when people turn to the Lord, they are rejected by their families and by their communities which makes it extremely difficult for them to live as Christians. Had an entire family or even better, an entire community decided to turn to Christ, this at least would have been easier.
In Swaziland we won’t find that a Christian would be rejected by the family, but it is definitely more difficult if a person decides to follow Christ wholeheartedly while the rest of the family are still unbelievers or at most, no more than lukewarm Christians. As I had written previously, Christians often struggle to fight against cultural traditions which may eventually also lead to a break between family members. Where I differ from David is that he says that Satan is willing to let one member of the family go if he can keep the others – in other words, Satan is quite happy with personal evangelism as the community will never be reached in this way. I’m uncomfortable with this type of argument as I feel that we are overestimating the power of Satan and underestimating the power of God. Ultimately it’s not for Satan to decide who will be saved and who not. And furthermore, if each Christian who had received the Lord could be trained to become an effective witness for the Lord, the strategy of an organisation such as Evangelism Explosion, then, through the repentance of one individual, an entire community could potentially be reached. Nevertheless, I can see that, working with a community, may eventually bear much more fruit than merely working with individuals only.
When concentrating only on individuals, we inevitably target those who seem to be good prospective Christians. Quite often, as David says, we target young people (or women). But the young people, especially in Africa, (and this applies even more to the women) are not really able to change a community due to the paternalistic structure of most of these communities. However, once the father of a household decides to commit himself fully to the Lord, chances are that the rest of the family will follow suit. But this way of working will probably be more difficult than the old ways of either doing mass evangelism where hundreds of people pray the sinner’s prayer without really understanding why they are doing it or targeting the easy prospects to become Christians. It seems to me that we would need to do much more strategic planning if we want to evangelise people effectively.
I would be reluctant to make a choice of either one (personal evangelism) or the other (community evangelism). If the Holy Spirit allows someone to cross my path with whom I can share the gospel, I would not be convinced that I have to remain quiet until such time as the community this person comes from had become Christians. But I can definitely see the need for strategic planning if we want to evangelise effectively.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2008 - Posted by | Africa, Building relations, Church, Culture, Evangelism, Evangelism Explosion, Mission, Swaziland, Theology, Women

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