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What Is Our Problem and What Is the Solution?

FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 19, number 44, October 15, 2020

“And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” -Acts 2:47

The great evangelistic preacher, D.L. Moody, died in 1899 and his death seemed to leave a vacuum in the evangelical world. Who would take up the mantle of evangelistic preaching? John H. Converse of Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia had designed a most efficient steam engine and consequently had become very wealthy. He knew a thing or two about managing people and instilling vision. He also was a fervent Presbyterian. He believed that evangelism could go forth, as in the days of Moody, if churches and evangelists would work together in what he called “Simultaneous Campaigns”. He promised to give $25,000 per year (a vast sum of money in those days) to fund evangelistic preaching throughout the United States. J. Wilbur Chapman, a Presbyterian pastor and evangelist in Philadelphia, became the leader of the movement. Simultaneous evangelistic preaching campaigns in various cities moved forward for a number of years, beginning around 1905, and these spread to sixty cities in the United States. In 1909 Chapman preached a series of meetings in Boston before thousands of people, calling these evangelistic meetings the greatest experience of his life.[1]

In the early 1900’s the Presbyterian Church of the United States (PCUS), the so-called Southern Presbyterian Church, was also deeply concerned about the waning of evangelistic zeal. So church leaders prayed earnestly for God to raise up evangelistic preachers. From 1912 to 1925 the one million member PCUS averaged 24,000 people per year joining the church by profession of faith.[2] By 1935 zeal was again waning so the General Assembly created a Permanent Committee on Evangelism. In 1939 a record 25,500 people joined by profession of faith. Dr. Benjamin Rice Lacy, Jr., the President of Union Theological Seminary at the time, in his book, Revival in the Midst of the Years, said this increase would not have occurred had it not been for their strenuous evangelistic effort. At the time, there were three synodical and twelve presbyterial evangelistic preachers traveling around the churches. Lacy says that at least another fifty men were doing similar work. 

If we go back in church history we can find numerous powerful and effective American Presbyterian evangelistic preachers, men like Samuel Davies, Gilbert Tennent, Samuel Blair, James Henley Thornwell, Daniel Baker, Asahel Nettleton, Bill Hill, Arnie Maves, and Ben Wilkinson. Thankfully there is a growing number of Presbyterian street preachers who are out regularly preaching the gospel.[3] This is very encouraging but also vitally necessary. Thom Rainer has suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic may severely alter the churchgoing habits of Americans. He suggests that around 20% of attendees will not return.[4] Already, for several years, weekly church attendance has been waning, moving from two to three times per week to two to three times per month. Now, however, people are more comfortable staying home, sitting in their pajamas, drinking coffee while live streaming their favorite preacher. More than ever, therefore, we must have men going to the people because fewer and fewer are going to church. 

Birmingham, Alabama, my hometown is the second most Bible-Minded City in American. The Barna group defines “Bible-Minded” as the percentage of people in a Designated Market Area (DMA) who read the Bible at least once per week and believe the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches. Here are a few of the top Bible-Minded cities:
Chattanooga, 50%
Birmingham, 49%
Roanoke/Lynchburg, 48%
Johnson City, Bristol, Kingsport, 48%
Charlotte, 46%

And here are a few of the lowest:
Albany, Schenectady, Troy, NY, 10%
Boston, 11 %
Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, IA, 14%
Hartford, New Haven, 16%
New York City, 17%.[5]

Here’s why we must have more evangelists working more strategically. Metro Birmingham has a population of 1.1 million people. Let’s assume that 49% of Birmingham, based on the statistic of being Bible-Minded, are true Christians. I doubt the validity of this assumption, but let’s go with it for the sake of argument. This means that over 500,000 people in Birmingham are unconverted and on their way to hell. There are many very good churches in Birmingham but we are simply not getting the job done. Now let’s look at the Hartford, New Haven DMA, where Wini and I once lived and planted a church. The population there is 1.2 million people. Again, assuming the 16% Bible-Minded people of Hartford/New Haven are true Christians, then there are only 192,000 Christians in that DMA and a little over one million people there are on the road to hell. 

Now, ask yourself this basic question—do you believe the American church, as we now know it with its psychotherapeutic, “woke”, event driven, multi-staff, multi-million dollar budget approach to ministry will reach all these unbelievers? We clearly have moved away from intentional evangelism, small group discipleship training, and multiplication of believers. Americans tend to be individualistic and this is at odds with what we find in Scripture. The idea of reaching households is pervasive in the New Testament. We see it in Acts 16 with both Lydia and the Philippian jailer. The Greek word for household, oikos, appears 106 times in the New Testament. The early church grew rapidly because the Holy Spirit was working powerfully in many conversions, but it also grew rapidly because believers were reaching their family, friends, and neighbors. Each one was reaching one. We must get back to the New Testament model of “doing church” or we will continue to limp along, continually losing ground, seeing our nation utterly taken over by secularism and socialism, and all the evils which go with them. I will have more to say next week about this New Testament model which is clearly stated in the gospels and Acts. 

And here’s an example of what God can do, how open air preaching can work so powerfully in a community and multiply believers. A few years ago my good friends Ben Cohen of Globeworks International, and Abrie Lourens and John Mark Clifford of Frontline Fellowship were in the Nuba Mountains in Sudan, distributing some 125,000 Bibles to Muslim people, including children in schools. One day they decided to go to a totally Muslim community. As they entered the village men were walking around with their assault rifles. John Mark stood before a growing crowd and boldly and simply preached the gospel through an interpreter. After he finished, seven young men came up to him and said they wanted to become Christians. Today there is a growing church in that village in spite of severe persecution.

We need all kinds of evangelists doing all kinds of evangelism. It begins with open air preaching which can soften the hard ground of our cities and make the work of one on one evangelism with friends reaching friends much easier.  
______________________

1  Colliers Magazine, Volume 50, January 25, 1913, Peter Clark MacFarlane
Watchman, Tell It True, by Otto Whittaker, page 301-302.
3 The ones which immediately come to mind, and I am surely missing some others, are Jim Thornton, Tim Hanley, Scott Smith, John Barros, George Petrella, Mark Grasso, Paul Golden, Ryan Denton, Bill Weizien, Tim Cummings, Shibu Oommen, Jahmezz Thompson, Michael Spangler, and Jim Grega.
4  Five Reasons Why 2021 Should Be a New Base Year for Your Church, Thom Rainer, October 12, 2020 <churchanswers.com
5  Infographics in Faith and Christianity, June 22, 2017 <barna.com/research/2017-bible-minded-cities/

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