Dr. A.T. Pierson once said, “There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer.” Let us remember what God has done through concerted, united, sustained prayer. In Scripture, spiritual awakening is always tied to the obedience of God’s people. Former Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter reminded us that revival does not trickle down from the White House; it bubbles up from God’s house! God’s word to Solomon still holds true: “If my people, who are called by my name ….” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
If revival is to come to Tennessee, we must earnestly beseech the Father for three things: leaders, laborers and the lost. Our vision is to see God bring a sweeping spiritual awakening in our churches, transforming our hearts toward radical obedience as we penetrate lostness and advance the gospel across Tennessee and to the ends of the earth!
Traditionally, Southern Baptists (of which I am a proud member) have had strong evangelistic emphases from the pulpit. Pulpit evangelism has been a mainstay of evangelical churches, including brush arbor revivals, tent evangelism, Billy Graham crusades and annual or even semi-annual church revivals. The invitation to receive Christ as savior, extended at the end of every worship service, is an integral part of bringing people to Christ.
Obviously, the success of pulpit evangelism requires the attendance of lost people. Pulpit evangelism is most effective when church members invite and actually bring their unsaved friends to attend worship. Pulpit evangelism is another critical piece of the church’s evangelism strategy, but it should not be the only piece.
For many churches, programming represents a large number of their church’s baptisms, often times well over half. The average church in the Tennessee Baptist Convention has 120 in worship and baptized 9.2 people last year, mostly as a result of programs like VBS, Backyard Kids Clubs, Youth Evangelism Conference and camps. In fact, Vacation Bible School typically produces about 25 per cent of the baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention. In Tennessee, just under 1,000 students received Christ as savior at the YEC in every spring.
Let me be clear: thank God for Vacation Bible School, youth camp, Disciple Now or any other church program that is bringing people to Christ! Let’s continue to do these programs and let’s do them well. But as my friend Alvin Reid has said repeatedly: A shrinking percentage of people in our culture are going to be reached through programmed strategies that require lost people to attend some type of event at the church’s facilities. Program-style evangelism is vital, but it must not be the only facet of a church’s evangelism strategy.
The fourth and most under-utilized facet of evangelism (in my opinion) is personal evangelism. According to Ed Stetzer and LifeWay Research, 80 percent of church attenders believe in personal evangelism, but 61 percent of church members do not share their faith. There is a massive chasm here between belief and action. Far too often, church members may believe they are supposed to be a personal evangelist; most do not take action on their belief.
Locked away in our small groups and Sunday Schools is an untapped gospel explosion just waiting to happen. Many churches lack an actual plan of mobilizing the people in their small groups to actually do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5). The small group or Sunday school is how the church is organized (supposedly) to do the mission of the church. If this mission statement is true, then many churches are not using their small group strategy to its fullest and most mission-vital objective: evangelizing a lost world “as we go” (Matthew 28:19).
Personal evangelism is the most missional of the four arenas of evangelism. In even the smallest churches, our members know hundreds of lost people. The challenge for the 21st-century American church is to mobilize and unleash ordinary church members to become extraordinary evangelists who are able and willing, sharing their faith with friends, family and neighbors. Enjoying and serving the lost through community servanthood evangelism projects. In other words, “Doing good deeds to promote good will in order to share the good news.”
Steve Pearson is an Evangelism Specialist TBC and Harvest Field Team Leader; Harvest Five/Southeast TN. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.