Personal witnessing vs. mass evangelism
I have very little faith in mass evangelism. The proportion of changed lives to the numbers of the crowds is too small. In a weeklong series of public meetings, for example, maybe a thousand people will raise their hands when the speaker asks, “Who wants to receive Jesus?” or, “Who wants to go to Heaven?” Well, I’m sure those who believe and sincerely open their hearts to Jesus do get saved, because His promises regarding salvation never fail—promises like “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31), and, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
But of those one thousand converts, how many do you suppose will have a genuine and lasting change and go on to become the kind of Christian they could and should become? How many do you suppose will continue to “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” that they may be filled? (Matthew 5:6). How many will consistently read and absorb Jesus’ words, that they may grow spiritually and become His “disciples indeed”—real followers and doers of His teachings? (John 8:31-32). How many will become mature, fruit-bearing Christians, witnessing to and winning others, bearing more Christians like themselves? (John 15:8). Probably not more than a few, at best!
Jesus told His original disciples: “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (John 15:16), and He says the same to us today. He intends for us to not only win souls, but to help them grow into strong Christians, true disciples who will witness and win others. You rarely get that kind of fruit from mass evangelism.
It depends on what you want, and that should be determined by what is going to be most effective and best for the Kingdom of God, best for souls. Mass evangelism is faster and gets big numbers and more temporary popularity, but how much lasting fruit does it bear?
Some people get their eyes off the goal and on the method. They get their eyes off the end and on the means. It’s a common temptation for preachers and evangelists to go after bigger and bigger crowds, and often, I’m sorry to say, I suspect ulterior motives because bigger crowds and more publicity mean bigger offerings, more money. “Come out and support me to preach the Gospel for you! Look at my huge meetings! Look at all the tens of thousands of souls I’m getting saved! Support me and I’ll win the world for you!” But just because a ministry has wide exposure or is popular or brings in a lot of money doesn’t necessarily mean that it is bearing lasting fruit.
Where is the lasting fruit of the mass evangelists you see on TV or hear about speaking to tens of thousands at huge rallies? Show me the changed lives. Show me the converts from those ministries who are now witnessing and winning souls themselves. Show me the results! That’s the acid test as to whether or not a ministry is actually fruitful—not just crowds in attendance or show-of-hand salvations, or mass media statistics. If it doesn’t get lasting results, it’s unprofitable.
It doesn’t matter how much seed a farmer sows, if he doesn’t get a crop, he’s wasting his time. It’s got to bear fruit or he’ll go out of business. He can brag all he wants to about how many fields he’s plowed, how much seed he’s sown, and how huge his farm is, but if he doesn’t grow anything, if it doesn’t bear fruit, then it’s unprofitable.
“He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). You have to sow much seed in order to bear much fruit, but if you’re scattering the seed on stony or shallow ground or amongst the thorns and thistles instead of on fertile ground, or if you only sow the seed and never go back to water or tend to it, then it’s not going to bear much fruit no matter how much seed you sow.
I don’t believe in mass evangelism! I was in it for much of my life and my parents before me, and I’m absolutely convinced that it’s ineffective and inefficient compared to individual witnessing. We used to say about our big evangelistic meetings with their lavish advertising, enormous expense, and untold effort, “If even one soul was saved, it was worth it all!” Well, one soul is worth all that, but I understand now that we could have won a lot more souls had we spent all that time and energy and money differently!
As a young preacher with a real love for the lost and a sincere desire to try to win the poor lost sheep that organized religion had failed to reach, I also tried everything else I could think of to try to carry the Gospel to them. I preached on the streets and in the parks. I sang at the top of my voice. I showed pictures and movies anywhere I possibly could, trying to reach the people outside of the churches with the message of God’s love. But it was still the meeting method and the mass evangelism approach, which only had moderate success.
Then one day I found out the exciting truth that I could win more souls witnessing individually to people wherever you could find them, without a church or a pulpit or a meeting of any kind—anywhere, everywhere, any time, and all the time, to everybody! At those huge meetings we were preaching mostly to churchgoers who were either already saved or had heard the Gospel many times. But witnessing one on one, I could reach people who needed to hear the Gospel for the first time, those who were outside the religious system, and that’s as it should be. Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:13).
Like Jesus and His disciples and many others, I found out from personal experience that when it comes to bearing lasting fruit, the most effective and efficient method is one-on-one soul winning. I also learned that the secret to multiplying my fruitfulness was intensive individual training of those won, so they all became soul winners.
When you witness one on one right where the people are—in their homes or shops or offices, or discreetly in parks or on the street—you are able to pray and discern who is genuinely hungry for answers and the truth, and you can concentrate on those who are most likely to be receptive to the Gospel and worthy of your time. The Holy Spirit will lead you to those who most need your help and who will respond in loving appreciation, just as it will also lead them to you (Luke 1:53; James 4:6).
Because you have made direct, personal contact, you also have a good chance of following up on those who get saved or show interest, to water the seeds you planted so that they can grow and become fruitful. You can’t do that nearly so well with those reached through mass evangelism, even if you manage to get your new converts to fill out contact cards with their names and addresses and phone numbers. It’s still too impersonal.
Jesus started with just a handful of followers who He talked with and won individually, and most of His so-called sermons were taught to individuals or small groups of true disciples or true seekers, seldom to crowds. When He taught the Sermon on the Mount, for example, it says, “And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him” (Matthew 5:1).
The large crowds He drew were not planned. The people just showed up, and they were mostly there for the miracles—healing or the loaves and fishes, something selfish for themselves. Nevertheless, Jesus was “moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). He fed the multitudes and healed all who came to Him (Matthew 8:16-17; 14:13-21; 15:30-38; Luke 6:17-19). But how many of those people do you ever hear of again? What did they do with what they were given? Most of them never did anything for Jesus or His disciples, and left as soon as the going got tough or the doctrine heavy (John 6:51-66). The crowds just made things difficult for Jesus, and He often avoided them when He could (Matthew 12:15-19; Mark 7:36; Luke 5:15-16).
True sacrificial disciples are few and far between and hard to find! They don’t come to the front by the thousands in huge stadiums. You have to search them out individually, personally, with tender loving care and personal attention. Jesus said that the good shepherd “calls his own sheep by name”—personally, individually—“and leads them out” (John 10:3).
I daresay that most of those who get saved at mass meetings are only looking for a “fire escape.” They couldn’t care less if the rest of the world goes to Hell, as long as they themselves are saved. As slowly as they drift to the front, they drift back into the mass again and disappear from God’s service.
So for God’s sake and His work’s sake and souls’ sake and your own sake, don’t get duped into this mass evangelism, big crowd, big rally, big place delusion. You’re only kidding yourself if you think you will accomplish anything that way!
Not only is mass evangelism ineffective and inefficient, it can be downright dangerous! Jesus instructed His disciples, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces” (Matthew 7:6). In any large crowd you’re bound to get some “dogs” and “swine.” That’s the danger of mass evangelism. Preaching to so many at once, just by the law of averages, some are not going to like your message or agree with your doctrine, and could be jealous or consider you competition. Sooner or later, you’re bound to make some enemies who will try to discredit you and your ministry, just like Jesus did and His apostles did after Him.
Jesus didn’t preach in the Temple very much until the last week of His life, and when He did, it nearly always caused Him trouble (Matthew 21:12-15,23,45-46; Luke 4:28-30; John 8:59; 10:23-24,31-39). He didn’t come marching into Jerusalem with great fanfare and Hosannas until His time had come. Up till then, when He wasn’t teaching His disciples, He mostly ministered one on one and told those He helped, “Go your way and don’t tell anybody!” (Matthew 8:4; 16:20; 17:9; Mark 3:12) He was trying to prolong His ministry and teach His disciples as long as He could. He knew His jealous enemies were going to get Him in the end, and He understood how important it was for Him to teach His disciples to win souls and establish disciples—fruit that would remain. In terms of lasting results, Jesus accomplished more by training a few disciples to carry on the work after He was gone than by the miracles for the multitudes.
How long were Peter and the other disciples able to continue those huge public meetings where they won thousands of souls—three thousand on the Day of Pentecost and five thousand a few days later, after the lame man was healed on the Temple steps? They reaped a tremendous harvest on the Day of Pentecost. It was the day of the first fruits, the harvest feast, and they got their harvest then and in the days that followed (Acts chapters 2 and 3). But after that you don’t hear anything more about people joining them by the thousands. That’s because persecution began and they were driven underground. Then all they could do was glean.
Those public explosions—first with Jesus during the week leading up to His crucifixion, and then with the apostles at Pentecost—just about finished the Early Church as far as mass evangelism was concerned, at least in Jerusalem.
So the question is: Are you going to be satisfied with little but lasting fruit that in the long run will do far more good than all the mass evangelism put together, or do you want quick results in terms of hands raised but little or no lasting fruit in the end?
As far as I’m concerned, the only sound, permanent, effective, efficient, and fruitful evangelism is personal evangelism. But if you’re still not convinced, there’s one sure way to find out—try it! “The proof of the pudding is in the tasting.” “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). You will soon find that personal witnessing is not only the best way to win souls, but it will inspire you like nothing else as you see the Lord work in others’ lives. It will not only be worth it all when you see Jesus, but it’s worth it all right now to see the wonderful, thrilling, satisfying results of your witness.
Are you with me? Let’s witness and minister where it’s going to bear lasting results—all-out believers who will live their Christianity by helping to spread the Gospel and giving of themselves in sacrificial service to others. Let’s go out into the highways and byways where the lost are to be found and give them His love and the good news of salvation in Jesus! Jesus walked miles out of His way in the heat of the day to love and win one wayward woman at a well! Though ninety-and-nine were in the fold, the good shepherd was not content until the last lost one was found and saved and rescued. How can we do any less?