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The latest statistics from Christian Research published in Dr. Peter Brierley's excellent book "The Tide is Running Out" show that in England 46% of church membership, across all mainstream Christian denominations, has been lost in the last 21 years. During the "Decade of Evangelism" in the 90's, the decline steepened and Dr. Brierley believes that today something like 1,000 teenagers a week stop going to church - yet those involved in the front-line activities of street preaching and Christian education in the public school system find a sympathetic and ready response to the claims of Christ - we find there is very little cynicism about Jesus.
Recent publications on evangelism tend to display a non-comprehension of what evangelism is or what an evangelist's ministry is about, or even who the evangelists are. A couple of years ago, a book published by the Church Army in Australia, written by a number of contributors who are Anglican clergy working in Australia, set out to identify the evangelists in their congregations and to suggest ways in which they could be encouraged. The evangelist is identified as a "Hail fellow, well met" type with the ability to build relationships with visitors to church fairly easily, but nevertheless the kind of person who is likely to have behavioural problems, be a non-academic, and to be likely to say the wrong thing at the wrong time! These sort of misconceptions are common in evangelism today - in fact there is so much ignorance about the whole subject that we must establish a Biblical pattern for this tremendously important ministry if the Church - in England at least - is to be more than a few tiny groups of elderly people meeting in empty buildings in 20 years' time.
There has also been such a loss of confidence in the ability of the Holy Spirit to convict and convert that Church pastor/managers today preach the Gospel with little or no expectation of any result - so there is an increasing tendency to move into sociological patterns and change the message - one of the latest being "God wants you to feel good about yourself". Messages like this produce friendly audiences but not converts.
Having spent the last 42 years (25 full time with Open Air Campaigners) working with the world's leading evangelistic and missions agencies, I hope this Report will convey something of the thrill of sharing the Gospel with the spiritually hungry in the world, who stand in their hundreds eager to hear what God is saying today. People from all walks of life, in all countries where I have had the privilege of preaching, have a profound respect for the Gospel and are greatly interested in knowing how a personal relationship with Jesus Christ can be possible. Preaching on the streets of Vienna with local missionaries for the last 5 or 6 summers has demonstrated to me how even in a materialistic, sophisticated European country like Austria there are those who want to know how they can know God. The astonishing thing is that in the 55 years since Church-planting began in Vienna after the war, no one had actually gone out and preached the Gospel to the Austrians in public - where all of them are to be found! It seems that almost nobody will follow Jesus in his public preaching ministry. As I lead seminars in Bible colleges principally in Britain and the United States but also in some Western European countries, neither students nor staff (some of whom are ex-missionaries) have ever contemplated the public preaching of the Gospel. To see the slides of this incredibly effective ministry in action evokes cries of surprise and delight and an eagerness to learn how to do it. Whether it's in the shopping precinct on a Saturday morning, outside the Bull Ring late at night in Portugal or Spain, or talking to 1,000 or so teenagers in a Secondary School assembly, the interest and the sincerity, the thoughtfulness, and the gratitude are all there as people hear things that often their national Church has never told them before.
In Greece, where I have been working for 22 years, the Church itself has become the message, rather than the Gospel - their history, their saints, their icons, their traditions, their religious practices. After a campaign in a town or village in Greece, young people will come up and say "Thank you for being here this week in the park with your team - if you go into the bars you'll meet hundreds of young people talking about Jesus, and last week they had hardly heard of him." Listening to the radio on the way home, Dan Truitt and I were astonished to hear the Archimandrate of Athens say on the Devotional he gives each week that he was very much more interested in what the Greek philosophers say because they had a better grasp of life than the Old Testament prophets! Even in England the Church today tends to have all the characteristics of a group of secular institutions run by civil service procedures - whereas Biblically we should be a mission, with a sense of direction and purpose, determined to build the Kingdom of God. This book explains how this vision can become a reality, in which ordinary members of local churches can play a key role in reaching out effectively into their own local communities.
I have undertaken the writing of this book with some trepidation as there is a desire on my part to encourage and not criticise. Many of the ministries undertaken by the modern church are superb in my experience and meet felt needs of those concerned. However, if the Christian message is to have a wide appeal in the modern world, then the ministry of the Evangelist is going to have to be clearly understood and facilitated on a proper basis.
For ease of writing, I have used the term "he" to describe an evangelist - this is in no way meant to demean the many excellent female evangelists who are doing the work, and I hope you will read it as an inclusive term not an exclusive one. In fact, our first full time trainee was a Senior Sister Tutor from St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London, Karen Bolton (nee Dillon), who for many years now has been a fine evangelist both here in the U.K. and on the mission field in Africa.
This is not a book about prayer. One of my greatest treasures is an early edition of a book on prayer by E. M. Bounds, the reading and re-reading of which changed my life. Everything we do hinges on our prayer life and our direct link with the Lord in every step we take. Without prayer the events described in this book could not have happened. Through prayer springs the strength and motivation to evangelise. Prayer brings too the love without which that motivation descends to mere worldly ambition. Hundreds of faithful prayer partners around the world are the foundation of the work that God does in reaching out and touching people's lives by his Holy Spirit.