The first time that I heard the term Evangelism Explosion,” I was confused. It seemed to me that explosions cause destruction. Then, I pictured another kind of explosion: that which takes place in the motor block of a diesel engine or a gasoline motor. The explosion in the chamber pushes a piston, thereby moving a rod and turning an axle. And the result is power. This is not the power to destroy, but to restore and to build.
Everything I heard about “Evangelism Explosion,” I liked. It was based on personal evangelism that was organized so that a small church, or even a Sunday School class, could reach out to personally tell people the Good News about the Messiah.
In recent times, we’ve seen many shrinking churches and yet there’s much talk about church planting. It seems to me that it’s a waste of energy to plant churches where many already exist. Why not use that energy to develop and grow the present churches, rather than establishing new churches to watch the older churches die? But the problem seems to be: there simply is not enough strength, energy or power.
Unfortunately, some of the established churches don’t want to be disturbed by something as loud as an evangelism explosion. But if churches are to experience healthy growth, it’s going to take some kind of explosive release of energy as in the day of Pentecost we read about in Acts 2.
God has established a priority plan of evangelism. Every building plan has steps. The starting place for the church is to bring the gospel to the Jew first. That priority is seen in Romans 1:16. I don’t mean that no one in a community should hear the gospel until the Jews have all heard it; I mean that Paul set an evangelism pattern for a reason. This Apostle to the Gentiles did not have it backward when he went to the Jew first. In coming to a community, he began his ministry at the synagogue, and whether he was received with enthusiasm or found his message rejected in anger, for some reason, it was the place of power: it got people moving; it made the gospel an issue in the community.
Today’s churches face a problem: many lack the strength, energy or power to make Jesus Christ an issue to any unbelievers. Some mistakenly think that we need to avoid confrontation, that if we make it our priority to avoid offending our non-Christian neighbors, if we are careful to be likeable in their eyes, they will naturally allow themselves to listen to us, and even allow us to influence their religious thought.
Nothing could be further from the truth. “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Our priority is to make Jesus Christ an issue. No matter how pleasantly we speak, no matter how soft our words, no matter how great our love and our concern—effective evangelism will bring a reaction before it brings a response. If we insist on avoiding that reaction, we avoid making Jesus an issue and the church becomes a club of nice people who enjoy singing together.
I don’t think one could know a person a half day without realizing that the person was a Muslim, and that he had a commitment to pray at certain times. I don’t think that one could go through a mealtime with a Buddhist and fail to realize that because of her religion, she won’t eat certain foods. The strong convictions of most people aren’t far below the surface. We don’t help ourselves or other people by keeping quiet about our own convictions.
For the true, committed Christian, Christ isn’t in the back of our minds, the back of our hearts. If we are just being ourselves, we can’t help but speak of Him, and what He’s doing for us. So much of what we have and what we’re able to do is because of Christ’s empowerment—so that it is the normal, natural thing for Him to be part of many discussions.
One can speak of the gospel, mention Christ, show respect and uphold Him in such a way that people can know that they are also respected, loved and appreciated.
The power of evangelism is explosive. If it destroys anything, it is our delusions of self-sufficiency. But it builds an understanding of Jesus, and through Him, an understanding of God’s forgiveness and grace.