Handing out tracts on street corners as a method of evangelism is out of date and ineffective.” This opening statement came from a student in the public speaking class I was taking as a first-year student at Moody Bible Institute. All my classmates knew that I was active in handing out tracts on street corners with Jews for Jesus as part of my ministry assignment. It was 1978, and I had recently completed a month-long summer witnessing campaign in New York City. If the young woman’s speech was true, this effort had been a monumental waste of time.
It has been 27 years since I heard that speech. Many others have discounted the value of street evangelism over the years. But as you read this edition of Real Time, I am in New York City, handing out tracts and taking part in another Jews for Jesus summer witnessing campaign. Critics may write speeches, articles or even books, but I remain as convinced as ever of the value of campaigns for one main reason: I do enough of it to see that it still works. It is one thing to sit at a desk or computer and think through what is or isn’t effective. It is quite another to go out and actually look people in the eyes and invite them to consider Jesus.
We continue trying new approaches to change with the times. Handing out tracts has never been our sole means of outreach. Neither has it become an outdated means. We regularly write new gospel tracts or “broadsides,” as we call them. I wrote a new one last week based on the recently released recording of Coldplay, a contemporary music group.
If you know people who are familiar with this group and you think the broadside will be of interest to them, feel free to download it and make photocopies.
Much has changed, but what has not changed, not in 27 years or 2,000 years, is the gospel and people’s need to be saved. We need to be face-to-face with those people God wants to reach, to be visible and available for divine opportunities to bring them the good news. Witnessing campaigns are a great way to do that.
We aim to accomplish four things through our witnessing campaigns. First, we are raising an image, the image of Jesus as our Messiah. We make the statement visibly through a group of mostly young Jewish people who have the courage to make themselves available and vulnerable in order to lift Jesus up. One critic complained that young people on street corners in “sweaty T-shirts” is not an attractive image to the Jewish community. The suggestion was that we wear business suits–as though we could make the gospel respectable and more attractive by dressing up. But our brightly-colored, boldly-lettered T-shirts saying “Jews for Jesus” or “Jesus Made me Kosher” get people’s attention. We dress to raise the awareness that Jews can be for Jesus. What kind of image would we raise by wearing suits in a city full of people wearing suits?
A second goal of campaigning is to sow as much gospel seed as possible. Each broadside is an invitation to interact with the gospel. As in the parable of the sower, much of the seed falls into soil that doesn’t yield fruit, but that doesn’t keep the sower from sowing the seed widely. Every year we hear and report stories of how God uses some of these gospel seeds to bring people to Himself. Some say that people just won’t take tracts as readily today as they used to. While it may feel like that, the fact is that we are still handing out approximately the same amount of literature as we did in previous years.
Last year we handed out over a million broadsides in New York City during the month of July, which is about what you can expect with 24 campaigners who are on the streets eight hours a day six days a week for four weeks. Some will say that is too much to ask of people, that this kind of campaigning is unnecessarily difficult. But that is why we call it a campaign. It is an all-out effort for a limited amount of time. In politics the word “campaign” means a hectic schedule, long hours and lots of hard work, including leafleting, door-to-door canvassing, phone calls and lots of public appearances and conversations. The candidate and his or her volunteers are worn out by the time it is over, often losing their voices, sometimes looking a bit bleary-eyed for all the effort. If people can do this for political purposes why can’t we do it for the Lord?
A third goal of campaigning is to generate conversations and contacts. During our campaign we have thousands of gospel conversations with people. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of people give us their names, addresses, e-mail addresses and phone numbers so we can have further contact with them. Each of these will receive literature in the mail and hopefully a phone call and further personal contact. Some who give their names and addresses are willing to receive ongoing ministry from us or from a local congregation helping us with the follow up.
Some of these people even pray with us to receive Yeshua (Jesus) as their Messiah, which is our fourth goal in campaigning. I want to be careful how I represent this aspect of campaigning, because salvation is a supernatural work of God from beginning to end, and not all those who pray with us necessarily become “fruit that remains.” But some do. Recently, Jews for Jesus was turned down by a Christian foundation for a grant we had requested to fund some of our campaigns. They told us they only fund projects where the numbers of “salvations” are in the thousands. Our expectations (in the hundreds) appeared not to be worth their investment.
It can be tempting to exaggerate, but there is no need to exaggerate when we trust God. We will keep on campaigning because it is up to us to reach out to people; the resources needed as well as the results in souls saved are in God’s hands. “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.” (1 Corinthians 3:7)
Campaigning in the 21st century is all about Jesus; it’s all for His glory, and from where I stand right now on the streets of New York City, it is all very much worthwhile.