I was proud to see Dr. Billy Graham honored. His coffin was displayed in the U.S. Capitol. He was America's pastor. Since his retirement, there have been few mass evangelism meetings in football stadiums. Where are the soul-winning evangelists in America?
Sadly, most church growth is now by the baptism of children or transfers from other churches. Transfer produces no net gain for the kingdom of God. If you look at the numbers, this means few people are being saved. Not many are coming to Christ. If I'm wrong, please show me the exceptions.
The obvious solution is to preach evangelistically like Billy Graham and hope to win more people to Christ. At first, that seems good. But when pastors try it, their grace gift is different. Fortunately, the gospel has power regardless of who declares it.
Does the task of evangelism fall solely to pastors? Decades of evidence show this approach has limitations. Very few farmers succeed if all they ever do is plow inside the barn. The harvest is not inside the walls, but outside, in the fields. Most pastors devote all their time to feeding the flock. It is the people in the pews who labor outside, in the fields.
Let's consider a more effective way to do the work. To do that, we need to look at the real situation in our churches. Surveys show that the average size of a church in America is 70 people. This includes the children, babies, and dogs. Mega-churches of a thousand or more get noticed, but they're the exception. The percentage of the U.S. population involved in church is declining. Church seats are filled with graying seniors.
Another problem is the lack of training of the people. Many pastors preach evangelistically to people who are already converted. They don't teach them the word and don't train them in the whole counsel of God's word. So, when our youth encounter a hostile, humanistic world-view at school, they are prone to doubt their faith. A high percentage of church kids wander away. David Kinnamen of the Barna Group researched the reasons and offers cures for this problem in his book, You Lost Me.
Some Christian churches practice endless evangelism but fall short in disciple-making. I agree that we should be soul-winners, but we should also create a matrix so converts can become disciples. This equips more workers for the harvest. If we don't do this, we fall into a deception. We start to think that more people (numbers) amounts to success. Jesus didn't tell us to make more converts. He said to make disciples. That's our mission.
Leaders who believe preaching is their task will measure success by more converts and larger crowds. This short-term fix feels right. It certainly helps the church budget. The problem is that it fails to produce lasting fruit. Are we multiplying workers?
Why not produce world-changers, overcomers, and high-level agents of Christ's kingdom in the marketplace, vibrant enthusiastic worshippers of Christ who can affect our national culture?
Then, there's the "revolving door." Pastors often find that just as many people depart through the church's back door as enter through the front door. Statistics show that we can have conversions or baptisms, but in the long run, have no net gain in the number of members or in the number of churches.
The only way to fix this problem is to return to Christ's mandate for his ministers found in Ephesians 4:12, "...equip the saints for the work of the ministry." By doing that, we can help fulfill the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20), something Billy Graham gave his life for.
-- Ron Wood is a writer and minister. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.touchedbygrace.org. The opinions expressed are those of the author.Editorial on 03/07/2018
Print Headline: Missing Billy Graham