Impersonal Evangelism

It is a conundrum in the Churches of Christ (that I grew up in) that evangelism was emphasized, yet the kind of evangelism that was practiced was ineffective and impersonal.

The main method of evangelism that the Churches of Christ practiced was pulpit preaching, about how our group was better than any other group, to the extent that we were going to heaven, but they were going to hell. That was basically it. So if you wanted to evangelize you had to invite people to church, or give them literature, the Churches of Christ holding the world record for most journals per capita (probably because Alexander Campbell fed the Restoration Movement with his journals).

Inviting one’s friends was encouraged, but church research indicates that in most denominations almost no-one has any non-church friends five years after conversion. Non-church friends were discouraged in the Churches of Christ. So co-workers or school friends could be invited to church.

Since there was no-one else to invite, door-knocking was sometimes, if seldom, used. This could be followed up with the five Jules Miller film strips, which emphasized baptism for salvation. More often, mailed or hand delivered invitations to a gospel meeting were used.

It is ironic that the Churches of Christ use the term “gospel” in this context: the terms gospel, evangelism and evangelist are actually a Greek words (root word eu-angel) that have been failed to be translated into English: good news. The original Good News, as the term is used in the New Testament, referred to God coming to earth to make peace with humanity, forgiving us of our sins, and rising from the dead, giving us the hope of eternal life. Somehow that definition was lost on the Churches of Christ of my acquaintance.

Inviting someone to come hear good news is evangelism, but it is perhaps the least personal style of evangelism, and matches the cerebral modernist approach the Churches of Christ favor. Relationships, including an emotional and personal relationship with God, gets short shrift in most hardline churches. Just as no-one got close to Idi Amin or Hitler, no-one gets close to the God of the Churches of Christ. That God is to be feared. And spreading that good news is somewhat difficult.


About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
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