During my lifetime, there have been many seasons in the life of the local church. In one season, the churches partnered with traveling evangelists to sponsor big tent crusades. Jack Coe, Oral Roberts, and A.A. Allen were prominent in South Texas. The tent meetings were opportunities for all the churches to gather together, and to invite the unsaved to a community event. Evangelism was the main focus.
In another season, the churches hosted Southern Gospel quartets. While there was a measure of entertainment, the main emphasis was to invite the unsaved to a church or community concert. There were usually prayer teams and altar workers to pray with those who accepted Christ.
In the 60’s, the season of the Charismatic movement swept through our churches. Altars were flooded with lost souls seeking Salvation and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Churches that opened their doors to these mainstream church attendees, were enriched.
Later in the 60’s and 70’s. the “hippy” generation was called to commitment to Christ through Jesus music, and street evangelism. I believe that much of the elder leadership in the local church of today, has been supplied by the counter culture who encountered Jesus in a living way. Evangelism reached these souls and the church grew stronger.
In the 80’s, the church moved toward more sophistication. A higher value was placed on Christian education and spiritual refinements. While this may have been needed, a cooling of evangelistic fervor was seen. Thankfully, Billy Graham crusades offered precision evangelism with local churches providing altar workers and follow-up. But those were only in some selected cities.
In the 90’s, the church became more interested in political involvement and community influence. Evangelism waned, and churches settled for quality and substance over street outreach. Then, a Holy Ghost bomb exploded in Pensacola, Florida. The Brownsville revival dynamically impacted worship services resulting in more time given to singing and waiting before the Lord. While services lasted longer, evangelism was more “come and see” than “go and tell.”
As the upheaval of the Brownsville revival faded, the seeker-sensitive churches slithered to the forefront. These churches typically had disdain for evangelism, and became more fellowship and community oriented. Family activities were added and larger churches started franchised campuses around town that attracted people that were mainly attending smaller churches.
Which brings us to today. While there are churches that have an active evangelism program, most are content with feeding the sheep they already have in the pen. Most pastors know that there are at least three important elements of a Bible-based local church: Care and teaching of Believers, worship of God, and outreach to the world. Yet, outreach has become the weak connection in the church today.
World missions is absolutely necessary, but it is not evangelism. In fact, as missionaries are barred from foreign countries, our world missionaries must live state-side. This new reality does not help church evangelism programs. Just supporting world missionaries, does not satisfy our mandate to reach our neighbors for Christ.
Bottom line: When the local church becomes a family-care business that omits evangelism, that church will fail. The local church must be continually invaded by people who have recently accepted Christ as Savior. New converts are the lifeblood of the local church. New converts inspire the leadership, challenge the lazy pew-sitter, and drag the church into more evangelism. Unfortunately, many programs of the contemporary church are selfishly designed to make Believers comfortable, to increase income over last year, and to entice attendees from other churches to attend.
The business of church has replaced the mandate of the church. This is not a healthy season of the church.