THE ROLE OF EVANGELISM IN CHURCH GROWTH IN ESAN EAST DISTRICT OF ASSEMBLIES OF GOD NIGERIA
The greatest commandment of the Lord is preaching the gospel all over the world.
It is the duty of all Christians to preach the gospel to the world. If we are negligent about it, we may lose God’s blessings. When we study the way Jesus preached the gospel, we see that He personally met people individually and called them to become His disciples. Those who met Jesus personally became evangelists themselves, proclaimed God’s Word, and expanded the church. Jesus built the church so that it would do His work after He left this earth. Therefore, it is the mission of the church to go out and preach the gospel. To carry out this mission the author’s church held Evangelism Mobilization Day, through which every church member could participate in evangelism and realize the importance of training. With the example of Assemblies of God church members, this project shows the role of evangelism in church growth.
1.1 Background of the Study
The primary task of Christians in the world is to go into the world in order to preach the Goodnews to all creatures, a command which was given by Jesus Christ. (Mark 16: 15-16). In relation to evangelism in Africa and the entire world, it seems likely that many Christians have neglected their roles in the society. It seems that the attention of many Christians is now directed towards fulfilling their own will to the detriment of the Gospel.
There is no denying the fact that by reading the “signs of the times” the Christian Church in Africa and the developing world develops its unique self-understanding in response to the challenges posed by Africa’s Socio-economic, political and cultural context. Whether we construe the character of this response as “message” or as “mission,” the crucial point lies in the fact that the Church’s relevance and credibility depend on how effectively it addresses the prevailing social context in Africa and the entire developing world. The Church in Africa has the option of either preaching a Gospel which responds to the structural challenges of a continent which to many is marginalized or the African Christians will find themselves sinking with the unfulfilled hopes of Africans. If the Church in Africa neglects this African context, certainly she stands the chance of risking the loss of the Church’s relevance and credibility. (Orobabor 2000: 160-168).
In the midst of the present level of development in Africa and the entire world, there is the urgent need for evangelism and re-evangelisation of people with a view to bringing forth a Church that is growing at a reasonable speed. Here, we assert that apart from the non-Christians being brought to the true knowledge of God through Jesus Christ, professed Christians need to be re-focussed to their calling as evangelizers.
In this work therefore, we have examined such issues as the definition of evangelism, Jesus the visible sign of the world, the works of the Apostles, the spread of the Goodnews, Evangelism and the Church, who sends?, the challenges facing evangelisation, and the implication of evangelism on Church growth. It is envisaged that this work will stimulate further research as far as the issue of evangelism and Church growth is concerned.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
In these days of rapidly changing and highly advanced civilizations, people seem to enjoy affluence and happiness but inwardly they have lots of troubles and are struggling with distress. The explosive population surge has made the earth crowded. It is a tragedy that 75% of the world’s population is non-Christian and people wander around and feel left out even among a crowd. What is more deplorable is that it is not easy to maintain intimate and meaningful relationships with others. Therefore, a sudden encounter with a stranger makes one fear because he might be a threat to his own life and dignity.
This is a problem in personal evangelism. Shunning away from evangelistic conversation can be understood as another aspect of this social phenomenon. However, Jesus and His disciples effectively preached the gospel to the crowds and to individuals with all the problems of their day. Jesus and his disciples placed the same amount of importance both on preaching the gospel to the crowd and preaching the gospel to individuals. We should not neglect any of the methods Jesus and his disciples used in their day. The characteristics and advantages of preaching the gospel to individuals are that evangelists get to meet with the individuals face to face and thus develop a more intimate relationship with them. Preaching the gospel to individuals has been found to be more effective than preaching to the crowds in leading people to the Lord and contributes more to church growth in the long run.
The author has witnessed this phenomenon as a minister in his own church. All sorts of efforts, such as church retreats, door-to-door evangelism, evangelizing the poor by helping them out, and gospel preaching through letters, have been found to be far less efficient ways of church growth than personal evangelism. That is why the author has concluded that personal evangelism (preaching the gospel face to face) is a more effective method for church growth.
“God had only one son and He made that Son a missionary.” 2 Jesus thought highly of personal evangelism and understood it correctly. C. E. Autrey said, “personal evangelism is in the center of the gospel preaching of Christ. By successfully preaching the gospel to his first disciple, Andrew, Jesus showed him how to present the gospel to his brother Simon and bring him to Jesus.
What did Jesus preach to Andrew? He preached the gospel from heaven. What is the gospel from heaven? In Luke 19: 10, Jesus spoke of the purpose of his coming to the earth. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (The New International Version is used to quote the Bible passages in the study.) Mark 10:45 also says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He was clearly aware of the purpose God had in sending Him to the earth, believed it, and witnessed about it. Jesus clearly declared himself as Messiah to Andrew. Andrew firmly believed that and became the first individual evangelist.
According to the New Testament, Andrew is the first evangelist of those who met Jesus on the earth (John 1:41). Andrew, on the other hand, had heard what John the
Baptist had said before he followed Jesus. It can be found in John 1:29, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” After Jesus was baptized and went up out of the water, John the Baptist clearly listened to the voice from heaven that said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” and John saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove on Jesus. After that, Andrew personally met Jesus and accepted him as his Messiah.
What was it that Andrew was eager to do right after he met Jesus? The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah.”
He personally preached the gospel to another individual. 4 He brought his brother Peter to Jesus and Peter became one of Jesus’ disciples (John 1 :42). Peter was Jesus’ topnotch disciple, who disowned Jesus three times in the middle of the courtyard while Jesus was being accused before Pilate. Later, on the day of Pentecost, however, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, addressed the crowd, and led about three thousand to accept his message and get baptized. The number grew to about five thousand and more people were added to their number daily and this greatly helped expand the church of Jerusalem. This is a good example of church growth made possible through personal evangelism. Jesus showed Andrew and then Andrew witnessed to Peter.
This gives us a lesson that personal evangelism may seem like a little yeast or a mustard seed but that it has the potential to greatly expand the Lord’s kingdom. A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough and a mustard seed, though it is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when it grows, is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches. These examples might suggest the expansion of God’s kingdom and the church growth through personal evangelism. All these metaphors are used to reveal what Jesus did on the cross. When we believe that Jesus died on the cross to forgive our sin and was resurrected with the work of Holy Spirit, we are saved. This is the gospel. The evangelist should deliver this simple truth to individuals. Since only Christ is our gospel, we need to preach that Jesus Christ, who is the perfect God and perfect man, is the only Savior of mankind. Thus, Calvin said that every fallen human being should seek salvation in Christ the Lord. In Acts 4: 12, the apostle Peter said, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Jesus Christ is our only salvation and gospel.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
The objectives of this study include:
(i) To determine whether evangelism is needed in every church
(ii) To find out the constraints faced by churches in practicing evangelism.
(iii) To highlight the impacts of evangelism in church growth.
1.4 Research Questions
(i) Is evangelism needed in every church?
(ii) What are the constraints faced by churches in practicing evangelism?
(iii) What are the impacts of evangelism in the church?
1.5 Research Hypotheses
As a guide to achieve the objectives of the study, the following hypotheses were formulated:
1. HO: Evangelism is not needed in every church
HA: Evangelism is needed in every church
2. HO: There is no priority of evangelism, most church ministries are not intentionally evangelistic and laypersons believe that evangelism is what they pay the pastors to do are not constraints faced by churches in practicing evangelism.
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