In some ways, the evangelical church is stuck in the 1950’s when it comes to evangelism.
The late 1940’s and early 1950’s saw the establishment of a number of significant evangelical Christian ministries. It was at that time that Billy Graham began to see people coming to faith in unprecedented numbers. It was then that Bill Bright founded Campus Crusade for Christ which has now become the largest sending Protestant missionary organization in the world. Bible camps, radio ministries, and a host of other very prominent organizations began at that time and experienced tremendous growth and success in their outreach efforts.
Why were the efforts of these ministries so successful when they began? And, why has that success not continued to today?
They were successful, in part, because society in the 1950’s was well prepared for hearing the clear, Biblical messages that these ministries presented. America had just come out of World War II. Most Americans had experienced a relative or close friend who had died in the war and were mindful of the fact that life on this earth is short and fragile. People were very much aware of their mortality and knew their need for God.
People of that generation had also generally attended church, so they were familiar with the terms of Christianity. When someone said God loved them and had a wonderful plan for their lives, they understood that God was good in His nature, and His plan would be something desirable.
Today, people are all wrapped up in the moment, and think that life is composed of “things.” Death comes to “old people,” and usually occurs behind closed doors in a hospital or nursing home. They tend to think that they are immortal, and don’t see their need for God.
They are also unfamiliar with the terms of Christianity. Allah is “God,” and he commands command his followers to blow themselves up in suicide bombings, along with as many innocent civilians as possible. For many, God is really “The Force,” with a dark side as well as a light side. We need to be careful not to get caught up with the “Dark side of The Force.”
In order to effectively engage and impact the culture of today, we need to understand that people are in a different place from where they were five decades ago. Before we tell them that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives, we have to convince them of their mortality, and show them who God really is.