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Leaders

In 1959 something akin to a peaceful revolution took place here in Australia when, for the first time, Billy Graham came to our shores. Even taking into account the incredible preparation that led up to that series of Crusade Meetings, I think that everyone was stunned by the response.

For example, the largest sports arena in our country - the Melbourne Cricket Ground - was packed out for the final rally. It held 100,000 people in the stands. On that day (by utilizing the playing surface as well as the usual seating), 143,000 people packed into the venue - which to this day - remains the largest crowd ever in that facility.

But that was then.  This is now.

Fifty years on, things have changed. Now, let me be clear. I am one who strongly believes that our message does not...must not...ever change. It is non-negotiable. Let that be written large in the minds of those who read this reflection.

How we package that message is another thing altogether. While the message remains unchangeable, the method of communication necessarily changes. Why? Because our culture changes and we are called upon to penetrate the culture around us with the message of "the gospel of the Kingdom".

Our methods must accommodate those changes in  the culture without compromising the message.

I seriously doubt the value of crusade-type evangelism in the age and culture  in which we live. Yet, to my fellow believers who seek to fulfil their evangelistic calling by engaging in this style of evangelism, I wish you well. Seriously, I do. Yet there have to be more effective ways of reaching our generation. Ways that are culturally sensitive and relevant.

Recently I came across a video clip on the Internet which challenged  me to think more "outside the box" than  I am usually willing to do. The video opened with a brief explanation of the setting - the food court of a downtown shopping complex just a few days short of Christmas. Somewhat subtly the background music changed from the usual Christmas fare of music to the strains of the Hallelujah Chorus.

Suddenly a young woman (not so subtly) stood and began to sing the opening words in a strong but lovely voice. A strong male voice from elsewhere across the food court joined her. Then another. And yet another. By now it was obvious that this was a carefully arranged "production" but the audience seemed to respond very positively. By the end of the presentation a whole choir of people brought it to a wonderful climax.

What can I learn about evangelism from this group whose approach was so different to that of 50 years ago?

1. Instead of performing this musical masterpiece in a church building that has a sign out front saying "All Welcome", they took the message to the market place. For decades we have endeavoured to lure people into our territory (our Church buildings) where we are safe but they are anxious. We expect them to sing songs that they do not know and participate in a "order of service" with which they are unfamiliar. The choir that day went to where the people were. Just as did Jesus.

For all of my Christian life the emphasis has been "to get the people out there in here" (i.e. into the church building where can preach at them). I now see the New Testament pattern is "to get the people in here out there".

2. The message in the Hallelujah Chorus is unmistakeable. Jesus Christ is King and He shall reign forever and ever. That choir sang the gospel that day in the food court. No one "preached" in the sense that we use that word. Yet everyone in the choir did preach.

3. They chose a vehicle or medium with which many (most) of the people sitting at the tables would be somewhat familiar - the Hallelujah Chorus. No one needed to feel threatened as though they were the focus of attention. If anyone was taken out of their comfort zone that day it was the choir members, not the audience.

4. Someone had to have a vision for what took place that day. They had to recruit others. They had to practice  probably with greater commitment because of the audience which had not come to hear their presentation. How would they respond?

There are probably other principles that I haven't mentioned. How does it sit with you? What does your Church do in the way of evangelism?

One of the old evangelists of days gone by (whose name escapes me for the moment) was being soundly criticized for his methods. When given half a chance to respond, he said, "You know, I think your right. Tell me, how do you do evangelism?" His critic had to admit that he wasn't involved in any kind of evangelism. To which the old preacher said, "Frankly, I prefer the way I do it to the way that you don't do it"!

I guess that's the bottom line, isn't it?

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