Evangelism – which way now?

This book is to be welcomed because it is written by enthusiasts for evangelism who also feel that critical reflection is necessary. That is a rare phenomenon.

The book looks at several approaches to evangelism – some well known, others less so. Alpha and Emmaus and similar ‘process evangelism’ schemes are examined closely in what is the best part of the book, while consideration is also given to traditional missions, ‘natural church development’, church planting, evangelism and social action, and spirituality related activities.

One chapter, however, stands out in a different light and gladdens my heart (as well as quoting some of my words!). This is a chapter on evangelising children and the basic critique is not about what is being done but rather about the tragic fact that too little is being done. There could, however, have been more content in this chapter. I looked in vain for a critique of the Kids Klub approach which has been dubbed ‘the children’s Alpha’.

It is difficult to summarise and review a book that, while compact, manages to cover an immense number of issues. I can only pick out one or two findings. The first of these relates to courses such as Alpha, Emmaus, Credo, and Christianity Rediscovered. What becomes clear is that the success of Alpha (which is matched by the similar courses) lies in the dynamic rather than the doctrine. People take time to grasp and respond to the gospel and these courses create a helpful context of ‘belonging’ from which comes believing. Perhaps some will be surprised that one finding of the book is that home brewed courses, produced by those who know their communities, are probably more effective than any well-publicised package.

The study of cell church revealed that it had many virtues, but success in evangelism was not always one of them. The revelation that smaller churches are more likely to grow than big ones will encourage many, and the chapter on church planting is especially valuable.

So the book is a must for those concerned for the spread of the gospel, but more work needs to be done. For me there remains a need for serious reflection on the theme of evangelising cultures as well as people. It could be argued that our biggest failing in recent years is that we have not kept the cultural memory of Christ fresh, and the reason may be that we have not realised that we were supposed to be doing that!