Lift up your eyes!
What are Biblical Principles for Effective Evangelism?

What is evangelism?

Although the noun “evangelism” is not found in the Bible, “evangelist” appears three times and has the same root in Greek as “gospel” which means “good news.” Thus, an evangelist is a “gospel preacher.”

The verb form of this Greek word (“evangelize”) is used 53 times, and is correctly translated as “preach the gospel” for which there is also a separate Greek phrase of three words “preach the gospel” which is found 11 times. Thus “evangelism” is gospel preaching. “Preach” means to “proclaim publically,” so evangelism is public proclamation of the gospel.

Benevolent work is not evangelism. Paul did not go to Corinth and set up a soup kitchen to feed the poor. Christians should of course do good works, but that is not evangelism. Evangelism is the preaching of the gospel.

What is effective evangelism?

Gospel preaching is effective when people hear the word of God. “Preach the word” is another phrase found many times in the N.T. in addition to “preach the gospel.”

Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Evangelism is effective when people hear the word.

Notice what happened when Paul preached at Ephesus: “And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God. But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:8-10).

Paul taught daily, not just one day each week. We need to find ways to teach daily, for example by conducting Bible studies in the homes of non-Christians. The Internet is another way, since Internet material can be consulted any time of the day or night.

What were the results of Paul’s teaching? All who dwelt in Asia (which we now call Asia Minor) heard the word of the Lord! Did they all become Christians? No, but they heard the word. As Demetrius the silversmith complained, “Throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands” (Acts 19:26). So Demeterius had also heard the message. He did not like it. But he knew what Paul was preaching.

We want people to be saved, but the effectiveness of evangelism does not depend on how many become Christians but on how many hear the word. In the parable of the sower, the seed was broadcast, but only those with “a noble and good heart” bore fruit (Luke 8:15). The response is not our job. That depends on the heart of the hearer and on God who gives the increase. As Paul said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6, 7).

Jesus said, “Lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors” (John 4:35-38).

Crops do not pop out of the ground and bear fruit the moment seeds are planted! We may not get discouraged when there is little immediate response. Our job is to let everyone hear the gospel.

Jesus tells us, “Lift up your eyes!” Are we preaching the gospel to people who live close to our meeting place? That is good. But we need to lift up our eyes! Are we preaching to the whole city? That is better.

In 1964 an evangelistic campaign was held in The Hague. Former missionary, Bill Richardson, came from the U.S. to preach every night for two weeks. During the week before the meeting and during the two weeks, workers from all congregations in Holland plus two brethren from Belgium made about 9000 door-
to-door visits inviting people to attend. Two-hundred thousand folders were distributed. A three-
week series of newspaper ads was run in the city’s three major newspapers. Large posters were placed throughout the city and large banners were placed at strategic locations.

The first evening 44 were present including 26 visitors. Attendance built up until it reached a high of 60 on the last night. Many visitors returned night after night. About 100 different visitors attended and 50 were enrolled in a Bible correspondence course. Eleven were baptized and two placed membership1. The congregation, that had 13 members before the campaign, doubled in size.

This is a good example of preaching to a whole city. But if our eyes see only our own city, we are still not looking high enough. Are we preaching to the whole country? That is better.

How can this be done? Going is required. Jesus and his disciples went from village to village preaching the word. In our time mass media are available for sowing the seed, but going is still required to do essential in-depth study with those who respond.

In a men’s meeting at Roeselare, Belgium in 1970 we discussed how we could preach the gospel to all of Flanders. At that time there were two chains of advertising papers that were placed free of charge in every mailbox in Flanders. To advertise a Bible correspondence course, we decided to place a want-ad each month in one and a quarter million papers that went into every home in Flanders. With outside financial help, we placed the ad every week for several months.

For follow-up we agreed that since I worked full time and could drive longer distances, I would take care of visiting people who responded in distant places and other brethren would study with people closer. From those ads I was able to set up home Bible studies almost every night of the week, sometimes driving from two to four hours each way. New congregations in Antwerp and Boortmeerbeek resulted from newspaper ads.

Each summer for five years, about two-hundred thousand enrolment cards for a Bible correspondence course were distributed door-to-door throughout Flanders by groups of students who came from Canada. The congregation in Hasselt resulted from card distribution.

Although mass media gets the message to many people, personal acquaintance is always the best source of contacts. Hans and Ans van Erp first learned about the church from friends in Germany who had recently become Christians. Hans and Ans contacted Jim Krumrei and attended some gospel meetings in Amsterdam. Because we lived closer (at Wellen, Belgium), Jim introduced them to us and we started studying the Scriptures together. They were baptized in November of 1976 and started worshiping in their home at Asten. They taught the gospel to their neighbor, and in time they formed the core of a new congregation at Eindhoven.

When it had been several years since ads had been placed in all of Flanders, and since I did not have funds to do it myself, I asked various congregations in Flanders if they would help bear the expense. Want-ads were placed again in one and a quarter million homes throughout Flanders, once in October of 1978 and three times in January of 1979. Three people were baptized who responded to those ads, including Willy de Groote.

But is the whole country enough? Are we preaching the gospel to the whole world? Now, we have lifted our eyes high enough! That is what Jesus tells us to do! Preach to everyone in the whole world!

Impossible? Not with God’s help! We need to think of ways to do our share. Some need to go and others need to send. Each person and each congregation must help according to ability.

Now with the European Union we can preach to 500 million people in countries, many of which were closed to evangelism just a few years ago! People can go as missionaries. Groups can go to help small congregations in other countries conduct evangelistic campaigns.

Ghanaian Christians who have emigrated have formed new congregations and have joined existing congregations in many countries.

Internet teaching goes to all the world. I preach each month to less than 100 people, divided into four small congregations in Belgium and Holland. I prepare my lessons, however, with the same care as though I were preaching to 20,000 people, the number who read or listen to my sermons on the Internet each year. Each day about 1000 people from all parts of the world read lessons by various brethren in the Old Paths Archive. I publish websites in English, Dutch, French, German and Russian. All together, they get about a million visits each year. This is a very small part of what is being done. Thousands of Christians and churches of Christ are using the Internet to preach the gospel to the whole world!

These are just a few examples to help us lift up our eyes. Evangelism is effective when we preach the word to our neighborhood, our city, our country and to the whole world. God will give the increase.

What Biblical principles apply to evangelism?

We can learn by examining how Jesus and His apostles preached in the Gospels and in the Book of Acts. In this lesson only a few points can be mentioned.

We must preach the word (2 Timothy 4:2).

The true gospel of Christ must be preached, not a perverted gospel (Galatians 1:6-9). Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the Savior of the world. He died for our sins and rose from the dead. There is salvation in no other name (Acts 4:10-12). We preach “Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2), God’s gift of grace for the salvation of mankind.

We must please God not man.

Paul said, “But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4). God has told us to preach. He is the one we must please, not man. We must tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.

Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Luke 5:32). A call to repentance involves the condemnation of sin, and most people do not like to have their sins condemned! When Paul “reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, ‘Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you’” (Acts 24:25).

Clear preaching makes many people angry. At Lystra they praised Barnabas and Paul when they thought they were their own gods, but after Paul told them, we “preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God” (Acts 14:15) they stoned him and left him for dead.

Most people have a wrong idea about how one can be saved. So, in addition to faith, we need to emphasize repentance, confession and baptism.

Most people think they have been baptized, when they have not been baptized. Thus the nature and purpose of Biblical baptism must be emphasized.

Most people worship in vain “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9), so we must emphasize Scriptural worship.

Most people have a wrong idea about the church. They think they may belong to a denomination. Thus, the evils of denominationalism and the identity of the Lord’s church must be emphasized. This will make people angry, but God will be glorified, and those who love the truth will be saved.

Although our preaching is addressed to everyone, it is designed for the few truth seekers who want to please God and are willing to repent.

A want-ad that received much response in Flanders said, “Being a Christian means to follow Christ, not to be bound to a human church organization. Request 8 lessons by correspondence.” (In your advertising, by the way, it is good to offer something people can request, such as a tract or a course, so you can get the names and addresses of people who are interested.)

We must adjust ourselves to those we teach.

Paul said, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Paul adjusted himself culturally to his hearers. Of course he does not mean that we should compromise with cultural evils. But if things in our own culture form a barrier to preaching, we should give them up. And if adopting certain aspects of the culture of our hearers will help them accept the message, we should do so.

Yet we must understand that the gospel, by its very nature, will cause culture-based opposition. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:21-24).

We need to learn languages.

Since we must preach to everyone in the whole world, we must learn languages. If we have immigrated from another country, we need to learn the local language so we can teach our neighbors. If we go to another country as a missionary, we need to learn the language.

That being said, in the same way that Greek was widely known in N.T. times and could be used to spread the gospel throughout the Roman Empire, English is widely known today and can be used to spread the gospel throughout the world. But that is no excuse for not learning local languages!

We must teach faithful men who can teach others.

Paul told Timothy, “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).

The spread of the gospel in Ghana is a wonderful example of this.

Missionaries from Nigeria visited Ghana around 1957. John Gaidoo took a correspondence course and became a Christian. He started teaching others and went to Nigeria for Bible study. Traveling and working at his own expense, he baptized fifty-five people and established three congregations before his death in 1961.

In August of 1961 two missionaries went to Ghana, Jerry Reynolds and Dewayne Davenport. When they left in 1964, just three years later, fifteen congregations had been established. Samuel Obeng, who translated for them, became a Christian and began preaching the gospel. At Kumasi the Ghana Bible College was established to train men to preach. At least four other schools have been established since. Ghanaian preachers have taken the word to the whole country. World Bible School correspondence courses have contributed to growth. By 1984 the church of Christ was the fastest growing religious group in Ghana. Now there are more than 300 preachers and 2000 congregations. Total membership exceeds 100,000. There is a church of Christ in most villages.

The Nsawam Road church in Accra, with 1200 members, has established more than 40 congregations in the last 20 years and has sent missionaries to Mali, Benin, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Senegal and Togo. I had the privilege of presenting five lectures there in 1988.

We must pray.

We need God’s help. We are weak. He is all-powerful. Jesus tells us: “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2)2.

What have we learned?

Evangelism is gospel preaching. It is effective when everyone hears the word. We must preach daily. We must lift up our eyes and preach to our neighbors, our city, our country and the whole world. We must preach the word, calling people to repentance so they can be saved by the grace of God. Our aim must be to please God, not man. We can learn how to preach from the N.T. We must adjust ourselves to those we teach, including learning their language. We must teach faithful men who can teach others. And we must pray. Amen.

Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982,
Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers unless indicated otherwise.
Permission for reference use has been granted.


1 Dutch evangelist Henk Rog was one of those baptized.

2 Paul asked the brethren: Pray “for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19).

Published in The Old Paths Archive