21st Century Evangelism; Back to the Future

In the early 1960s some well-preserved black and white photographs as well as a few rare “Super-8” millimeter movies show YWAMers with white shirts, skinny ties and winged-tipped shoes witnessing door-to-door alongside their female counterparts who were sporting long dresses and beehive hairdos (think “Hairspray”!) which bring to mind some classic “Leave It To Beaver” reruns!

As we launched into the 70s, in an attempt to reach counter-culture youth with the Gospel, young converts resembled the hippies they were trying to reach (think long hair, bell bottoms, granny dresses and guitars on the streets drawing in the crowds).

In the 80s and 90s God showed us that we could present the Gospel in deeds as well as creeds and mercy ministry to the poor and standing up for justice issues helped us win over the hearts of “Gen-Xers” and young “Mosaics”. Now it’s the Millennials’ turn.

Both of the Movements I have been privileged to be a part of (YWAM and Calvary Chapel) and the young zealots therein are asking, “What will evangelism look like in 2020? 2030? 2040?”

The Bible tells us that he who wins souls is wise (Prov. 11:30). Therefore, the number one ingredient of successful evangelism in any generation is wisdom. What will wise evangelism look like in the next 50 years? As I gaze into the future I would suggest the following characteristics. It will be:

  1. “Neo”. That is, a combination of the old with the new. Jesus indicated that people who wisely point others to the Kingdom pull out of their storehouse both new and old treasures (Matt. 13:52). This old school/new school approach takes into account that “the faith was entrusted once for all the saints” (Jude 1:3) doesn’t change but realizes that new wine must be put in new wineskins (Matt. 9:17). We must know what we believe, why we believe it and why it matters but also encourage young creative minds to discover exciting and innovative ways to make the Gospel relevant to emerging generations. Way back in the 19th Century, evangelist Charles Finney spoke of the need for “new measures” to reach new generations. 
  2. Personal. Personal evangelism is effective in every generation because we serve a God who wants us to offer the world the good news about a personal relationship with Him. Our high-tech age has produced a generation hungry for relationships as they drift in a sea of information. Research indicates that while future generations will continue to text, Facebook and Twitter away their time they will be desperate for “chill time” to dial down and hang with friends much like their tribal forefathers did when “talking story” around the campfire. Tomorrow’s witnesses will offer them this companionship as they embody and proclaim the good news (think low-tech, high-touch). 
  3. Wired(less). Keeping in mind the human touch of number 2, we certainly want to use all the means we can at our disposal to reach the world. History shows that Christians have always made use of new technologies. Martin Luther used the printing press to help launch the Protestant Reformation. Billy Graham was the first to use television to spread the Gospel, while today smart phones can download evangelistic films that can be viewed anywhere on earth. Tomorrow’s outreach will need to keep pace with technological advances. 
  4. Holistic. Philosophical brick walls that have for centuries stood creating unbiblical dichotomies between secular/sacred, individual/social, eternal/temporal and word/deed will be knocked down as tomorrow’s witnesses seek to reach their fellow spiritual travelers with the Gospel of the Kingdom. Issues like human trafficking, the plight of the poor and systemic evil will arrest the attention of younger Christians and propel a new generation of witnesses for Christ. They will aspire to be like Jesus who “went about doing good and healing all those that were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:36). 
  5. Prophetic Intercession. The apostle Peter’s interpretation of Joel’s prophesy of the outpouring in the last days included “…your sons and your daughters will prophesy…” (Acts 2:17). As the fires of fervent, believing, intercessory prayer are stoked up in spiritual furnaces around the world God will come through on what He has promised. This includes an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on “all mankind” but with an emphasis on youth (sons – young men, daughters – young women, servants – young men and women) who will not be afraid to speak prophetic truth to the Pharaohs and Herods of their generation. Many will be called upon to give their lives as the ultimate sacrifice. 
  6. Experiential. Twenty-first Century evangelism will not only answer the age-old question that Pilate asked, “What is truth?” but will along with that ask, “Does it work?” Former generations sometimes naively proclaimed “It doesn’t matter if it works. It matters if it’s true.” Today’s generation says, “If it doesn’t work it must not be true”. During the next 50 years of evangelism, witnesses for Christ will boldly proclaim that Jesus not only works (the Way), but that He is true (the Truth) and also that He is the only source of life (the Life) (John 14:6). 
  7. God-centered. Although God has and does use evangelism fueled by less-than-pure motives (Phil. 1:15-18), tomorrow’s witnesses will be motivated by fervent desire for God to be glorified in every nation. As the Lord ratchets up the spiritual intensity of our worship, less-than-ideal methods of scary “Frankenstein evangelism” (fear and threat) and humanistic “Santa Claus evangelism” (hope and bribe) will be supplanted by a white-hot passion to see Jesus glorified in all the earth.

In short, 21st Century evangelism will be both similar and different than its 1st Century counterpart. It will be in the image of God, possessing both unity and diversity. The unity will be around the unchanging truth of the Gospel, while the diversity will be reflected as we encounter new generations and cultures that need Jesus. People have and always will matter to God. Our challenge for the future will be how to effectively communicate God’s love to future generations.

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    Danny lives in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii