Evangelists using different methods, but one says revivals coming back aroundcomment (0)
September 26, 2013
If Billy Graham had come on the scene in 2013 instead of 1949, Phil Waldrep’s not sure it would’ve been the same story.
Back then churches thought nothing of holding two-week revivals. But now that kind of mass evangelism is “a component, not a priority” of a church’s evangelistic focus, said Waldrep, speaker, author and founder of Phil Waldrep Ministries in Decatur.
“When I was younger, I got some very good advice from some wise men who saw the trend changing,” he said. “They saw a day where a person might not be able to make a full-time living as a mass evangelist.”
So Waldrep began developing other divisions, like conferences where churches traveled to him rather than Waldrep going to them for revivals. He began partnering with churches to do outreach in a different way, such as bringing in high-profile Christians like athlete Tim Tebow or the Robertson family of the TV show “Duck Dynasty” to headline an event.
“We still reach people for Christ — we just use different methods,” Waldrep said.
Back when Waldrep was growing up, Billy Graham and Alabama evangelist Junior Hill were household names, packing out venues and seeing many people saved.
“In those days, churches thought nothing of holding revivals from Sunday to Sunday. But that changed from Sunday to Wednesday and then only Sunday after a while,” Waldrep said.
Some of that cutback is because churches themselves are meeting less, so there are fewer chances for a church to have a guest speaker, he said.
Harper Shannon, who served as director of the office of evangelism for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions from 1985 to 1997, agreed that changing lifestyles have changed the face of evangelistic work.
“People’s lifestyles have changed so much,” he said. “It’s one thing to have a two-week revival when the farmers were laying by (right before harvest time). They could all come to church every day for a week or two. But circumstances have changed quite a bit.”
Hill said full-time evangelists aren’t as visible in the church now as they used to be. Where there were hundreds across the convention at one point, now there may be dozens, he said.
“I think there will always be the role of a full-time evangelist, because it’s a biblical calling,” Hill said. “But there does seem to be a trend away from using harvest evangelists.”
Will Graham, Billy Graham’s grandson and a full-time evangelist, said Christians need a revived passion for the preaching of the gospel.
“Unfortunately I think many of us hide behind the mentality of ‘lifestyle evangelism,’” Will Graham said. “We timidly think that if we live a good enough life, people will see our faith and will, in turn, make a decision for Christ.”
Each believer is commanded to be an evangelist, he said.
Visiting speakers such as Lawrence Phipps of It’s Life Ministries (see story, page 8) can help encourage and equip members to share their faith as well as offer revival events to which they can invite their friends and neighbors.
The mechanics of evangelists’ work may have changed, but that doesn’t mean that the core of evangelism has, Shannon added.
All Christians are called to evangelize, though some may be called to do it full time, he said.
“The role of the evangelist as far as I’m concerned has not changed as far as the perspective of people is concerned. An evangelist is simply a messenger,” Shannon said.
“I believed (years ago) and still believe God calls people to be evangelists just like He does to be a pastor or a teacher or other profession.”
And Waldrep said he believes the pendulum is beginning to swing back in the direction of mass evangelism, back where things used to be.
“I’ve had young pastors telling me, ‘Our church doesn’t meet enough,’” Waldrep said. “They are thinking of bringing back Sunday night services.”
Some of the effects of meeting fewer times is less cohesion among the church body and less dedication to evangelism, he said.
Pastors and churches who say they’ve lost some of that are beginning to want to make moves to get it back, Waldrep said.
“I think church revivals will be different, but I think that the way they used to be prioritized will come back around,” he said. “It’s a very effective method if a church makes it a priority.”
(Neal Embry contributed)