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Part 4: Concerning Standard Formats


"Evangelistic" meetings generally follow a standard worship service format. That is, prior to the presentation of the message, there is a series of preliminary exercises -- congregational singing, congregational prayer, announcements and an offering. Then, after the message, there is some more congregational singing and an invitation to "come forward" for prayer or counseling. This format makes some sense for a regular church meeting, which is attended mostly by believers who know most of the songs and are comfortable with the format. It gives the believers present an opportunity to worship and to prepare their hearts for the message.

But the standard worship service format makes no sense for a meeting targeted mostly at unbelievers. Most unbelievers will not know our songs, and even those who know them, will very possibly not be honestly able to join in them. An unbeliever, it will be remembered, has no relationship with God as a basis for worship. Receiving an offering from a crowd of unbelievers is also basically a futile activity: some may give out of habit or a sense of guilt, without understanding what they are really doing, but some also will be offended. Our standard worship service preliminaries are often, it might be suspected, an effective method for losing the attention of any unbelievers present. Moreover, as has already been noted, the "invitation" at the end of the service, while important if done correctly, may also often create confusion if the need for a visible "response" to the invitation is incorrectly added to the core message of the Gospel.

With that said, it should be no surprise that there are no New Testament examples of evangelistic meetings carried out in a modern worship service format. Most of the time, the only preliminaries that occurred before New Testament leaders preached to groups of unbelievers were healings and miracles. See, for example, Matthew 4:23-25; Luke 6:17 ff. and 11:16 ff.; Acts 2:4-12, 3:1-10 and 16:25-34. These obtained, rather than lost, the attention of the crowd. When a crowd gathered to hear the message without the need for a miracle to get their attention, the speaker went directly into the message. See, Matthew 5:1 ff. and 13:1 ff.; Luke 11:29 ff. and 12:1 ff.; Acts 13:13 ff., 16:13 and 17:18-22. There is no mention of congregational singing or prayers before the presentation of the message on any such occasion. Nor is there any mention of an offering being taken, since offerings were to be provided by believers -- not unbelievers -- as an act of worship during their meetings on the first day of the week. See, I Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8-9.

However, what is clear from these examples is that, in the New Testament, the format of meetings held to present the Gospel was flexible and adapted itself to gain and hold the attention of unbelievers under the circumstances presented in each case. Gaining attention for the Gospel message should also be our goal in planning and execution of meetings for unbelievers. Yes, other activities besides preaching may contribute to this goal. Music, drama and dance, presented for the purpose of attracting unbelievers and focusing attention on the coming message, may be effective in some settings. So may video and multimedia presentations, in some instances. Indeed, all of these media may be used to present the Gospel message under some circumstances. Healings and miracles certainly still draw attention, when they occur.

We do not live in the first century C.E.; modern people seem to have busier lives and shorter attention spans than people who lived in less technologically-developed eras. So we may sometimes have to add things to our presentation that have some "entertainment value" in order to hold the attention of modern people. But there likely will be many other times when it is most appropriate to simply start the meeting with the preaching of the Gospel, just as was often the case in the Early Church. However, we must always remember that the purpose of what we do is to help people see and recognize and seek the message of Christ, not to entertain or to make church-folks comfortable in feelings which often have to do with group membership and nothing to do with Christ the Lord.

Ian Johnson & Jonathan Brickman
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For Ian: ian4christ41@yahoo.com
For Jonathan: jeb@christian-oneness.org

Next page: Becoming Prepared

© 2003 and 2016 Ian B. Johnson and Jonathan E. Brickman

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