The book of Acts, written by Luke, records the experience of the apostles and the early church. This book contains a biblical model of church evangelism. The evangelistic success that the New Testament church experienced was due to a great degree to the model of evangelism that the church adopted. This model focused on the pre-evangelistic, evangelistic, and post-evangelistic campaigns. In this article we will examine this biblical method of evangelism as presented in the book of Acts, along with some of the evangelistic methods of the early church.
The first segment in the biblical model of evangelism is called the pre-evangelistic campaign, which covers the preparation that occurs before an evangelistic campaign. Prior to His ascension, Jesus told His disciples that they should wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4), thus indicating that Jesus knew the importance of the mission that was before them. He gave them this injunction so that they would make the necessary preparation needed to receive the promise of the Father. Jesus’ command led them to the upper room, where they had a prayer meeting, that prepared them for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
In the upper room, the believers were gathered for prayer so that the Lord would strengthen them. This gathering served as the preparatory ground for Pentecost (evangelistic campaign). “… They [the disciples] were engaged in prayer and heart searching. This act illustrates that there needs to be a time of spiritual preparation among the church members before launching out on an evangelistic mission.”1 In the pre-evangelistic campaign, preparation of the speaker, the church, and the community is undertaken.2 These three areas are of utmost importance to the success of the evangelistic campaign. The speaker should take time for his/her own spiritual preparation and for the writing and prayerful consideration of sermons. Church preparation is as important as preacher preparation. Church leaders may choose to hold 40 days of prayer and fasting, revivals, and a “learning to love” seminar.
Community preparation is just as crucial. Programs that address the social needs of the neighborhood bridge the gap between the church and community. They are extremely important in the pre-evangelistic campaign. These programs may include a health expo, soup kitchen, and community service endeavors, which are geared toward helping the needy in the community. The pre-evangelistic campaign is the first step in the evangelistic process and is the foundation of the biblical model of evangelism outlined in the book of Acts.
The next segment in the biblical model is the evangelistic campaign (public evangelism). This is where a number of people gather together in one place to hear the message of salvation (healing). Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost was presented to a public audience, comprising about 18 different people groups. In this sermon, Peter preached the risen Christ, and he emphasized that Jesus is both Lord and Christ. At the end of Peter’s sermon, 3,000 souls were baptized. “Paul too, as an itinerant preacher, spoke in the public setting of synagogue worship,”3 thus his sermon in Acts 13 was very empowering, and the Gentiles asked him to return the next Sabbath. “Like Jesus, the early church also conducted open air evangelism [public evangelism]. . . . In other words, the apostolic witnesses adopted methods that were relevant to their times . . .”4 It is obvious that a model for successful evangelism is outlined in the book of Acts.
Post-evangelism (follow-up) is intricately linked to the biblical model of evangelism for churches. It focuses on nurturing new believers, thus making them into disciples. It is worth noting that evangelism is not finished after new converts are brought into the church. Nurturing is an upfront event that must take precedence before an evangelistic campaign begins and should lay out plans for how new believers will be nurtured after the campaign ends. It was this motive that led the apostolic church to use several evangelistic methods to nurture and disciple the new believers. Let’s look at some of these evangelistic methods.
Small-group ministry is one of the predominant evangelistic methods in the book of Acts. “A small group is an intentional gathering of three to twelve people who commit themselves to work together to become better disciples of Jesus Christ.”5 Acts 2:42-47 speaks about the life of the believers after the day of Pentecost. It declares that the believers continued to meet in small groups, breaking bread from house to house, fellowshipping, and praying for each other. This experience contributed to an increase in church membership, in that believers were added to the church daily. The usual meeting was in the home, and many houses became gathering places for small groups. In this relaxed setting, believers lived out their faith. This atmosphere promoted learning, and believers shared in each person’s burden. What better place for believers to experience the closeness of their love?6 In this way, the apostolic church was set on fire for Jesus.
Acts 12 describes a small-group gathering that was held in the house of Mary, John Mark’s mother. Believers were gathered to pray for Peter, who was in prison awaiting execution. “People met in their homes to break bread together and to encourage each other to live out their faith. . . . These were homes for prayer meeting like the one held while Peter was in prison . . .”7 Small-group ministry (house meeting) is a very effective means through which new believers can be nurtured and integrated into the local church.
Personal (one-on-one) evangelism is highly emphasized in the book of Acts. Cameron defines it as “one person talking to another about his/her need of Jesus, with the view to bring that person to a decision.”8 The encounter between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is an example of this method. The two men talked about the life, suffering, and Messiahship of Jesus. After the eunuch understood that Jesus was the Christ, he immediately asked Philip to baptize him. “Personal evangelism is extremely essential because not everyone will be able to attend public meetings. Due to social customs and other difficulties, some people will not be able attend evangelistic meetings.”9 The stories of Peter and Cornelius and of Paul and the Philippian jailer (Acts 10 and 16 respectively) demonstrate the effectiveness of personal evangelism.
“A SMALL GROUP IS AN INTENTIONAL GATHERING OF THREE TO TWELVE PEOPLE WHO COMMIT THEMSELVES TO WORK TOGETHER TO BECOME BETTER DISCIPLES OF JESUS CHRIST.”
Welfare (social) ministry is significant to the book of Acts. “Social ministry includes feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming strangers, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and prisoners.”10 In Acts 6, the apostolic church encountered a situation in which some Gentile believers were neglected by the Jewish believers in the daily distribution of food. This situation produced a murmuring among the Gentile believers, which gave birth to an organized welfare ministry. Seven deacons were chosen by the people to oversee the daily distribution of food. It is worth noting that prior to the organization of welfare ministry, believers were added to the church daily. But after the organization of this ministry, Luke’s language changed because of the importance he placed on this ministry for winning and nurturing souls. Before Acts 5, there is no written record that any of the priests accepted the gospel. Luke brought home the point when he said, “A great many of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
PEOPLE WILL RESPOND TO JESUS BECAUSE THEY WILL COME IN CONTACT WITH JESUS THROUGH THE LOVE AND COMPASSION OF THEIR CAREGIVERS.
The story of Dorcas (Acts 9:36-42) also demonstrates the effectiveness of this method to influence people for God. Dorcas’ death was devastating to those she served. In deep grief, the people summoned Peter; he prayed, and Dorcas was brought back to life. When the people saw what had happened, they proclaimed the news throughout Joppa, and many believed on the Lord. Welfare ministry is a very effective evangelistic tool, and the apostolic church used it successfully.
Health ministry is another evangelistic method that enabled the early church to experience explosive membership growth. This ministry cares for the sick and suffering. People will respond to Jesus because they will come in contact with Jesus through the love and compassion of their caregivers. The story of the man crippled from birth at the “Gate of Beautiful” (Acts 3:1-9) illustrates the effectiveness of health ministry. After Peter healed him, the man praised God for the healing. This healing provided an opportunity for Peter and John to preach Jesus to the people. Ellen G. White supported this method when she wrote: “Allow no opportunity to pass unimproved. Visit the sick and suffering, and show a kindly interest in them. If possible, do something to make them more comfortable. Through this means you can reach their hearts, and speak words for Christ. Eternity alone will reveal how far-reaching such a line of labor can be.”11
This quotation harmonizes with the healing of Aeneas in Acts 9:33-35. After Aeneas was healed, all the people of Lydda and Sharon accepted the Lord. Health evangelism is an important tool for church growth.
Finally, the biblical model of evangelism founded in the book of Acts focuses on the pre-evangelistic, evangelistic, and the post-evangelistic campaigns. When this biblical model is followed, success is guaranteed. This model shows us that evangelism is a process, not an event. The many evangelistic methods that are found in the book of Acts will certainly produce healthy, growing churches.
People will not be led to adapt the same organization of procedure. Variety is the very structure of the universe, and any method that God is pleased to use is a good method, though this does not exclude the possibility of improvement.
The Master gives us an outline to follow, but He expects us to work out the details according to local circumstances.12
We can see that the biblical model of evangelism found in the book of Acts, along with the methods of evangelism described therein, will enhance the soul-winning and nurturing process of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
1 Earl P. W. Cameron, Evangelism in Today’s World (Oshawa, ON: Miracle Press, 1996), 55.
3 Patrick R. Keifert, Welcoming the Stranger: A Public Theology of Worship and Evangelism (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1992), 55.
4 Vassell Kerr, The Fields are Ripe (Mandeville, Jamaica: Northern Caribbean University Press, 2004), 47.
5 Jeffery Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups (Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1992), 18.
6 Robert E. Coleman, The Master Plan on Discipleship (Michigan: Fleming H. Revell, 1987), 68, 69.
7 Arnold, 18.
8 Cameron, 21, 22.
9 Ibid., 22.
10 Pedrito U. Maynard-Reid, Complete Evangelism: The Luke-Acts Model (Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1997), 130.
11 Ellen G. White, Christian Service (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1947), 128.
12 Coleman, 18.
Marlon Robinson earned a BA in Religion and a Master of Divinity from Northern Caribbean University and the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, in 2007 and 2010 respectively. Currently, he is pursuing a Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy at St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, Texas, USA.