The experience of public evangelism—attending, responding, learning, making commitments—has been one of the great commonalities of Adventist experience around the globe for the past 150 years. Hundreds of thousands of persons each year join the Seventh-day Adventist Church through some form of public evangelism: estimates suggest that as many as half of the church’s 14 million members worldwide can trace their personal or family spiritual history to a series of Bible-based sermons or lectures.
In September 2006 Amazing Facts director/speaker Doug Batchelor brought his “Most Amazing Prophecies Seminar” to the campus of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, as part of a two-week intensive that also had him leading in the university’s Fall Week of Spiritual Emphasis. Batchelor’s energy and workload are legendary. Pioneer Memorial church associate pastor Esther Knott persuaded him to sit down for 45 minutes to talk about his own passion for evangelism and the changing ways in which it must be done in contemporary America.
KNOTT: You seem to enjoy your work a lot, Doug. What do you find the most gratifying about public evangelism?
BATCHELOR: Seeing and experiencing the power of the Word transforming people’s lives never ceases to amaze me. And the proclamation of the truths actually changes people’s lives in such a positive way. That’s the most gratifying thing.
You’ve alluded in some conversations to new things you are learning about public evangelism even as you preach and teach. What has been the biggest surprise to you as you have conducted evangelistic campaigns during the past five years?
There are a lot of things I could say here, and no doubt I’ll think of a better one later. But what comes to mind first is that I have been amazed by the evangelistic potential of the Internet. Ten to 15 years ago I began to be caught by the evangelistic potential of media in general. I began to meet people who were completely grounded in the faith, and they got so much of it through consistently studying, watching TV programs, listening to radio programs. They really understood the message. Our message is a message of the Word—that’s what changes lives. And you can communicate the Word through written form, in audio form, through visuals—because the visual just enhances the audio presentation—but the Internet is a medium that combines all of those. You can get the visuals; you can read the content; you can hear it—and I’ve come to be so amazed at the evangelistic potential it holds. I know the Internet is something of a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But it can be a very powerful and positive medium of communication.
Some observers tell us that the reality of new media means that the days of public evangelism are gone, that we don’t need it anymore. Where do you see the balance between old and new media in successful evangelism?
At Amazing Facts we ask that question frequently. We have a team of 12 evangelists constantly doing public evangelism, and yet at the same time we see the exponential growth of the Internet in media. But I’ll have to say that the personal touch of a live evangelist, someone who is there to answer their questions, to take their hand and pray with them, to do an altar call—that’s still, I think, the most effective means.
One of the reasons I invested so much in media evangelism is that you can multiply the meetings so many times. Like the series we are doing right now here at Andrews [University]. I see the personal touch of the live meeting here locally, but whatever is happening locally is being multiplied many times. We know we have more than 2,000 viewing sites for this series registered in 50 different countries. It’s being multiplied. That said, I still think the most effective of all those meetings is the one right here, because it’s the live meeting. There’s just something about that; there is an aura, a presence of the Holy Spirit that is felt collectively when you preach the Word in a group like this.
I hear some Adventists say that all we really need is personal, one-to-one evangelism—that we don’t need to bring in an evangelist to preach from the front of a hall or a church. How do you defend the importance of public evangelism to people who urge that kind of witness?
There are many dynamics that emerge in a public meeting that just can’t be replicated in smaller settings or in one-on-one evangelism. I know that the church I pastor usually experiences a revival when members commit to participating in a live meeting. Church members whose relationship with Jesus and commitment to this message could be waning, invite a friend or neighbor to join them at a public meeting. And coming and hearing the message proclaimed again usually revitalizes them. By bringing other people and watching them come to the Lord, they do good things for their own experience with Jesus. That can be one of the most energizing things that can happen to a congregation.
When I was growing up we had evangelistic meetings all the time: they were just as much for the members as for the people we were bringing in. As Pastor Dwight [Nelson] said in a recent sermon, we’ve now raised a generation that doesn’t know much about prophecy. Some of us grew up with it but haven’t passed it on to our kids.
That’s one of the wonderful benefits of a congregation hosting a public meeting—it’s a defining, grounding influence on the congregation, for the whole church—members of all ages. It helps us reprioritize as people committed to the Scripture and living in the end time.
What do you say to a local church board that’s reluctant to schedule public evangelism in the next year?
Well, I know a lot of stories about churches that wavered about whether or not to support an evangelistic meeting. But I can’t think of an example where a church, after praying about it, went into public evangelism and didn’t harvest in some way. Christ tells us that the harvest is great but the laborers are few. If we are willing to labor, He will help us harvest. And He’ll bless our efforts. I’ve just seen wonderful things happen in little-bitty churches where they asked, “Who are we going to get?” Some of our Amazing Facts evangelists have gone into churches that had seven members, and because of the meeting they doubled their membership. Now believe me, that’s exciting when that happens. The church was ready to die. They had wondered “How can we do evangelism? We can’t afford to pay the bills.” But they step out in faith, and it revives the church. It becomes a turning point for them.
You’re saying that God still rewards His people when they are obedient to His call to witness?
The Lord said “Go,” and if we go and we take those steps of faith, He will bless us. What was it Peter said? “Lord, we fished all night, and we haven’t caught anything.” I’ve heard a lot of church boards say “We fished all night, and we didn’t catch anything.” Jesus said, “Do it again. Put the net down again, and trust Me.”
Doug, you’ve watched a lot of congregations discuss and decide about committing to public evangelism. If you somehow had the ability to put one skill in the hands of a million Adventists across North America, what would it be?
Authentic prayer. Charles Spurgeon once said, “I’d rather teach one man to pray than 10 men to preach.” Prayer moves the hand of the Almighty, and if the church were really praying, it would change us and change the world.
What would you say to a pastor who needs to motivate a congregation to make a commitment to reaching the lost?
Pastors—and I’m one myself—can take their mandates from the Word, because the authority comes from Christ Himself. Jesus told us to do this, and there are promises in the Word for putting down our nets, and casting them, as found in John 21. My job as a pastor, and that of every pastor, is to hold up that mission before our members—tell them: “This is the mission Jesus has given us”—and it will have a catalyzing effect. There are only two directions a church can be going. They are either growing forward, or they are dying. Churches can’t, by their nature, truly be stagnant. We are either backsliding, or we’re being revived.
Another way pastors can motivate members is by sharing stories of success; pastors can inspire congregations with stories of success. There are so many examples of churches where it looked like the circumstances were hopeless. The community was a difficult community; they hadn’t had any history of success. But they took a step of faith, and God opened the windows of heaven. When you baptize somebody, don’t just dunk them and walk them out of the baptistry. Let them share their testimony. That’s what we do in Sacramento. We probably have one to two baptisms a month, and so people are hearing constantly of lives changed. It keeps the fire burning for evangelism.
Tell me a story about something important you’ve learned as an evangelist.
Early in my ministry several things happened that helped me understand the exponential power of the gospel. I was holding a little meeting in the town of Midlothian, Texas. On opening night only a handful of people showed up, and I was disappointed. Everyone else told me it was a great turnout, but I had these visions of grandeur that the whole world was coming to my Revelation Seminar. I decided that night to call some of the people who had registered but who hadn’t come on opening night. I called this one Hispanic family. They came the next night because of my phone call; they had just forgotten. They came to this series, and they got baptized. They then told both of their families. Both the husband and wife each had 11 brothers and sisters. I had to hold another meeting to accommodate the extended family. And many of them were baptized. From that little bitty meeting, 22 people were baptized because I made one phone call.
It just helps me to remember the importance of taking that extra step. Don’t give up. Pursue souls. I’m forever grateful to that one believer who left The Great Controversy and a Bible up in a cave. That person was a soul winner. They led me to the Lord. Now it’s my turn to inspire and motivate others to keep that kind of passion moving across the land.
For more information about Doug Batchelor’s ministry or the ministry of Amazing Facts, click here. To learn more about Pastor Knott’s ministry or that of the Pioneer Memorial church at Andrews University, click here.