Steve Douglass has some big shoes to fill, stepping into the role long filled by Bill Bright as president of Campus Crusade for Christ. Since 2001, Douglass has led one of the world’s largest evangelistic organizations. An MIT graduate and Harvard MBA, Steve served Campus Crusade for more than 30 years prior to assuming the presidency. Preaching editor Michael Duduit recently visited with Douglass to discuss the place of evangelism in the 21st century, and how that will impact the preaching of God’s Word.

Preaching: Why is it important to do evangelism now?

Douglass: On one hand, it’s always important to do evangelism. I don’t need to tell a preacher that – it’s in season and out of season. That would be enough reason. But it is especially important now for two really fundamental reasons. Number one, and most important by far, is that God is moving. And number two, technologies and approaches are available today that were not available before.

I think we have concrete evidence that God is stepping things up in recent days. One example is just the existence of the Jesus film. Here’s a film that has been translated into 933 different languages. That’s never occurred in history. The most translated film other than that might be less than 150. And here we have a film that’s been shown in every single country on earth and has seen 6 billion exposures to the gospel, 200 million decisions. Ralph Winter, the former director of the U.S. Center for World Missions, calls it the most effective evangelism tool of all history. Just the presence of such a film tells us God must be doing something special today for that to even exist.

The second evidence that God is moving is that He’s doing some rather unusual things in certain parts of the world. For example in the Middle East, we’re seeing dreams; God is actually causing people to see dreams of Jesus Christ. In one particular part of northern Africa, people there tell us that half the decisions they encounter are a direct result of or involv a dream about Jesus.

There was a woman in Iran watching the Jesus film on Sat 7. She had all her doors shut of course because it’s Iran and in the end she got a little confused on the close. She thought when Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock,” she thought it was the door of her room, not the door of her heart. So she got up and opened one of the doors there to the room, flooding her room with light — blinding light that drove her to the floor. When she regained her sight, she saw Jesus in the center and He was saying, “Well, will you invite me in?” and she accepted Christ.

Another illustration of how God is moving today is in India. The government is very concerned about the growth of Christianity in India. In fact, I heard somebody say that they are concerned that maybe India could be moving toward becoming substantially Christian. And the evidence they have for that frightens them. Beginning in the year 2001, there were 2% baptized believers in India. At the end of the year 2004 — so that is actually a period of four years — there were 7%. That means that an additional 5% of Indians became baptized believers. You don’t really get the full impact of that until you realize it’s a country of a billion people. So that’s 50 million new baptized believers in just four years.

Another fact that is commonly known among missionaries in India is that there are probably about two non-baptized believers for every one baptized believer for reasons of family, risk, or culture. So there could very well be 150 million new believers in India in that four-year period. You don’t have to run that out too far to see that we could be looking at half a billion believers in India. That’s stepping things up in my book.

Another example is China. When the communists took over there were one million Christians. When we began to start keeping statistics, as it loosened up a little, we found about 70 million. And now there are over 100 million Christians, most of them in the home churches. These are a starchy variety of Christians who say each morning as they leave their home, “Today I prepare to die for Jesus.” That solves a lot of issues, once you settle down.

I would say that God is clearly stepping things up, but he’s also probably planning even bigger things. I’m part of a partnership of people called the Table 71 Partnership. It formed in Amsterdam in 2000 as part of a larger group of strategists. And they were debating: what is an unreached people group? The group I had around my table — that happened to have the number 71 on it — was a fairly activist kind of group. Bruce Wilkinson, for example (former director of Walk through the Bible), he’s about average in terms of zeal in that group. So you have an idea what the group was like.

I saw how bored these people were thinking about the general subject of what is an unreached people group. Finally I just said, why don’t we just stop? I could tell this was a yawner. Why don’t we discuss a very interesting question: how can we just get it done? I looked around the room and here are all these missions organizations represented, billions of dollars per year being spent to reach unreached people. But we’ve got all these unreached people groups that aren’t even engaged — I think it’s 639 unreached, unengaged people groups. How could there be so many? Why don’t we just figure out ways to make that number zero? Coke can go everywhere; why can’t the gospel go everywhere?

And that met with tremendous enthusiasm in the group. We started working overtime and we formed a partnership. Looking for a low-key name, we called it the Table 71 Partnership. That’s just historically how it happened. Since that time, we’ve met 17 times. Last time was in Kona, Hawaii at the YWAM headquarters and the organizations involved are Youth with a Mission, Campus Crusade, Wycliffe, The International Mission Board of Southern Baptists, DAWN Ministries, and there are a few others — 50,000 missionaries collectively in those groups. So, it’s not an insignificant force in the mission sense.

Here’s what I’m observing in that meeting: I’m observing God intensify our relationship and cooperation like nothing I’ve seen in the 37 years I’ve been involved in missions. Now, I think it’s happening in other settings as well, but I’m witnessing it here. I’m witnessing sharing — for example, a person pushed across some church planting training that he had in his denomination and said to the person across the table, “Everything we’ve got is yours for free.” And I thought, Man, the end is near! It was pretty exciting.

And that’s the attitude across the board — that whatever we have is the other organizations for free. Such an exciting implementation, I think, of John 17 — that the world will know the Father sent the Son because we are at one with one another.

I’m watching the plans for these different organizations, I have become aware of a tool that solves the problem of discipling people who are illiterate. I actually have one at home, it’s called “Following Jesus”. It’s a course to take a brand new Christian to being a senior pastor without assuming that he learns to read. I know to the audience that we’re talking to here is a little stunning, and I realize seminary looks a little different when the guy can’t read or write. But the fact of the matter is probably 85% of the people in Jesus’ day didn’t read either, so we know the gospel can spread and people can be discipled. People can listen, and think, and pray. God can move in their hearts.

We’re also seeing the scriptures being translated at a speed that they never were before. Wycliffe is just doing a remarkable job. Five years ago, the president of Wycliffe told me that it would take about 13 years to get enough of the Bible to get a church started in the language. I just recently asked the fellow who’s now the president of Wycliffe, “What’s that number now?” And he said, “Two years.” It went from 13 years to 2 years.

Preaching: Why has that process been so compressed?

Douglass: There are reasons for that. They’ve redefined how much you really need in order to get a church started, but a lot of it has to do with involving nationals more and using computers better — just lots of things that cause me to see God stepping things up.

Preaching: As you work with believers and mission activities around the globe, what are some of the other key signals you see?

Douglass: He’s about to do something absolutely remarkable. I just see God assembling His armies. He’s adding mission forces. China, for example, has the Back to Jerusalem movement. There are other movements as well, but this particular one has the thought that there’s a baton that has been passed from hand to hand through the centuries. It started in Jerusalem and the gospel basically went west. It went to Europe, then to the United States and Canada, all the way around the Pacific Rim to Korea and China. And now that baton is in their hands and it is their job to carry the gospel back to Jerusalem.

If you just say it that way it doesn’t sound all that meaningful, until you begin to realize who we’re talking about that they’re going to reach. Kurgistan, Turgikistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan — those are places you can lose your life for sharing the gospel. And you have to have that starchy brand of Christianity that we see in China today – that’s the only kind that could send maybe 100 thousand missionaries — what they’re thinking of — to go to the world. And of course, their eschatology is that then the end will come.

I’ve got to tell you I have this image in my mind: someday in western Pakistan some years hence, some Chinese missionary will knock on the door of Osama Bin Laden and say, “Have you heard of the four spiritual laws?” I might even think the end will come at that time! And I guess what excites me is to realize God is moving today.

Now, the other point I made was with regard to technology, strategy, materials, things that we have today. One is the Jesus film and other tools that are very effective in sharing Christ that exist today that didn’t exist before. So it is a great time to be doing evangelism because you’ve got a lot of help.

Even in training people you’ve got a lot of help. Now the internet is available to do distance education so you can actually train a lot of people. I see churches increasingly taking advantage of the internet to extend the ministry of the local church. Some churches I know don’t even print bulletins — they have a website and you look at the website to see what is going on in the church and it can be kept up to date even during the week. It’s a great idea.

I’m seeing the technology being used in evangelism. In Campus Crusade sites alone, every 5 seconds we see someone reading the gospel and every minute somebody makes a decision for Christ. You might be thinking English, and that is the main group of people that do, but, frankly, some of the most fascinating parts of the world are ones where we’ve seen the best penetration of the gospel. For example in Arabic, we see a lot of response, a little higher response rate than even English response rate. In Turkey, I was reading the story of a fellow who says, “I have no faith, I’m searching, could you please help me?” We have some very high response rates in some of the European countries. On our French, Swedish, and also Chinese sites there is a very high response rate. In fact, I think that’s the highest one as I recall. So the internet opens doors such that we actually would project next year — just on our websites — probably one million decisions. Technology makes that possible today where as it wasn’t possible before.

Another thing that we know — and this may be a little more intangible — but we know more about how to minister to people in the emerging generation than we knew even five years ago. I’m working with University of Central Florida college students, and one of the things that I realize is they are secondary oral learners. I learned about orality because I was involved at other places where it plays a primary role, where they flat out don’t read. But there are secondary role people who do read, but they don’t prefer to read. And that’s the typical American. So I tried to reengage in the same process Bill Bright went through to develop some of the simple materials Campus Crusade has.

Transferable Concepts are 64-page booklets, “Essence, Truths and the Christian Life”. The dilemma of today is that 64 pages is a lot to read for a typical college student, but the concepts are still valid. So, I went to the University of Central Florida and asked them to give me two bible studies to work with in their top five. Two people each. So I had a focus group of four students. And we started with twenty students and their two studies. Through interacting with them, we explored how to teach assurance, forgiveness, that kind of thing. It’s a very simple set up. The whole idea was that other people would easily see how they could teach it.

The multiplication of this would be another thing. I think a pastor would be interested in not just yourself evangelizing, but how do you get your people involved in evangelism and discipleship? Well, it started with 20 students and two studies, we now have 60 students and 8 studies. One third of the students in the original study have actually gone on to teach their own study. The reason I use that as an illustration is that it resulted from realizing how students learn and what do they consider easy today and hard today.

I think the thoughts and the concepts are available to us today, to equip, to motivate, to service and support people at a level that never existed before. That’s my point. Not only is God moving, but we have more to work with. So why do evangelism today? I think those are two really good reasons to be engaged in a process where you are going to be affected if you let God use you.

Preaching: Thinking in terms of pastors of typical evangelical churches, are there some ways they need to think differently about communicating the gospel in today’s culture? Are there some changes in how we can most effectively evangelize and preach evangelistically?

Douglass: The simple answer is yes, probably a lot of changes, if you want to go back far enough to the prototypical evangelistic crusade where you see classic preaching of the gospel. Is that still relevant? Yes, it is. A survey was done on a college campus for Campus Crusade in the mid-80s, about how many students are thinking seriously about spiritual things and are at a state where they are ready to be revived spiritually? And the answer is 20 percent. There are a lot of people out there that you can go straight at with the how — nothing wrong with that.

But increasingly, especially as America goes the route that Europe is going, it becomes almost post Christians, it’s headed that way. How isn’t enough for most people in America. I think they need to know supply. But even rational doesn’t fit the learning style of people today. They really want to know who else makes this. It’s a respect factor. There are five points that God gave me when I was asking the question, “What avenues to the human heart are available to share Christ?” And in actual truth, I was on my knees praying and God gave me these five: revival, rational, relationships, respect, and relevance.

Revival is those people who are just ready to go; they’re ready to respond. I led a woman to Christ just a couple of weeks ago. My daughter-in-law and our son are living in our house and they invited them in for a while for they were homeless. Here’s what she knew about the gospel: Didn’t something happen to Jesus on the cross? That was the question. She just didn’t know anything about God. So I said yes, something did happen and I told them the story using the assumption she didn’t want to read about it, she wanted to hear about it. Long story short, within a couple of days she prayed to receive Christ. She had great spiritual interests. She brought the subject up. Well, there are those.

I think today, probably, the three most productive avenues for evangelism have to do with the latter three points I mentioned to you: relationship, respect, and relevance. College students, for example, are very intensely related to their friends, whereas they don’t learn from reading primarily, but they do learn from their friends. That is why as a parent you are hoping your kids have the right friends — trying your best to assure that is so crucial because that’s who they are going to learn from. They can drag them down or they can lift them up depending on who the friends are.

An example we saw of that in scripture was when Andrew heard from John the Baptist that Jesus was the Messiah, the Lamb of God, come to take away the sins of the world. What did he do? First thing he did, as recorded in scripture, is he went to his brother Peter. Why Peter? Well, it was his brother, his relationship. Today, the spread of the gospel — the process I was telling you about at the University of Central Florida — really is contingent on the viral or contagious spread of the gospel through relationships. That’s the only way to reach a campus like that.

By the way I think it’s also one of the best ways to reach neighborhoods, just with natural networks of people. I’m here talking to you today because of a relationship. There’s a woman named Cathy. I was dating her one summer and she was hanging around with this group of Christians. She said, “Well if you want to be with me on Tuesday night you have to go to this meeting.” And I did. After seeing Christ illustrated in the lives of people, one night that summer I sat up in bed — I had a lot of background from the church and other things – and I said, “You know God, that’s what I want.”

Well over half the people I interview tell me that there was somebody in their life who modeled or was the light of Christ shining into their lives that influenced them to come to Christ. And often that was not the person who led them to Christ. It might have been their mother and then they went to a Billy Graham crusade. Or it might have been some respected friend, and then somebody came out on campus and shared the Four Spiritual Laws with them that wasn’t the respected friend. But the point is the light shining is the crucial ingredient. Well, that’s what we’re talking about here: relationships.

The second issue is respect. A biblical illustration here, when Nicodemus came to Jesus he called him rabbi, a very respectful term. He was there to learn. The Centurion said, I am a man under authority. That was a point of respect.

Back in 1983, I had the privilege of being involved with the Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation with a project called Power for Living. One of the main methods that was used to achieve a saturation of the United States would be offer a book called Power for Living. The most powerful principle of getting people to respond to the book was endorsements by respected people. And one of the most respected people in America’s society at that time was the Dallas Cowboys football coach, Tom Landry. He pulled strong or stronger than every other ad we had. Another one — you’d have to go back to really appreciate this one — was Pat Boone, because he was so well known and respected. You have to find respected people.

We did a video recently in our Athletes in Action ministry for reaching women using female athletes. It included the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team gold medallist and a number of other athletes. Why are we doing that? Because these are respected people. Most of them are champions in this whole DVD. And that would make them respected, especially to young female athletes like my daughter, Debbie, who was a soccer player. She looked up to many of the players on the US Soccer Team. So respect.

The third is relevance. I believe Jesus used relevance as much as anything. With the woman at the well, He said, “Look I have water that you don’t even know the nature of.” And that led into a conversation about the gospel. What I’ve discovered today, as I share Christ personally, is that my most productive connection with people is what I call the back door to the heart. What is a need, what is a crack in their life to which the gospel would easily flow?

I wrote a book about this, actually, called Conversation Ministry. I wrote that for the students at the University of Central Florida who were struggling doing witnessing. So it explains more about how I do witnessing. I find two things almost always: number one, common ground so they trust me, and number two, find some need or concern that’s real close to mine. When I find that, especially at the point of trusting people, when I find that I find I have a tremendous path to share the gospel.

I was on an airplane traveling from Ontario, California to Chicago, O’Hare Airport. I was going back to Rockford, Illinois — which is my home town — and sitting across the aisle from me was a woman and we struck up a conversation. I said, “Where you going?” She said, “Rockford.” I said, “No kidding, really, I’m from Rockford.” “No, I’m from Rockford too.” And we got to talking. I found her dad owned a furniture store in East State Street. I knew exactly what she’s talking about, been in that store. So we kind of became old friends just a little.

Then in the course of the conversation she disclosed to me that she had just recently gone through a divorce and was raising four small kids by herself. I didn’t say anything at the time. There was a lull in the conversation. I said, “Jo Ann, you just said you went through a divorce. I’m only guessing, I’ve never been through a divorce, but that must have been a painful experience.” She said, “Yeah, it was.”

And I said, “Would you be interested in hearing something that has really worked for me in having peace in hard times and anxiety?” “Oh, yeah, I would like to hear it.”

So here I am, a trusted person from Rockford and I’m in a target area where she has a need. So I shared my testimony, which has some clarity in it about how God really met me there, and my transition to the gospel went like this: “Jo Ann, have you ever experienced a personal relationship with God like the one I’ve just described where He dramatically gave me peace in bad circumstances?” That’s not a theological question, it’s a practical question.

That’s where people are today. We try to reason them into the kingdom and at times they don’t want to be reasoned anywhere. They just want to sense that this is right. Today what I’ve got going for me is the gospel has worked in my life, I can figure out how that might connect with, or intersect my life with another person, and I can make that bridge. And that is a very productive bridge. “Can I show you how that works?” “Oh, yeah, please tell me how.” What did you just ask me? You just asked me to share the gospel with her.

You know it’s a lot easier to share the gospel when the person is open and wanting it, than a person who feels like you’re jamming it down throats. I’m just committed to the fact that there is no virtue in sharing the gospel in a way that is less than the best for that person. And we know enough now and we have enough available to us now that we can make that really understandable. When it comes to the gospel I use the four spiritual laws still to this day. I think it’s a great outline for the gospel. I’m not changing the message. But how do you get from where you start a conversation with a person to there. There’s the interesting part. How do you approach people?

My one message to pastors would be become a student, and eventually an expert, on how to approach people in a way you might learn best personally. I would encourage pastors to stop and share their faith on a regular basis, because out of that they will figure out what to preach on.

The tools of Campus Crusade for the most part have grown into existence out of people trying to use things and finding stuff that works. Why don’t we just invite pastors to that same process? Your town’s a little different than my town and the things people are interested in your community might be a little different, the demographics, than my community. Just get out there and share and after a while you’ll find your sermons are very pertinent to what people are after.

Preaching: All the statistics I look at say it is taking more church members to reach a person for Christ now than it has in past years, which would imply we are less evangelistic today than we once were. Why is that? And how do we deal with that issue?

Douglass: Parallel to that statistic, I can tell you we are seeing more people come to Jesus every year now than ever before. So probably the context of the church is thought of by most people in the pew as a setting where they come to be fed, to fellowship with Christians. Maybe they don’t catch the fire that I’m sure is in the heart of the average pastor. So you’ve got more of a collection, a fellowship, a gathering, an inward mentality, perhaps.

I’m not being the least bit critical of church. I’m just saying people come to church to be fed. It takes effort to push people back out of the nest and say, “You know we really ought to share our faith.” And I think a lot of the settings where that effort happens isn’t directly in a church setting. It might be outside.

Youth with a Mission gets a hold of your kid and takes them on a six-week discipleship training seminar and they go to some other country and lead whole boat loads of people to Christ. I doubt that statistic made its way back into the church. Even though they ought to take some credit, the kid came out of the church. So the settings where a lot of evangelism is going on is outside the church service and didn’t get accounted for. And as a result what’s going on today seems like it is worse.

I don’t personally feel like its worse. I think there are more ways for people to be engaged. Speaking of Youth with a Mission, they have sent four million young people in short term projects in the course of their entire existence. You know the average one of those young people led several people to Christ, and in some cases many people to Christ. Campus Crusade with the Jesus film, has led 200 million people to Christ over the existence of the Jesus film. Billy Graham crusades have led millions of people to Christ. Reinhard Bonnke has led millions of people to Christ. It’s not like the church was irrelevant through that.

But I think that just preaching on a Sunday morning as the main method of evangelism isn’t going to get your audience in front of you. It’s not that it isn’t effective; it’s just those are mostly Christians. If you want to have more and more people come to Christ you have to go where more and more non-Christians are. And they may not come to church right away. They may have to be found. But that is back to the point I was making earlier, methods exist, technology is available.

We can equip lay people like we’ve never equipped them before. That’s why Campus Crusade for Christ exists, to equip people to do evangelism. We don’t want to compete with the local church — we want to populate the local church. That’s our job. God called us into existence to give ourselves away. God gives us something; we just pass it on. We’re not the only organization that thinks like that.

If we can work together even better in years to come, I think you might see that statistic turn around. Maybe more things would happen in the context of church life. They would still be out in the community, it wouldn’t necessarily be in the service, but at least we could keep track of that and you’d see baptisms or other evidences of actual church growth. Certainly, there are a lot of churches that are growing dramatically, it’s just that there are a lot that aren’t.

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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