Evangelism in the LDS Context, I

A couple of years ago, a team from a major national evangelistic ministry came to Utah to explore the prospect of a series of mass evangelistic meetings – historically called a Crusade, but more commonly now referred to as a Festival or something with less martial overtones. The proposal was a fairly traditional approach: rent a large arena for a few days, spend a lot on publicity, feature some semi-famous celebrity guests and musicians, and encourage Christians to invite their friends to come hear the semi-well-known evangelist. The cost for sponsoring this kind of event would have been close to $750,000.

The “Crusade” or mass evangelism approach has been used in Utah before. I was part ofCrusade Utah, held in Salt Lake City in 1987, featuring evangelist Lowell Lundstrom, and was on the local board of the sequel, when Lundstrom returned to Ogden in 1988. I can remember the dates because “the harvest [was] great in ’88”! (Currently, Lowell is “redeeming the time in 2009.”) I later served on the pastor’s advisory board forĀ Utah Alive, held at the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah in 1997, featuring evangelist John Guest.

Certainly there were results from these meetings. People are still faithfully serving Jesus who became Christ-followers at those events. But on the whole, most of us who were involved were not satisfied. So when the opportunity came to do another one, a lot of good questions were raised. Was this the most effective method to share the good news of God’s grace in our unique cultural setting? What could be done with $750,000 that would make a greater impact? How many Latter-day Saints attended these events? How many were invited? Does this kind of event even register as an option for LDS family and friends?

An initial public meeting was held to gauge the level of interest in this new proposal, with probably 80 pastors in attendance. I had the privilege of speaking at a second meeting of these ministry leaders. One respected Salt Lake City pastor was asked to speak in favor of the event. I was asked to make a case for why it was not a good idea for Utah churches to invest in it.

I’m not against mass evangelism. But I tried to convince the audience that it is simply not the right tool in the toolbox for this particular job. I encouraged them to think like cross-cultural missionaries – to realize that mass evangelism through large public meetings is not a culturally appropriate way to reach Latter-day Saints. It doesn’t make sense to take a template that may have been successful elsewhere and simply impose it on this unique community without evaluating the cultural setting.

I’ll tell you about the case I made in the next couple of entries…

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