Gospel spreading is supposed to be a viral movement. In the first-century, the gospel traveled person-to-person as believers enthusiastically shared it with their friends and family. While preachers and church planters were important, the gospel spread most rapidly by word of mouth from believer to unbeliever. By that means it permeated societies and cultural strata in the Mediterranean world, Southern Europe, and Northern Africa. The gospel spread rapidly because everyday believers couldn’t stop talking about Jesus—who he was and what he had done for them. Common people were (and are) amazingly effective at introducing people to Jesus.
Jesus’s followers were originally called believers or people of the Way. It was in Antioch they “were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26). Some commentators think this may have been a derogatory title, tagged on early believers because all they talked about was “the Christ.” Jesus’ followers spoke so frequently and openly about “the Christ,” people may have said, “Here come the Christ-ones.” Whether it was a positive or negative nickname, it resulted from believers being preoccupied with “the Christ” and earning a reputation for speaking about him often.
This is how the gospel is supposed to be shared—by Christians with friends and family members, not by communication superstars. In the American church (and globally because of the growing pervasiveness of Christian media), there is increasing dependence on attracting people to hear a world-class communicator rather than grassroots gospel-talkers sharing with people in their relational circles. Mass methods seem impressive and effective, but are they really? Let’s do the math.
The most effective mass evangelist in human history was Billy Graham. At his crusade events, about half the attenders were Christians who came to support the event by bringing unbelievers with them. Let’s suppose Mr. Graham preached to 100,000 different people in a stadium for 10 nights. That’s 1 million people, with 500,000 of them likely non-Christians hearing the gospel. That’s an awesome accomplishment which usually took at least a year of intensive preparation.
Now suppose those 500,000 Christians had spent the prior year sharing their faith with only one person per week instead of working hard to get one person to go with them to the stadium event. That’s 26 million people who would have heard the gospel! While huge outreach events have many strengths, they were never designed as God’s foundational plan for communicating the gospel to the masses. His plan has always been for everyday Christians—not ministry professionals—to share the gospel regularly, consistently, and effectively. When everyday believers do this, the gospel becomes the viral movement it was designed to be. God wants to use maids and mechanics, truck drivers and teacher’s aides, accountants and actors to share the gospel. He is looking for Christians like you to take the gospel to the whole world by first taking it into your world.
Summer blogs are excerpted from my book “Shadow Christians: Making an impact when no one knows your name.”