Remember The One

(I wrote this article and it was previously published in World Christian magazine Volume 13, Number 3 September 2000, under the title Remember One)

A crowd or an individual? Does it make a difference? Does one person matter? Even though this issue has been discussed for a number of years, I still see a tendency on the mission field and in evangelism in general, to focus on numbers. We live in a result-oriented society, and I believe that mindset has crept into our ministry. The gauge for successful evangelism is often “how many people accepted Christ?” As a missionary in Croatia, I saw this trend emerge in some of the churches there as well. But we are missing the big picture.

In the New Testament, Jesus taught many large crowds, but what is most recorded is how He transformed individual lives. Whether it was a physical healing or speaking to the needs of the heart, His greatest emphasis was on the individual. He focused on each person’s needs and gave of Himself to meet them. If we look at the women at the well or even Nicodemus, Jesus met them in their place of need and brought them into a relationship with Himself. It was these people who spread the word to the masses, who then came out to see Him for themselves. Jesus did not ignore large assemblies of people, but His focus always turned to the individual in need.

The ministry of Jesus should be our model. We should be prayerfully looking for that one person whose life can be transformed by the power of the gospel. There are many hurting people who will get lost in the crowds if we don’t allow God to use us to seek them out for His kingdom. This is why building relationships is so essential in evangelism.

One of the greatest resources I have found to understand our role in evangelism is the Engel Scale. The scale evaluates a person’s openness to the gospel giving it a value of –10 (atheist) to –1 (ready to accept Christ). The goal believers aim for is to see a person move one step at a time up the scale until they understand Christ’s sacrifice for them and are ready to accept His gift of salvation. It is easier for someone to go from an awareness of personal need (-3) to accepting Christ, than it is to get a person with no effective knowledge of Christianity (-9) to accept Christ. When we focus on helping a person to the next step, we will find that smaller steps forward are easier and come faster than big leaps.

This principle applies for after conversion as well. After someone comes to Christ, they move up the scale in knowledge, love and a growing relationship with Him. The process of discipleship becomes so important. When we walk alongside young believers, we can help them grow at a pace tailored just for them. Paul modeled this with Timothy.

My wife and I have seen it succeed on the mission field in one particular church in Zagreb, Croatia. Whether it was studying the Bible, meeting physical needs or just giving prayer support, we walked beside many in the congregation offering them encouragement and instruction. We saw them gradually grow in their love for God. When we left Croatia, the entire congregation came out to say goodbye. They told us how they were blessed through the relationships we had established with them.

God has used these relationships to spark further growth. Before we left, I talked to a pastor about restarting pastors prayer breakfasts that had fallen into disarray when the focus of the meetings turned from a time of prayer to a time of boasting about each church’s accomplishments and growth. The meetings had stopped for almost a year. I encouraged the pastor to begin the meetings again, and I attended the first few to support his efforts. The focus not only returned to praying for individual pastors in their work, but also resulted in the churches cooperating to advance the kingdom. After I returned to North America, I heard that these meetings lead to citywide worship services. I say this to challenge each of us to turn our focus to investing in individual lives.

We may never know how reaching out to one person might influence future generations. We should remember the one who gave us the example of ministering to the individual. By imitating Christ in this way we can rest assured that while we may not see large numbers of converts, we will see firmly rooted believers who will spread their faith to others. Is it more important to have 100 firmly rooted Christians, or 5,000 people respond to an alter call but never grow in their relationship with God? Jesus reached the multitudes by reaching out to one person at a time. Shouldn’t we follow His example?

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