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Where Did All the Evangelism Conferences Go?

evangelism conferences

The lack of evangelism conferences today is symptomatic of a problem. 

For many, we have just moved on—maybe we have become too sophisticated for telling people about Jesus.

Or maybe it is the reputation of the church

Or maybe it is just us.

There was a time not too many decades ago where the largest gatherings of denominations or regions was their annual evangelism conferences. Not to mention the largest youth gatherings were youth evangelism conferences, where as many as 15,000-20,000 students would attend in states like Texas and in the deep South. 

But it’s obvious that such conferences don’t have the allure they once did. Evangelism has fallen on hard times these days—and conferences have as well. Yes, some denominations still have them, but they seem to be shrinking in attendance and enthusiasm among many who do have them.

That doesn’t mean there are no longer large gatherings of believers or leaders coming together. There are a number of events that fill arenas, including some church planting or leadership events. And we still see arenas packed out with worship bands leading nights of worship.

I’m not writing to criticize these; nor do I think that more evangelism conferences are always the answer, but the lack of many is a symptom of a larger problem. I’m all for worship gatherings and I speak at church planting and leadership events, so I of course believe in these. But I do have a concern about the lack of focus today on evangelism, and one of the symptoms of this problem is the decline in evangelism conferences.

And, I wanted to share an updated version of an article I wrote on my blog almost a decade ago, but I think we have some work to do to get people talking about evangelism again. 

Let me explain.

Evangelism Tools

Over the years, evangelism was generally defined by its tools. We pretty much equated evangelistic work with a method. For example, the best-known might be Evangelism Explosion and its famous question, “If you were to die today, do you know if you’d go to heaven or hell?”

Or, maybe you’ve used the bridge illustration.

Or, the Roman Road.

Or, bracelets.

More recently some share the whole gospel Story, and some use the 3 Circles

Most people I know are more likely to roll their eyes at the tools than use them. But, they don’t have an evangelistic alternative—all they have is an evangelistic angst. And angst does not help. The tools may seem outdated, unhelpful, or cheesy to you, but the Roman Road is probably more effective than rolling your eyes.

A recent Lifeway Research study conducted in April 2022 on behalf of Evangelism Explosion discovered about half of believers surveyed ages 18-49 weren’t familiar with any method to share Christ, while over 80% of those over age 50 weren’t familiar with any tool. Maybe 40 years ago we focused too much on this or that tool. Today, most Christians don’t have any tool. Would you rather prepare a garden with a shovel, hoe, and a rake than with no tool at all? I don’t think so. And, before you make assumptions, be sure to take a look at what Evangelism Explosion has done recently to increase the options for learning to share Christ. 

As we are awash in tools, we are actually in the midst of the largest faith-based media campaign in history. The “He Gets Us” campaign, of which I am a part, is all over television, billboards, and more. It’s sparking conversations about Jesus at the office water cooler, in homes, and more. 

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, has earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the editor-in-chief of Outreach Magazine, and leads the Stetzer ChurchLeaders podcast. Ed is frequently cited in, interviewed by, and writes for news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He is the Founding Editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than 1.7 million individuals each week for bible story. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates. He serves as interim teaching pastor of Calvary Church in New York City and serves as teaching pastor at Highpoint Church.