I rarely get excited when I hear about large scale evangelistic events in Thailand (or anywhere else, for that matter).
I don’t fault the motivation of anyone involved but for all the time and money put into these colossal under-takings, especially at a national level in a big arena, the results seem meager. What results am I talking about? The goal, directly or indirectly, of these events is to get a lot of people to become Christians through praying a prayer or going forward in response to an altar call. Even when events have impressive results, such as the 2009 “My Hope Thailand” campaign which produced 12,000 decisions, most of these decisions rarely translate into committed Christian disciples.
But regardless of what I or others say, it is unlikely that altar call evangelism will be given up anytime soon. It just looks too good on the surface to abandon entirely. Even if most new converts fall away, many advocates for such events are fully persuaded by the justification that “even if one person comes to Christ, it was all worth it.” Is it? For the time and money expended, maybe different activities would be even more worth it? Just a thought.
With that preamble out of the way, I want to get to the main point of this post. Even if large scale evangelistic events have dubious value in terms of directly producing new Christian disciples, they do have two other distinct benefits that I believe gives them real value and justifies their continuation.
1. Encouraging Local Outreach
One of the things that the BGEA does right in coordinating these big events is working with local churches in encouraging people to think pro-actively about sharing Christ with their neighbors. For Christians anywhere, it is easy to become distracted by the mundane affairs of life and the constant buzz of social media. We too easily become self-focused. Large scale evangelistic efforts, done well, remind Christians to pray for their friends and neighbors who don’t know Christ. When church leaders encourage their members to think of a few people to pray for and invite to the event, that can get people going, reminding them to love their neighbors better and think of ways to talk with them about Christ. All of us need a little push once in a while. Most people become Christians through relationships with Christians on the local level, not large scale events. But the big events have a role in encouraging those low-key local initiatives.
2. Reminding Christians They Are Not Alone
In a nation like Thailand, most churches are very small and Christians can often feel isolated. For many, the only Christians they know in their whole town are the 10-20 people they see on Sunday morning. It is easy to adopt a fortress mentality and focus on just hanging on to your faith in the midst of a world where seemingly EVERYBODY else is some other religion. "Could I have been mistaken in putting my faith in Christ? Almost nobody else I know is a Christian.”
In a situation like this, which is very common in Thailand, and in other countries where Christians are very small minority, it can be greatly encouraging for a Christian believer to get in a car or bus with a small group of other believers and travel several hours to a big event where there are literally thousands of others who trust Christ, just like them. Christians in lonely situations need to get a glimpse of how BIG the church is, and how many Christians there are in this world. They are NOT crazy for trusting in Christ. They are NOT alone in believing that salvation is found in Him alone. Plus, if you bring some non-Christian friends and neighbors along on your road trip to the event, it usually good time spent together and the non-Christians can see that there are a lot more people out there who believe in Christ than just the tiny group in their village. Traveling to, and joining in, these big events can be really helpful for giving a bigger perspective to both Christians and non-Christians who attend.
In summary, although large scale evangelistic events could be generally improved by skipping the altar call and adding more meaty, Biblical preaching, even as they stand, they have real value in encouraging local outreach and reminding the saints that the church is bigger than they think.