In 1960, D. James Kennedy graduated from seminary and began preaching at the Coral Ridge Church in Fort Lauderdale, FL. After just eight months of ministry there, the congregation dwindled from 45 to 17 believers. Although he was very discouraged about what was happening, he would not give up. He realized the problem was that he lacked courage to confront unbelievers with the truth of the gospel. To his surprise, he was invited to Decatur, GA, to conduct a gospel campaign for ten days. He preached each evening, but during the mornings and afternoons, he received training and visited homes, presenting the gospel door-to-door. Those experiences at the doorways of the unsaved would transform his ministry. After the evangelistic campaign, he returned to Florida, where he implemented what he had learned in Georgia, calling these principles, “Evangelism Explosion.”
By presenting unsaved people with the claims of the gospel on their doorsteps, the Coral Ridge Church grew from 17 individuals to more than 2,000 in nine years. These simple door-to-door evangelistic principles would be the means of winning thousands to Christ in the U.S. and in 93 other lands throughout the world.1
Door-to-door evangelism is one of the few ways that each family in a city can be reached with the gospel. The Lord has effectively used this method throughout the history of the church, from the time of the apostles (Acts 20:20) to the modern day. Today, church leaders are calling for renewed efforts in teaching and training Christians how to use door-to-door evangelism, proving the timelessness of this evangelistic method.
In a study of the fastest growing 576 Southern Baptist churches in the U.S., Southern Baptist researcher Dr. Thomas Rainer concluded that traditional door-to-door evangelism was still a very useful evangelistic method. In the churches surveyed, 50.2% of these churches ranked weekly door-to-door evangelism as one of their most effective evangelistic tools. Bill Hohenstreet, of Post Falls Baptist Church in Post Falls, Idaho, states that door-to-door visitation was critical to their evangelistic outreach. He explained that their primary outreach efforts were door-to-door, cold-call visitation, and Tuesday evening visitation using a prospect list. This church of 200 saw 48 come to faith in Jesus Christ in 1996. “Churches that rated door-to-door evangelism highly did not believe that it was any less effective, or that resistance to visits was any greater, than in years past.”2
Churches throughout the U.S. are beginning to find that consistent evangelistic visitation, when followed up with literature, Bible study, and hospitality are effective means in winning the lost to Christ.
Nevertheless, door-to-door evangelism is not without its critics. Since 1973, church growth experts have unwisely labeled this method as old-fashioned and ineffective in modern society. However, recent studies have challenged the validity of these widely-held convictions of church growth researchers. Thomas Rainer, who conducted a survey of the fastest growing churches, speaks of this issue when he writes, “But what about the studies of growing churches which made the conclusion that traditional door-to-door evangelism was on the decline? The research of those studies was based on growing churches, not necessarily churches that were increasing in size by conversion growth. In fact, many of the churches were hardly growing at all through new converts, but by Christians who were leaving one church to join another. Additionally, the other studies rarely looked at more than forty to fifty churches; our research is based upon a study of over 500 churches.”3
The results of this recent study have soundly contradicted the tenaciously held beliefs of church growth experts. This fact has caused concern among many church leaders, and has led them to reexamine their evangelistic methods. Many are beginning to see that traditional methods are indeed biblical, important, and effective means for producing conversion growth in churches.
Evangelism is not a special activity for special people at special times. It is the normal activity of all Christians as the Lord gives opportunity. A church’s evangelistic effort should be a blend of youth and children’s ministries, evangelistic Bible studies, prayer, regular gospel campaigns, and individual witnessing. But church leaders are coming to the conclusion that door-to-door evangelism is an essential if a church is serious about contacting an entire community for Christ.
Some churches have been content to arrange a series of meetings for the gospel and to send out newspaper announcements inviting the unsaved to attend. In many cases, the result has been the glorious salvation of souls. Yet prior to the gospel meetings, many in a community were never contacted about the meetings, they were never spoken to in person, and an announcement was never personally delivered after a brief presentation of the gospel.
Some of the most effective evangelistic organizations have used door-to-door visitation in presenting the gospel. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, since its inception, has placed a premium on the need for door-to-door visitation prior to the nightly preaching of the gospel. The Billy Graham Team, in each of its gospel crusades, mobilizes thousands of workers to contact the unsaved door-to-door. In October, 1998 in Tampa, FL, the Billy Graham Crusade Team organized 3,000 workers from 100 churches to visit 300,000 homes over a three-day period one week prior to the Crusade. The Tampa Crusade chairman, Peter Lowe, said, “The promotional campaign is important, but we think this personalized approach is the most effective of all.”4
There is a great need not only to invite the unsaved to hear the gospel, but to take the message to the unsaved. Presenting Christ door-to-door puts the “go” back into the gospel and emphasizes the “woe” of personal responsibility. George Verwer, the founder of the international mission organization Operation Mobilization, writes, “Without a doubt the most effective means of getting the gospel message to the unsaved is by taking it to them. That is where the bottleneck lies. The evangelistic method of the Apostle Paul was not so much a ‘You come hear me’ evangelism, as it was an ‘I’ll bring it to you’ evangelism. Paul was a great officer in the army of the Lord, a man of intellect and influence, but he never stopped knocking on doors to witness for His Lord. Yet today it is very difficult to find Christian men and women who are willing to go from house to house witnessing and distributing literature to the unconverted. Satan is a master strategist; he will do everything to keep us from eye-to-eye contact with the unconverted.”5
Assembly workers and evangelists have carried the gospel door-to-door effectively for many years. This type of labor in the gospel is spiritually demanding, yet profitable and effective. John Martin has labored for many years in Ontario, and through his efforts (with others) many assemblies have been established. His efforts in the gospel and the blessing which followed attest to the fruitfulness, and also sacrifice, inherent in door-to-door evangelism. In the book, Saved to Serve, he writes, “All of these assemblies referred to represent a great deal of hard work. Much visitation was done in all of these areas. The attendance at the Bible studies was sometimes discouraging, but perseverance and patient, persistent plodding brought its reward.”6
August Van Ryn, recounting the way God used his efforts in speaking to the unsaved door-to-door, writes, “I shall never forget our first season in the city of Owosso, Michigan. Another young brother and I covered the town with tracts and printed invitations, going from door to door. It took several weeks to do this. I shall never forget the sight that met our eyes when we came to the tent for the first evening meeting. We were amazed to see its 500 capacity crowded to the doors and hundreds more standing on the outside. And how wonderfully God blessed His Word in the salvation of many precious souls.”7
How can we see blessing in our own evangelistic efforts? How can assemblies today reach their communities for Christ? How does one go about presenting Christ door-to-door? Many who have labored in this work have found the following principles very useful:
1. When you go, have a specific goal in mind. Some go with the general purpose of distributing tracts or giving a word of witness. Many have found that it is better to have an announcement to a gospel meeting, Vacation Bible School, Awana club, or home Bible study to offer one who is responsive to the gospel.
2. Use literature wisely. Many have effectively used tracts, Bible portions, and gospel booklets. The booklet Ultimate Questions has been very effective. Some find it fruitful to offer a card with which one could order an Emmaus correspondence course, which the chapel can provide. A New Jersey assembly used this method in their community and 32 persons responded to the offer.
3. Follow up contacts. Many opportunities have been lost due to a failure to follow up effectively. Those who show interest should be revisited and offered suitable literature, such as a Gospel of John, a book, cassette tape of a gospel message, or a fitting Emmaus course. Contacts should receive a follow-up phone call and an invitation to a home Bible study or to a one-to-one study. A lunch or dinner invitation should be extended, as many have come to Christ at the dinner table.
4. Read helpful books concerning door-to-door evangelism. Two of the most helpful are The ABC’s of Door-to-Door Visitation by Ron Smith, STL Books, P.O. Box 28, Waynesboro, GA; and Evangelism Explosion by D. James Kennedy, Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, IL.
5. Organize a gospel team in your area. Gospel teams laboring for Christ in tract distribution, open-air preaching, and door-to-door evangelism have been used very effectively. These teams have covered cities, such as Little Rock, AK, or smaller communities, such as Key West and Citrus Park, FL. These efforts can be limited to a Saturday, a weekend or an entire week. The training in the gospel, witnessing for Christ, laboring in prayer, and the joy of seeing souls saved is a life-transforming experience. After a weekend outreach in Florida, a worker wrote, “The outreach was such a blessing to me and I will never forget it…the times of prayer and the fellowship together were fantastic…I wish we could do this more often.” May God mightily use all your efforts in the gospel to reach the lost, spiritually transform the saints, and most importantly, to bring glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. D. James Kennedy, Evangelism Explosion, Wheaton, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 1977, p. 6
2. Thomas Rainer, Effective Evangelistic Churches, Nashville, TN, Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1996, p. 20
3. Thomas Rainer, ibid., pp. 19, 41
4. Crusaders Raise Profile, Tampa Tribune, October 17, 1998
5. George Verwer, Literature Evangelism, Send The Light Books, Bromley, England, 1977, p. 11
6. John Martin, Saved to Serve, Gospel Folio Press, Grand Rapids, MI, 1994, p. 54
7. August Van Ryn, 60 Years in His Service, Truth for Today, Hialeah, FL, 1996, p. 23