A Brief History of 20th Century Evangelism Activities:
At the turn of the 19th century, short gospel tracts were being distributed for a quick readable presentation of the gospel. In Boston and New York City, societies were established for the printing of gospel tracts. The two organizations merged in 1825, and formed the American Tract Society. By 1850, they were printing 5 million tracts a year. Despite being a nonprofit organization, in 1894 their operation had grown large enough to build the now iconic American Tract Society Building at 150 Nassau Street in New York City. At the time of its construction, it was one of the tallest buildings in the city.
Short simple presentations of the gospel message with a follow up invitation to receive Jesus as your savior, and a short prayer asking for forgiveness is the typical format of these gospel tracts in recent years. In 2012, the American Tract Society signed an agreement with Crossway, who now prints, sells, and distributes their material in the US. The society claims to have “136 print partners in 76 countries who print and distribute tracts in over 100 languages.” Over almost 200 years of existence, they have distributed billions of gospel tracts through a variety of ministry partners. The work of the American Tract Society put short simple gospel tracts into the hands of millions of Christians, and made tract distribution a mainstream activity of gospel proclamation.
The Romans Road – Jack Hyles
In 1948, The Romans Road was born in a sermon by a Fundamentalist pastor. That’s the story we have from the controversial firebrand Independent Baptist preacher, Jack Hyles. The only evidence we appear to have at this time for this origination comes from Jack Hyles himself from a Wednesday evening Bible Study in 1970. He mentions outlining the means of leading a person to salvation in Christ by utilizing a set of Bible verses from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans: Romans 3:10, 3:23, 5:12, 5:8, 6:23…. Over the years the exact verses people use have changed slightly, but the practice of using a progressive set of verses in the Book of Romans to outline the path to salvation has not. Jack Hyles wrote a book called Let’s Go Soul Winning, and placed this set of passages in the book as a means of sharing one’s faith, and called it the Romans Road. Over 130,000 copies of the book have been printed, and it became a well-known method for personal soul winning.
I remember being taught to use this method in 1980, during my first year as a Christian, and it remained a common personal evangelism technique in a broad circle of Evangelical churches for years. Although Jack Hyles was an Independent Baptist with strong Fundamentalist leanings, I discovered this technique being used in Southern California Calvary Chapel and Foursquare Gospel circles in the 1980s.
The Four Spiritual Laws – Bill Bright:
Sometime between the late 50s and early 60s, Bill and Vonette Bright had already successfully organized ministry groups on College Campuses. Having difficulty getting the message out to people, Bill sat down with salesman Bob Ringer, and together they created a short, simple four-point outline of the gospel. The tract, now called The Four Spiritual Laws has been translated into at least 200 languages, and over 2.5 billion copies have been distributed, making it one of the most widely distributed booklets in history. These four points became a standard for communicating the gospel for a generation of Christians: 1 – God has a wonderful plan for your life, 2 – Man is sinful and separated from God, and so he cannot know God’s plan, 3 – Jesus is the provision for man’s sin, and through him we can know God’s love and plan for our lives, 4 – We must receive Jesus as Savior and Lord by personal invitation.
Jack Chick wrote his first tract in 1962, “A Demon’s Nightmare”, because he wanted to share the gospel with some young people on the street corner, but was too shy to go out and do it. He established Chick Publications in 1970, and since then they have distributed 900 million small comic book tracts. Jack Chick created gospel comic book style tracts from a fundamentalist perspective, and many tracts were designed to give Chick’s fundamentalist perspective on controversial issues like abortion or non-Christian religious groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Neo-Pagans. He died at home in 2016, but his publishing company continues to sell the (in)famous Chick Tracts.
Chick tracts are often cited by non-Christians as an example of Christian judgmentalism.
Evangelism Explosion and the diagnostic questions:
In 1962, Pastor D. James Kennedy, from the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida developed an evangelism technique he called Evangelism Explosion. This was later incorporated as a separate non-profit organization in 1972.
As a method for engaging dialogue with people about eternal issues, Evangelism Explosion utilized two simple questions:
- Have you come to the place in your spiritual life where you can say you know for certain that if you were to die today you would go to heaven?
- Suppose that you were to die today and stand before God and he were to say to you, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” what would you say?
Once engaging an individual with these diagnostic questions, the trainee was taught how to describe the gospel in terms of humanity’s need for God through faith in the grace of Christ. After 35 years using this technique, the questions were dropped from the training, because they were viewed as confrontational evangelism according to a 1997 study. At this point, the ministry changed its approach to “emphasize relationship-building and discipling new believers.” It appears that what once began as a cold call diagnostic approach to evangelism transformed and adopted the friendship evangelism approach following this 1997 study.
D. James Kennedy died in 2007, but Evangelism Explosion continues to grow. Training materials have been translated into over 70 languages. Their 2019 annual report states that 37,000 churches worldwide are utilizing their methods, and that 11.5 million people came to Christ in that year.
The two-minute testimony:
In first few years of the 21st Century, I was asked to teach an hour and half long session for a mandatory Evangelism class during each semester at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. My approach to carnivalesque outreach on the streets of Salem, MA during the month-long Halloween season, and my work in anthropological missiology among American Neo-Pagans made my presentation unique in this Evangelical seminary setting. To my surprise, I discovered that the professor was assigning students the homework of creating a 2-minute testimony of their salvation experience. In other words, post-graduate students were being taught to give an Elevator Pitch of their personal testimony.
The Elevator Speech, or Elevator Pitch has a variety of origin stories from Elisha Graves Otis, the inventor of an elevator safety device, giving a speech from inside the elevator in 1852 while it dangled between floors, to author Philip Crosby giving advice about creating a pitch short enough to fit in an elevator ride, in his 2nd edition of The Art of Getting Your Own Way in 1981. I had already seen this business sales-pitch format being used as a means of presenting the Gospel in the mid-1980s. It was a common technique for personal witnessing, and this sales-pitch approach to evangelism was still being promoted by Dr. Sam Schutz (along with many other preachers around the US) in a mandatory class to post-graduate seminary students almost 20 years later.
Ray Comfort (1949-present) and the Ten Commandments as a Witnessing Tool:
In the early 1990s New Zealand Evangelist Ray Comfort teamed up with actor Kirk Cameron in Southern California and Living Waters Ministries was born from this collaboration. Ray teaches methods for creating dialogue with humorous icebreakers, and then utilizes a method of presenting the Ten Commandments that highlights individual sinfulness. Through the ensuing sense of personal guilt, he follows up with the offer of free salvation through Christ.
This particular style of witnessing is perhaps the largest influence among street preachers within the United States. Living Waters Ministries has produced a video series showing real life examples of Ray Comfort’s methods in action on the street.
Evangelism Organizations and Movements:
The short-term mission was inspired by the Peace Corps, and the increased long-distance mobility of air travel. Youth with a Mission (YWAM), founded by Loren and Darlene Cunningham, has become the largest Christian organization utilizing this model of outreach, and along with Operation Mobilisation (OM) was one of the first to do it.
Apologetics, Counter-Cult, and Biblical Creation Movements:
Christian concern and response to false doctrine dates back to our founder and his apostles. Jesus warns his disciples to, “beware the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” Later Paul would write at length to refute the Judaizers, who focused upon obedience to the Mosaic Covenant as a necessity for Christian living. The early church fathers took on the mantle of apologists against false doctrine, and perhaps this is nowhere better modeled than in the ongoing efforts by Augustine of Hippo and Jerome to finally have Pelagius declared a heretic. After many failed attempts, Pelagius was finally expelled from Jerusalem in 418.
American Evangelicalism would elevate apologetics against false teachings to new levels. By the late nineteenth century, new religious groups were proliferating. Joseph Smith and the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (1830s), the Oneida Community (1848), Seventh Day Adventism (1863), The Theosophical Society (1875), Mary Baker Eddy and the First Church of Christ Scientist (1879), Charles Taze Russell’s Bible Student movement (1880s) are just a few of the more notable examples. With the rise of Pentecostalism and the Unity School in early the 20th century, the growth of new religions was not about to abate. Some of these would be declared outright heretics by the apologists, and others such as Pentecostalism and Seventh Day Adventism would be accepted by some, while teetering on the edge of inclusion, with Evangelical pastors and academics.
Philip Johnson gives a brief history of what he calls, “Heresy-Rationalist Apologetics” found in the writings of A. H. Barrington’s Anti-Christian Cults (1898), Lewis Radford’s Ancient Heresies in Modern Dress (1913), and J. K. van Baalen’s The Chaos of Cults (1938).
Evangelicals would respond to the development of cults and new religions, but it wasn’t until Walter Martin and his groundbreaking book The Kingdom of the Cults (1965) that things began to coalesce into an evangelistic movement. Along with the book, Martin hosted the Bible Answer Man, and started the Christian Research Center. Soon counter-cult apologists were popping up across the country and making waves in academia and the Christian publishing industry. Christians were being taught how to refute and convince their friends and neighbors who were members of these non-Christian “cults”. In 1982, Evangelical Ministries to New Religions (EMNR) was formed to facilitate the networking of Counter-Cult ministries. As evidenced in the name of the group, the word “cult” has been set aside in recent years for the less offensive term New Religious Movement (NRM), and new methods of evangelistic approach were being considered.
At the death of Walter Martin in 1989, Hank Hanegraaff took the helm of the Christian Research Center, and the focus turned to defending the church from internal heresies, and the overall influence upon evangelism is slowly subsiding. More recent voices like Ken Mulholland founder of the former Salt Lake Seminary, now at the Western Institute for Intercultural Studies, Terry Muck, Paul Louise Metzger at Multonomah University, John W. Morehead founder of MultiFaith Matters,and a smattering of others began to critique the lack of a relational and/or cultural approach to people in new religious movements, and new tacks of navigating dialogue with people in NRMs were being investigated. In my own work living among Neo-Pagan friends in Salem, MA, we trained thousands of Christians to treat Witches and Pagans with the same respect every person deserves. 
During the early season of this movement (1970s-1990s), apologetics in general was becoming relatively popular in Evangelical Church circles. Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict was published in 1972, and was consistently popular in my circles in the mid-1980s in Southern California among young Christians interested in theology and evangelism. Like publications from the Counter-Cult Movement, general apologetics tomes would present proof texts and rational arguments for the validity of the Christian faith in contrast to other worldviews.
An offshoot of this same method of evangelism can be seen in the work of the Institute for Creation Research, and its combination of scientific evidences for a young earth creation and using the Bible as a origin proof text. Henry Morris formed this organization for educational and evangelistic purposes in 1972, believing that Darwinian evolutionary teachings were antithetical to biblical and gospel truth. The Creation Science Research Center and Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis were spin-offs of this ministry, and there are other organizations with a similar approach such as the older Creation Research Society.
Although apologetics and rational argumentation has been a standard approach to presenting the Christian faith, whether to agnostics and atheists, or members of new religious movements, by the end of the century, new forms of missional activity have begun to take shape among Evangelicals. This is not so much a replacement for rational debate, but rather the recognition that a hammer may not be the best tool for every job.
Church Planting Movement:
Missionary/missiologist Donald McGavran founded The Institute of Church Growth at Northwest Christian College in 1961, and later became the first dean of the new Fuller Theological Seminary School of World Missions in 1965. His lectures were published as Understanding Church Growth in 1970. His theory of the homogenous unit principle––that people are more likely to convert en masse when they share common demographics––became a foundational principle of the Church Growth movement in the 1980s.
Church Planting (starting new churches) and Church Growth became primary obsessions for the Evangelical Movement in the last twenty years of the 20th century. Denominations set target goals for planting new churches by the year 2000. For example, I attended the Foursquare National Convention in San Diego in 1988. They announced a plan to plant enough churches to have 2000 churches in the US by the year 2000. Pastor Ralph Moore from Hope Chapel in Hermosa Beach, CA spoke on a morning plenary session, and presciently declared that if the denomination reached that goal, they would reach 3000 by 2010, but if they could not reach the goal, they may never reach it. Over the next dozen years, Foursquare closed as many churches as they opened, and effectively had a zero net gain over the 1990s decade. They still had approximately 1,800 churches at the turn of the millennium. Today, they list “more than 1,700 churches” in the US.
The Church Growth Movement worked to help churches grow into big churches from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. Techniques included the Seeker Sensitive Church model popularized by Bill Hybels and the Willow Creek Community Church. My personal experience in the training seminars, and conferences was that the movement created tracks according to church size: how to grow your church beyond 100, 250, 500, or 1,000. I remember traveling to periodic one-day conferences in Hermosa Beach with fellow small church pastors; one cynically remarked, “Most of us are just trying to grow our churches beyond 25.”
Statistics were provided by Win and Charles Arn showing that people who joined churches and remained faithful in attendance were overwhelmingly influenced by friends and family instead of evangelistic crusades or gospel tracts. This may well be one of the primary influences of the Friendship Evangelism model.
Some of the primary authors and voices to this movement include Win and Charles Arn, C. Peter Wagner, Elmer Townes, and Lyle Schaller. Among these, it was only Lyle Schaller who spoke to the dynamics of small church life.
Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization
Under the encouragement of Billy Graham, 2,400 ministers of the gospel from 150 nations gathered in Lausanne, Switzerland for the First International Congress on World Evangelization in 1974. John Stott wrote the covenant for the congress.
The Congress has since met two more times: Manila, Philippines in 1989, and Cape Town, South Africa in 2010. This has been a gathering of Evangelical leaders united for the purpose of reasserting their commitment to focus on the Evangelization of the World. The foci of the most recent Lausanne Congress included the affirmation of the command to evangelize the whole world, a commitment to alleviate suffering and bring peace, the necessity to reach those in other religions and religious systems, the promotion of biblical literacy, a call to humility and integrity, and a challenge to collaborate with other gospel ministers around the world.
Although this is an international congress, its influence on American Evangelicals in respect to world missions has recommitted many leaders and churches to the missionary impetus foundational to Evangelical evangelism.
In 1977, Holy Trinity Brompton in Knightsbridge, London, England developed a course on the basics of the faith for church parishioners. It was a 10-week course on basic teachings of the Christian faith from an Evangelical/Charismatic perspective. After a number of iterations, Charismatic Anglican priest Nicki Gumbel took over as director of the program in 1990. From 1991 to 1995 it grew from four courses to 2,500 courses around the UK. 1998 was the peak of its popularity in the UK, but in 2019, it was still growing significantly in the US with 426,231 participants, and 7420 churches running 15,542 courses.
Alpha has a course book, and a set of videos. It typically occurs in the homes of the church parishioners or in cafes among friends and neighbors who eat together then study and discuss the materials. What began as a training course in the basics of the faith has become a church growth and evangelism tool around the world. It now includes specific courses for children, marriages, and a prison support program for released ex-offenders. It has reached over 100 nations and been translated into over 100 languages. Although this movement is not based in American Evangelicalism, it has been used by scores of American Evangelicals to share their faith, and it has a uniquely Evangelical and Charismatic emphasis to its program.
John Wimber, Peter Wagner, and Power Evangelism:
In 1982, about 30 churches left the Calvary Chapel Association and formed the Association of Vineyard Churches. There is some disagreement about these numbers. John Wimber, the man behind the impetus for this transition, said it was about 30 churches, while Chuck Smith, the Calvary Chapel founder, said that it was as many as 100. John Lai was the pastor of the Escondido Calvary Chapel at the time. His church was one of the Vineyard breakaway churches, and I was briefly involved at the church around the time of the transition. On a recent Facebook post, he commented that the first leadership gathering of the newly forming Vineyard denomination had just over 20 churches. It is likely that the original number was around 30, but a slow peel away from Calvary Chapel occurred over a couple years that eventually reached nearly 100.
From 1982 to 1985 John Wimber and C. Peter Wagner co-taught the class MC510 at Fuller School of World Missions initially entitled Signs, Wonders, & Church Growth. It was a wildly popular class. My library included a short bi-fold booklet Wimber wrote on signs and wonders through church history. This was part of the MC510 class, and was basically “the white papers”, which later were expanded into his book Power Evangelism (1986).
John Wimber and the Vineyard movement provided the impetus for congregational growth by highlighting signs and wonders, and supernatural gifts practiced by laymen and women in the church. Wimber’s influence was a combination of Charismatic Christianity and his Quaker upbringing. Simultaneously, C. Peter Wagner provided the academic support for Third Wave Pentecostalism through Fuller Seminary and conferences. A group of about 40 scholars and missionaries gathered at Fuller in 1988, and presented lectures on topics of Power Evangelism, which was initially published in 1990 as Wrestling with Dark Angels. This became the academic support base for a popular rise in Spiritual Warfare and signs and wonders ministries.
Subcategories of Power Evangelism have included Prophetic Evangelism and Dream Interpretation. The late John Paul Jackson, and his Streams Academy took the lead on training people for this form of outreach. Initially, John Paul Jackson taught Dream Interpretation and Prophetic ministry in church settings. My friend Steven Maddox, who traveled with John Paul, began to interpret dreams as an evangelistic contact point. He would set up a table in Borders, or Barnes and Noble bookstores. While pastoring in Salem, Massachusetts, I organized a live outdoor music stage for the month-long Halloween event for over 20 years. In 2003, Steve Maddox and I began to use this outreach technique on the streets of Salem, and by the following year, Streams Academy joined us on weekends through the month of October. For the next 18 years, various ministry teams from different schools, churches, and outreach programs joined our church in Salem to set up ministry tents, interpret dreams, and give prophetic words to people. Visitors and locals stood in lines that were up to an hour long, and this continued throughout the whole of those 18 years. This style of outreach was simultaneously occurring in other events such as Burning Man, Body Mind Spirit Expos, and local fairs. It spread quickly to include thousands of lay-Christians participating in prophetic evangelistic outreach within a handful of years, and included ministry schools from a number of popular charismatic mega-churches.
Final Thoughts on my List:
There are a number of well-known individuals, movements, and personal soul-winning techniques I have not mentioned here, and probably scores more that I haven’t even heard of. George Whitfield, Billy Sunday, Kathryn Kuhlman, Oral Roberts, Luis Palau could easily be added to the list simply for their fame, but I wasn’t sure they added anything significantly unique to the list as it relates to the focus of this study of primary influences on American Evangelical church culture and beliefs. George Whitfield and Billy Sunday may be exceptions and you can chastise me for that if it seems fitting. Individuals like Doug Coe and his political/evangelical movement called The Family represent more subtle but powerful expressions of Evangelical influence––especially in politics.
Denominations and church movements born in the 20th century could have been added to this list. Pentecostalism and Charismatic churches, their denominational and non-denominational affiliations are the powerhouse of church growth in broader Evangelicalism. Calvary Chapel, particularly on the West Coast, and the Association of Vineyard Churches are other robust examples of church growth, and consequently, evangelism.
The Bridge to Life gospel tract, Promise Keepers, the House Church movement, the Master’s Plan for Evangelism, Door to Door evangelism, taking spiritual surveys, and Bus Ministries (which seems to have been perfected by Romans Road preacher Jack Hyles) are potential additions as well, but may not add significantly unique points or have enough popular appeal within Evangelicalism as it relates to influencing its culture and politics. Other potential items appear to be subcategories of those that are listed above. Servant Evangelism, for example, promoted by Steve Sjogren’s Church in Cincinnati, seems to me to be a sub-category of Friendship Evangelism. Similarly, there are other College Campus ministries, but Campus Crusade for Christ (now known as Cru), and Youth for Christ are among the first and largest of these.
Perhaps, most evidently missing from this list (to those who know me) are the missional and emergent movements. The Emergent Conversation, which was had its largest influence in infancy of the 21st Century does not appear to have maintained the foundational elements of its unique Evangelical characteristics. Meanwhile the “Missional Movement” led by people like Alan Hirsch was an early breakaway from the Emergent Conversation, and it sought to focus upon church planting, and church growth and health.
The inclusion of the couple events/movements I was directly involved in are only here for historic interest, and as evidence to my direct involvement with the dynamics of Evangelical evangelism efforts. It should be clear that I am no stranger to this issue, but rather that it has been in some way, a focus of my Evangelical practice for the last 40 years. Although, I would fall into some categorization as an innovative fringe practitioner, I don’t think I’ve had much influence over contemporary Evangelical evangelistic behavior, other than among a handful of renegade Pentecostals and neo-Charismatics who flit in and out of Salem, MA during the visitor season, and perhaps among a handful of Christian Burners, missional festival goers, and pioneer Anglican innovators.
Where Do I Go from Here?
Where this study goes from here is still to be ascertained. As it is with doing many types of scholarly work (of which this is at best a sophomoric attempt), one has to study broadly first in order to figure out what one needs to specifically study. My feelings at this point are split in a couple directions. After covering general historic views of Evangelical eschatology, the ecstatic, and now evangelism, I am wondering if I should also cover ecclesiology. Evangelical views of church development and leadership are likely to carry deep attachments to how Evangelicals view non-Christian (i.e. political) leadership as well. Yet, I feel the need to look more critically at the three categories I have already covered. It seems necessary to view them in the light of non-Christian 20th century influences. Philosophy, science, politics, economy, and a host of surrounding factors are likely to have had significant impact on the development of Evangelical theology. This is particularly true since Evangelicalism has often focused upon crowd size and conversion results, and the movement has traditionally developed popular theologies as opposed to deeply academic theologies. Dwight L. Moody, Aimee Semple McPherson, and Billy Graham are prime examples of this populist approach. Viewing Evangelical practices through the lens of Pragmatism, or through the development of sales techniques and capitalist ventures may also yield fruit. Other issues like the rise of Darwinian evolution, the 60s free love culture, and abortion rights may also shed light on how and why the church has developed in the way it has. Thus, the factors of theological development consist of both integration of the surrounding culture, and battling against it. Of course, there will be significant difficulty determining who influenced whom. Was the church influential in the world, or vice-versa? The answer to such a question is likely messy, and the relationships, symbiotic. Multi-Level Marketing programs and the rise of Donald Trump are key examples of this complex symbiosis.
 Mark 8:15 KJV
 It should be noted that recent scholarship has begun to question Augustine’s position on Pelagius.
 The Jehovah’s Witness Watchtower Organization developed from Russell’s teachings.
 Apologetics, Mission, and New Religious Movements: a holistic approach, Philip Johnson, Sacred Tribes Journal, Vol. 1 No. 1, Page 10
 This group developed from a grant from the Louiseville Institute. Led and organized by John W. Morehead, myself and Paul Louise Metzger with other pastors and academics have been a part of this from its inception. www.multifaithmatters.org (5/5/2021)
 Bill Hybels is among a list of embattled mega-church pastors and former pastors with a trail of abused women in his history. See my Wild Theology Podcast on this issue. https://youtu.be/J6T3SxlJpmA (1/27/2021)
 It should be noted that in Kristin Schwarz seminal work, Natural Church Development (1996), there was a rather stunning observation at the bottom of page 38. Small Churches were more effective in most of the eight observed categories, and were significantly more effective in reaching un-churched people than large churches.
 Church Identity and Change – editors David A. Roozen and James R. Nieman, chapter by Donald E. Miller, Routinizing Charisma: The Vineyard Christian Fellowship in the Post-Wimber Era (page 148)
 John Lai’s reply by Facebook post 1/29/2021: “I can’t remember the exact number, but JW’s number is closer. I could be wrong, but I think there were ~22 churches represented at the very first conference held in the Central Coast area near Los Osos. This happened shortly after Chuck Smith sent out his “decide what you are” letter to all the Calvary Chapels and Vineyards. It grew quickly from there. I don’t know how many Calvarys eventually identified with the Vineyard in the end. It could have been a hundred, but I have no way of verifying that.”
 Supernatural Forces in Spiritual WarFare, edited by Douglas F. Pennoyer and C. Peter Wagner 2012 reprint, page 9
 Justified: The Pragmaticization of American Evangelicalism from Jonathan Edwards to the Social Gospel. By Shawn Welch. Docotoral dissertation. University of Michigan, 2020. See my podcast with Shawn Welch: https://wildtheology.podbean.com/e/wild-theology-007-shawn-welch-on-the-pragmatisms-of-evangelicalism/