Question: "Is a gospel crusade a biblical method of evangelism?"
Answer: A gospel crusade is a concentrated effort to evangelize a city or region. Prior to the preaching the groundwork is laid: a large venue is rented, whole communities are invited, musicians and counsellors are lined up, and churches are asked to pray. When the big day arrives, a high-profile evangelist preaches a public message or a series of messages on salvation and gives an invitation to respond. Evangelists who have used the gospel crusade method of evangelism to speak to millions include George Whitefield, Charles Finney, D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham.
Gospel crusades have been in existence since the second chapter of Acts and since then have exploded in number and popularity. Some crusades claim to present the gospel; some of them don’t. Some crusades may be labeled “gospel,” but are in fact focused on physical healing, inspirational messages, or prosperity. For the purposes of this article, we will define a gospel crusade as a scheduled event designed to attract a large number of people for the purposes of presenting God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. We will also assume for the purposes of this article that the true biblical gospel is indeed preached at the crusades we will consider.
The first “crusade” of sorts is found in Acts 2:14–41, after the Holy Spirit had come upon the disciples. Peter immediately began speaking to the thousands gathered at Pentecost, explaining the phenomenon they were seeing and hearing. These formerly terrified followers of Jesus were suddenly speaking boldly in other languages so that travelers from many nations could hear the gospel in their own tongues. Three thousand new converts were added to the kingdom that day. Clearly, this gospel crusade was a biblical method of evangelism.
The next verse (Acts 2:42) shows us why this gospel crusade was so effective. There was follow-up, and the new believers “devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, and to prayer.” Those new converts were immediately welcomed into the church at Jerusalem where they were instructed about how to be disciples of Christ (see Matthew 28:19–20). One weakness of the crusade method of evangelism is the lack of follow-up. Of the thousands who flock to the front to “give their lives to Jesus,” how many continue in the faith? Although many reputable evangelists such as Billy and Franklin Graham strive to connect new believers with local churches, the numbers don’t support the claim that most of those responding to an altar call were truly born again. Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31). The implication is that those who do not continue in His word never were His disciples to begin with.
There are many acceptable methods of presenting the gospel, and none should be discounted if the truth is proclaimed. A gospel crusade is only one way, but often we think of it as the best way. We may subconsciously excuse our lack of personal evangelism by assuming that unbelievers will be exposed to a gospel crusade through TV or in person and hear the truth that way. There may be instances when an unbeliever is so hardened against the gospel that he or she has been resistant to personal evangelism but is drawn to a gospel crusade through the celebrity status of the speaker or musicians. However, as followers of Christ carrying His mandate of winning the lost, we should never assume that the message is somehow reaching those who need it without our participation.
God uses many avenues to reach those He came to save, including gospel crusades. As His followers, we should be actively involved in helping Him through every means possible. When we support gospel crusades through our time, finances, and participation and, at the same time, seek to draw people to Jesus through our personal witness, we can be confident that we are obeying Jesus’ last words to us and helping Him make disciples of all nations.