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The book of Acts tells the story of the beginning of the church of Jesus Christ. Acts begins with Jesus teaching the apostles about the kingdom of God outside Jerusalem, and ends, about thirty years later, with Paul teaching Gentile Christians about the kingdom of God in Rome. The entire book shows an increasing expansion of the church from its starting point in Jerusalem, and a shift from an exclusively Jewish and provincial religion to a predominantly Gentile and universal church.

The first century church did not have many of the things we consider necessary for success: buildings, wealth, influence, status, legal protection, and so forth. But it began with 120 people, and within a generation Christianity had spread throughout the known world. Within a few hundred years, Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman Empire. It is striking that church history has not left us the name of one great missionary from the death of the apostles until the legalization of Christianity in 313, and yet there were tens of millions of converts in the face of persecution that was often intense. Evangelism was done by regular people who shared the gospel with those they came in contact with. The early church did not use gimmicks to attract interest to the gospel, such as sports, the circus, the coliseum, Roman feasts, the Grecian play, popular music, or any of the other popular entertainments of the Roman world. Yet the church enjoyed great success, and converts to Christianity proved themselves genuine in the face of persecution and heresy. In our day, we tend to focus on the missionaries and evangelists who claim thousands of converts, and yet most Christians are saved through the work of those who never get such accolades.

What were the secrets behind the evangelistic success of the early church? Here is a list of twenty-four lessons about evangelism taken from the book of Acts:

  1. Speak from the Word (8:35; 17:2; 28:23)
    1. The gospel presentations in Acts are explanations of Scripture, and quote directly from Scripture.
    2. Memorize Scripture and be able to quote it, as the apostles did in their gospel presentations.
    3. Stay focused on the gospel message.
    4. The basic message never changes, only the presentation.
    5. The apostles did not use gimmicks to attract interest.
  1. Find a cultural entry point (13:16-41; 17:22-31)
    1. Use the Old Testament with Jews
    2. Be sensitive to others’ religious convictions and culture
  1. Use different ways of presenting the gospel with different audiences (17:22-31)
    1. “Start communication at the widest point of mutual understanding, and narrow the conversation down to a specific point or message” (Edward Jones).
  1. Evangelize in teams (Paul & Barnabas, Barnabas & Mark, Paul & Silas, Paul & Timothy)
    1. Shared workload
    2. Accountability
    3. Increased boldness
    4. Physical protection
    5. Complementing strengths and weaknesses
    6. Two witnesses to the truth of the gospel (cf. Deut 19:15)
    7. Jesus sent out both the twelve (Mark 6:7) and the seventy-two (Luke 10:1) in teams of two.
  1. To impact the most people, focus on major metropolitan areas and important cities (Ephesus, Corinth, Philippi, Rome)
    1. If cities are targeted, the gospel will naturally filter out to the countryside, as city folks take it there, or as country folks visit the city.
    2. In the majority of the twentieth century, most missionaries were from America, and nearly all from rural areas. When they went overseas, they naturally went to the countryside, since that is what they were familiar with. Many were disdainful of big cities in America, and were not comfortable living in them. Consequently, the big cities remained largely unreached by the great historic missionary efforts of our time.
    3. Seek to address large audiences to gain more converts (Acts 13:44; 28:17, 23).
  1. Evangelism requires boldness (28:31)
    1. Many people do not have as confrontational a personality as the apostle Paul, but it still requires courage to tell an unbeliever about Jesus Christ.
  1. Evangelism may take time (14:3; 19:10)
    1. Many people receive the gospel the second or third time they hear it.
  1. Expect persecution (13:50)
    1. Paul faced persecution virtually wherever he went. The persecution he faced was a direct result of his evangelistic work.
    2. Be surprised if persecution does not come, for it was the norm in Acts (cf. 2 Tim 3:12).
    3. Be prepared for Satanic opposition (16:16-18).
    4. Joyfully persist through trials (5:41).
  1. Obstacles in ministry should not be seen as failure, but as an opportunity for a new direction (28:28)
    1. Paul’s eviction from one city was the vehicle for the city down the road to hear the gospel (17:1, 10, 15).
    2. The split between Paul and Barnabas resulted in two missionary teams instead of one (15:39-40).
    3. The rejection of the gospel by Israel opened up the door for its reception by the Gentiles (28:28).
  1. Follow up with the churches you have planted (14:21-26)
    1. It was not Paul’s practice to evangelize one week and leave the next; if possible, he spent time discipling the new converts (14:3). Paul continued to revisit the churches he planted throughout his life. He also wrote to them, prayed for them, and sent workers to them. He was concerned with discipleship, not just evangelism. If it were not for this concern, Christianity would not have lasted long in the cities where Paul preached the gospel.
  1. We must go out to evangelize (8:5, 26; 13:3)
    1. Evangelism in Acts happened when people went out from the church and into the world.
  1. Baptize new believers (2:38, 41; 8:12, 36-38; 9:18; 10:47-48; 16:14-15, 33; 18:8; 19:5; 22:16)
    1. Throughout the book of Acts, new converts are always baptized immediately. There was no such thing as an unbaptized Christian in the early church.
    2. According to Matthew 28:19-20, baptism marks an individual as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
  1. Minister to physical needs as an avenue for sharing the gospel (3:1-10; 19:10-12)
  1. Church planting is at the core of missionary work (14:23)
    1. Paul started churches in all the towns he evangelized, and he appointed pastors for those churches.
  1. Recognize sincere seekers (8:27-31; 10:17-23; 17:19-20)
    1. There are people in the world who are genuinely looking for truth, and who are open to receiving the gospel if someone would present it to them.
  1. Avoid unnecessary offense (16:3; 17:22-23)
  1. Be prepared to share your testimony (chap. 26)
  1. Maximize every opportunity (16:25-34; 17:16-17; 24:24-25; 28:30-31)
    1. Paul shared the gospel wherever he was, to whomever he happened to be with.
  1. Mentor potential missionaries (15:37; 16:1-4)
  1. Evangelize all ethnic and racial groups (10:34-35)
  1. Bring the gospel to all geographical areas (1:8)
  1. Missionaries should be commissioned by a local church (13:2-3; 15:40)
  1. Give God the glory, not man (14:8-18)
    1. Be careful not to pump yourself up when you succeed.
    2. The Holy Spirit was the power behind the extraordinary growth of the early church.
  1. Prepare to evangelize (1:14)
    1. Need the Holy Spirit (2:1-4)
    2. Need training (16:1-3)
    3. Need to pray (1:14; 2:42; 4:24; 13:3)
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