“…some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” … A few men became followers of Paul and believed.” Acts 17:32-34
“Did many people become Christians?” she asked enthusiastically. “Only time will tell” was my accurate though fairly lame response.
“Yes, but did many people respond to the invitation?” she persisted.
Now I was in difficulty. I knew what she wanted to know and could give her the answer that would satisfy her inquiry and encourage her enthusiasm. I knew how many people had been to the meeting—filled in response cards—responded to the offer to find out more—indicated they had prayed to become Christians. But should she know?
‘We do not publish statistics’ was the official policy decision. Censorship is one of the instruments of oppression. Those in power and authority exercise control by restricting the flow of information. It can always be justified by concerns such as privacy or national security. But it is those in power who make the decision whether to release information or retain it, and it is rarely in their interests to publish.
The response rate of people at an evangelistic meeting is hardly a national security issue. Moreover, speaking in the anonymity of statistics does not breach any confidentiality. So why the reticence about releasing results?
Organisers ask Christians to work, pray, give, invite friends, attend, talk to strangers who come, and follow up those who respond. Surely Christians deserve to hear the outcome of their labours.
Sometimes we are coy about statistics because there are no positive results. From all the labour we have seen no interest shown. The whole scheme was a flop. Organisers and speaker do not want this known. They often do not want to know it themselves.
The reverse reason can also be the case. Sometimes the results can be so positive that to provide them seems to be boasting of our effectiveness. What do you say when your response rate is higher than Billy Graham’s!
However, the real problem is the meaning of the statistics. When seven per cent make a “decision for Christ”, have seven per cent become Christians? And is evangelism to be judged by response? And are positive results the only ones worth measuring?
I once saw a response rate double that of Billy Graham’s. It was overwhelming. However, that night nothing much of the gospel of Jesus was preached. It was a motivational talk consistent with—but with minimal reference to—Christianity!
The gospel does call for a response. Preaching it without seeking repentance is inadequate. Yet the call to respond is not evangelism. The gospel is not about what I do. It is what God has already done in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must communicate Christ and him crucified.
We should expect both positive and negative responses, for the gospel is the stench of death as well as the perfume of life. The number of inquirers is the number of people the organisers have to follow up. Others do not indicate their response to the organisers. Their conversations with Christian friends are not counted.
People are magnificently complex. Each has their own story. Each is responding slightly differently to the gospel. Each must be cared for individually. Each has their own process of rebellion or submission to God.
Public evangelism, with large meetings and events, are great opportunities to make Christ known. But people must be cared for personally as well. Statistics tell us very little about people.
But my friend’s inquiry for statistics gave me opportunity to discuss the wonderfully messy process of public evangelism and personal follow up.