Every now and then, even before working for Rock the River, friends have asked me sincerely about the down sides of large scale outreaches. Usually they mean well and are simply expressing their serious concern about follow up and discipleship. Here's my thoughts as I have considered whether or not we should be doing outreach en masse.
Maybe you have no problems with massive outreaches, but the typical issues and concerns raised are:
-The depth of the discipleship that takes place after. Are people praying a prayer or actually repenting of their sins?
-Along with this, whether new converts are actually plugged into the local church. Are they really Christians? Have they really been incorporated into the family of faith?
-The costs of such endeavors (if we can really put a price tag on the importance of a saved soul), is it really worth the time, energy, expense and effort of local churches?
Here's a few of my thoughts on why outreaches on a mass scale are Biblically based, and also the importance of asking the above questions in order to please God through our mission:
-My wife and I sensed a call to mass outreach before we even met each other. We hadn't grown up seeing this, it was simply the voice of God. If God still speaks to people's hearts about a certain style of ministry, he must still be in this business.
-A co-worker for BGEA who worked with Billy Graham for over 30 years shared with me recently how a true mass outreach mobilizes individual Christians to reach a friend for the Lord. Mass Outreach, then, is no longer to be seen by the Church as Mass Outreach, but instead one on one outreach on a Mass scale.
-Mass Outreach does something for the local church. It becomes a catalyst for local churches, ministries, groups, Christians. By unifying the Church can do more. Of course, not everyone will usually get involved, but they will miss a blessing from God.
-When a mass outreach is done by dozens to hundreds or even thousands of local churches it has an effect into the unchurched community far beyond what one or two mega-churches could do themselves. Together we can accomplish way more, in terms anywhere from scale of production, breadth of marketing to non-Christians, buzz, prayer covering and much more.
-As for money, when it comes to Christian events, mass outreaches are the last thing to complain about. First because Americans spend more on dog food a year than missions. Second, there is a double standard with this question - most who ask will willingly spend money freely on a concert of their favorite worship artist, or buy any number of unnessecary things in a day, yet question spending money on the one thing that lasts past this life - the precious souls of their neighbors. With that being said, in many parts of the world, mass outreaches can be unbelievably inexpensive, and sometimes even free. Still, any amount we spend is worth it and reaps dividends through changed lives for generations for the Kingdom of God.
Now for the Biblical basis:
-Acts 2, the start of the Church and of our faith was a mass outreach, then people connecting in to the first local church. These two can and should work together beautifully, complemeting and harmonizing with each other in every way. God can save a massive amount of people in one day, in one moment, and he wants to. He's done this since the foundation of Christianity.
-Then as we continue to look through Acts we see this pattern continue, large scale outreach and preaching to crowds moving into integration of new believers into local bodies that meet both in large assemblies and in each other's homes.
To Follow Up:
-The questions raised above are vital to any successful large scale outreach. It's not enough to preach, although this is a great start. We must also preach clearly and simply the full Gospel with a call to repentance and faith in Christ. And we must be prepared and trained to teach others and disciple (2 Tim. 2:2). When we fail to prepare and make this "net" of local believers trained to follow up, and when we fail to do everything we possibly can to assist new believers in their walk with Christ, we diminish the great purpose of God for Mass outreaches.
-Scripture makes it clear that not everyone who responds with initial excitement will follow through with their said commitment to faith. Even if you lead one friend to the Lord who you've been praying for, for years; they may not keep their commitment to Christ. There is only so much anyone can do. Even Jesus had crowds of people who initially responded only later to prove unrepentant (see Matthew 11:20-24). Could we ever have the audacity to ask if Jesus ministry to these crowds was really Biblical or worthwhile? I think that history has shown the effect tracked goes far beyond one year after the Mass outreach. I can't begin to tell you all the stories of pastors I'm meeting who were led to the Lord in years past only because the Church engaged in it's historic and ever relevant past - Mass Outreach.