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FELLOWSHIP – THE KEY TO EVANGELISM

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, July 26, 2015

“And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:46-47).


Those Christians in the first church had a great time together. They heard sermons together. They sang together. They had meals together. Dr. Thomas Hale said,

What a godly, joyful and caring community that first church was! When other people saw the lives of those first [Christians], they came to join their fellowship. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (The Applied New Testament Commentary, Kingsway Publications, 1977; note on Acts 2:46, 47).

As late as the second century, the early Christians made joyful fellowship the center of their churches. The ancient writer Tertullian (160-220 A.D.) wrote about “the affection [and love] which marks the Christian brethren assembled together. The meetings were opened and closed with prayer. Worship, fellowship and feasting [having a meal together] are all carried out under the Father’s eye...the pagans saw how the Christians loved one another” (Michael Green, Ph.D., Evangelism in the Early Church, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003, pp. 255, 256).

Christian love and fellowship was a powerful force in attracting unbelievers to come into the churches.

“And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47).

No wonder tens of thousands of young people came into those early churches! They had a powerful message of salvation in Jesus Christ! And it was fun to go to those churches and sing together, and have meals together!

But that is not true in our evangelical churches today. Statistics show that 88% of those raised in evangelical churches leave, never to return, before they are 25 years old. And our churches are not able to attract new young people from the world. Less than 2% come into the church from the world. We desperately need to go back to what the early churches did. We need to do it now! It will be too late 25 years from now! So, let us take a good, hard look at the situation. Let us reevaluate what we are doing.

I. First, current methods of evangelism don’t bring in today’s young people.

Those who study the statistics of evangelism agree that 80% of those who do become church members do so before the age of 21. That figure shows that our churches are doing something wrong with the group (age 15 to 21). Those young people are most likely group to become new church members.

Many preachers try to solve this problem by becoming “progressive.” They bring in new translations of the Bible. They throw out the traditional hymns. They bring in snare drums, Power Points, overhead projectors and “worship leaders.” They hire youth pastors. They make the “worship service” 45 minutes long and cut the preaching to 15 minutes. They close the Sunday evening church services. All of this is supposed to bring in young people. I say that’s balderdash, flummery, gibble-gabble, drivel! Who has it brought in? Where has it worked?

“Oh,” you say, “in the super churches! It works there!” But are you sure that you’re right? I say you are not right. I say that these so-called “progressive” methods have utterly failed to bring unchurched young people between 15 and 21 years old into our churches.

I read an interesting article titled “Contemporary Churches Aren’t Attracting Many Contemporaries” (World Magazine, August 20, 2005, p. 24). I attached the whole article at the end of this sermon. I’ll give you a copy when you leave this afternoon. In that article, Clint Rainey, of the Dallas Morning News, said in an interview that the “seeker friendly” mega-churches are designed to attract middle-aged Baby Boomers, who build these super churches by transferring “in” from smaller congregations. This statement reflects Dr. James Dobson’s evaluation that over “80 percent of church growth results from transfers of membership” (Focus on the Family Newsletter, August 1988, p. 2). Clint Rainey, that college-age journalist, said, “The younger crowd has had its fill of big flashy churches…These churches attract middle-age adults…but [not] my generation.” He says these mega-churches are “impersonal in every way.” He says, “Young people today are not impressed with technology, big buildings, and commercialism…Young adults today crave real religion.” Then the article says, “Changes implemented to make Christianity more attractive to young people are really turning them off.”

The article continued by saying, “Many megachurches have grown not by making new converts to Christianity but at the expense of small congregations, doing to them what Wal-Mart does to small businesses. But in congregations that are so big the pastor does not know his own members and the members do not know each other, it is difficult to give people…the care…they often need.”

There you have it – from a writer of your generation, a young man who knows what he’s talking about! Calvary Chapel, Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, and the rest of them, are just entertaining the older Baby Boomers! They are not reaching your generation! Their methods of evangelism do not reach your generation! Most of the methods used to evangelize today are based on “myths” or “fables.” The Bible says,

“They shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (II Timothy 4:4).

II. Second, the New Testament method of evangelism
is the only way to bring in young people today.

Which takes us back to our text,

“And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:46-47).

The Greek word “agape” was the main word used to describe the early churches. The expositor W. E. Vine called “agape,” “The characteristic word of Christianity,” because it is at the heart of the Christian message – God loves us with agape love (cf. W. E. Vine, M.A., An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Revell, 1966, volume III, p. 20).

God sent Jesus, to save us from sin out of His agape love for us. Jesus died on the Cross to pay for our sins out of agape love for us. He rose physically from the dead and lives at the right hand of God, praying for us out of agape love. Yes, agape, Christian love, is “the characteristic word of Christianity.” Christianity, in its pure form, is all about God loving us, and us loving each other and reaching out to others with Christian love! That’s the central word of Christianity – agape – Christian love. Christian love “never faileth” (I Corinthians 13:8). The "gimmicks" and the big “show” the mega-churches put on is failing to reach your generation. But “charity [agape love] never faileth” (I Corinthians 13:8). We need to make Christian love central in our evangelism if we want to bring in the young people of our day!

The early Christians expressed their agape love to each other and all men by having a “love feast,” an “agape” banquet every Sunday. They sat down and had a meal together. The Christians of the first century had a banquet together every Sunday. They called it an “agape feast.” Dr. John MacArthur, though wrong on the Blood, was right when he said that they had meals like this every Sunday (cf. The MacArthur Study Bible, notes on Acts 2:46 and Acts 20:7). And their evangelism centered around the big, happy meals they had together!

That’s called “fellowship.” I wrote a little song about it that Mr. Griffith sang a moment ago.

Come home to Jesus, the table is spread;
Come home to dinner and let us break bread.
Jesus is with us, so let it be said,
Come home to dinner and let us break bread!

The fellowship’s sweet and your friends will be here;
We’ll sit at the table, our hearts filled with cheer.
Jesus is with us, so let it be said,
Come home to dinner and let us break bread!

The big city people just don’t seem to care;
They’ve little to offer and no love to spare.
But come home to Jesus and you’ll be aware,
There’s food on the table and friendship to share!

Come home to Jesus, the table is spread;
Come home to dinner and you will be fed.
Your friends will be waiting, so let it be said,
Come home to dinner and let us break bread!

Chorus:

Come home to the church and eat, Gather for fellowship sweet;
It’ll be quite a treat, When we sit down to eat!
   (“Come Home to Dinner” by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.,
         to the tune of “On the Wings of a Snow White Dove”).

Sing the chorus!

Come home to the church and eat, Gather for fellowship sweet;
It’ll be quite a treat, When we sit down to eat!

As John Fawcett put it,

Blest be the tie that binds Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds Is like to that above.
   (“Blest Be the Tie” by John Fawcett, 1740-1817).

Sing it!

Blest be the tie that binds Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds Is like to that above.

Paul prayed for the church at Thessalonica. He said,

“And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you” (I Thessalonians 3:12).

Agape – Christian love! That’s what we must have toward each other and to everyone who comes in to our church!

Most of the methods used in so-called “evangelism” today are based on myths and fables.

“They shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables [Greek – myths]” (II Timothy 4:4).

The “progressive” methods appeal to the old Baby Boomer generation – people who already consider themselves to be Christians. But these methods are based on myths, and they do not reach today’s young people of your generation. Why? Because they are not based solidly on the Bible.

What could be more solidly Biblical and “fundamental” than having “love one toward another, and toward all men” (I Thessalonians 3:12)? You hardly hear anyone talking about fellowship and Christian love “toward one another, and toward all men.” And yet that is exactly what you find in the New Testament. The ancient pagan writers said, “The Christians love each other and they love the whole world.” That was something these ancient pagan authors couldn’t understand. But the young people of the first century understood it! And that’s why they literally poured into the early churches! In the cold, heartless pagan Roman world of the first century, those young people found warmth and friendship in the “agape” fellowship of the local church!

W. E. Vine called “agape” (Christian love) “The characteristic word of Christianity [which is] used in the New Testament to describe [God’s love] toward His Son…the human race…to such as believe on the Lord Jesus Christ…to His children concerning their attitude one toward another…and toward all men” (W. E. Vine, ibid., pp. 20-21).

God’s “agape” love sent Jesus to the Cross to pay the penalty for our sins.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

God’s love for you sent Christ to the Cross to pay the penalty for your sins. God’s love for you raised Christ physically from the dead to give you eternal life. God’s love for you draws you to Christ for salvation. God’s love for you drew you into this church this morning to hear the gospel and to experience our “love one toward another, and toward all men” (I Thessalonians 3:12).

And I hope that you will come back tonight! We’re going to have a tremendous time together! I will preach a sermon on prayer and fasting. And we will celebrate the birthday of Dr. Christopher Cagan, and have dinner together. We’re going to have a great time tonight! Come with us tonight! 

Come home to Jesus, the table is spread;
Come home to dinner and you will be fed.
Your friends will be waiting, so let it be said,
Come home to dinner and let us break bread!
Come home to the church and eat, Gather for fellowship sweet;
It’ll be quite a treat, When we sit down to eat!

Sing the chorus with me!

Come home to the church and eat, Gather for fellowship sweet;
It’ll be quite a treat, When we sit down to eat!

Dr. Chan, please lead us in prayer.

If this sermon blessed you please send an e-mail to Dr. Hymers and
tell him. Please also tell him what country you are writing from. Dr.
Hymers’ e-mail is at rlhymersjr@sbcglobal.net (click here). You can
write to Dr. Hymers in any language, but write in English if you can.

(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: Acts 2:42-47.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Come Home to Dinner” (by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.).


THE OUTLINE OF

FELLOWSHIP – THE KEY TO EVANGELISM

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:46-47).

I.   First, current methods of evangelism don’t bring in today’s young
people, II Timothy 4:4.

II.  Second, the New Testament method of evangelism is the only way
to bring in young people today, I Corinthians 13:8;
I Thessalonians 3:12; John 3:16.


The article by Clint Rainey, of the Dallas Morning News, is now given in its entirety for your examination and edification.


PACKED, BUT STILL EMPTY


“Contemporary” churches aren’t attracting many contemporaries


Clint Rainey, a journalism student interning at The Dallas Morning News, is put off by the “seeker-friendly” approach to church that – he contends – does a good job filling up massive church buildings but leaves many feeling spiritually empty.

In his opinion piece for the paper – “The younger crowd has had its fill of big, flashy churches” (July 25, 2005) – Mr. Rainey recalls how the church he grew up in transformed from a small congregation of a few hundred members into a megachurch of nearly 10,000. He says that the contemporary touches are designed to appeal to baby boomers, not to today’s young people. “These churches attract middle-age adults like iron filings,” he says. “But my generation isn’t in such awe.”

Mr. Rainey finds the new churches too materialistic and “impersonal in every way.” He says that young people today are not impressed with technology, big buildings, and commercialism. He decries the overall emphasis on “stuff” that plagues our culture and now our churches. He says that today’s young adults crave real religion.

Mr. Rainey closes his column with these haunting words: “In Europe, mass religious apostasy left its churches people-free, but the American megachurch could bring this irony: We, unlike the Europeans, have people in our big, empty churches.”

Set aside the debates over the church-growth movement. Also set aside for a moment the irony that changes implemented to make Christianity more attractive to young people are actually turning them off. The challenge of “empty churches” – even those that are packed with people – deserves attention.

Part of the problem is what sociologist and megachurch pastor Leith Anderson calls “generic Christianity.” He points out that today, one can go into a church (especially a megachurch) of nearly any denomination – Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Wesleyan, Lutheran – and be unable to notice any difference among them. They all are likely to use the same praise songs and contemporary worship style. The sermons will tend to be about practical biblical tips for successful living, and go light on doctrine and sin. Also, all of these different denominations tend to use Sunday-school curriculum and other material from the same nondenominational publishers. These companies purposefully avoid all controversial issues and doctrinal distinctives, which would limit their market share.

As a result, “generic Christianity” is erasing denominational differences and giving churches a brand-new theological framework. Mr. Anderson thinks this is a good thing. Whereas the ecumenical movement among liberal mainline churches tried but largely failed to unify churches from the top down, the church-growth movement has succeeded, unifying the different denominations on a grassroots level.

And yet, this unity comes at a cost. Both liberal theologians and church-growth theologians downplay historic doctrines, seeing them as divisive and irrelevant. Both value what is new over what is old. And so both cut themselves off from the spiritual heritage of historic Christianity. Since some Christians today make up their own theology and practices as they go along, oblivious to the time-tested, battle-tested experiences of the church through the ages, their spirituality can seem shallow or “empty.”

Generic Christianity is not found in megachurches alone, of course, and many very large, “mega” congregations are still faithful to Scripture and to their own spiritual heritage. “Nondenominational” churches can draw on all of the strains of historic Christianity, instead of rejecting them all. And in a cultural climate that values “diversity,” the rich diversity of Christian churches should thrive.

As should small churches. Many megachurches have grown not by making new converts to Christianity but at the expense of small congregations, doing to small churches what Wal-Mart does to small businesses. But in congregations that are so big the pastor does not know his own members and the members do not know each other, it is difficult to give people the pastoral care – and the discipline – that they often need to be spiritually “full.”

But this has been neglected by churches of every size. Both large and small congregations must find ways not only to fill their pews but to fill their members.


By Gene Edward Veith, Cultural Editor, World Magazine, August 20, 2005, page 24.

(End of the World Magazine article)