East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 8, No. 1, Winter 2000, Covering the Former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe

Evangelism in Russia:  What Works and What Doesn't

Mark. J. Harris

Mass Evangelism
Advantages - Large meetings in rented halls became associated with visiting Western evangelists in Russia in the 1990s. The primary advantage is that a neutral setting can be arranged where many people can be invited to hear the gospel. Advertising can be used to attract people and gifted speakers can be utilized.

Disadvantages - The main disadvantage relates to the misuse of this method by many Evangelical groups. Many Russians have responded to a public gospel invitation by performing the required step (raising hands, coming forward, praying a prayer, filling out a response card, etc.) but only a minute fraction of these have ended up in churches. Russians are often seen to respond due to the actions of the group around them, but with no deep understanding. A speaker cannot respond to the particular questions and problems of each listener in a mass group and the large numbers who respond in various ways make follow-up problematic.

Primary Usage - This method is best used when the main goal is general exposure to the gospel.  Those listeners who are serious will come to further meetings in various kinds of neutral venues or give a trained believer the opportunity to visit them. They will be much less likely to take the big step of visiting a church.

Church Evangelism
Advantages - An Evangelical worship service provides a setting where the visitor can observe a large group of believers together and see what they do. The site will more likely remain the same for future visits, unlike those rented for public meetings. The message of the gospel is combined with singing, prayer, and other forms of worship. In addition, bringing the young person to become a living part of a church is the goal of evangelism, so this step must necessarily happen sometime.

Disadvantages - The church can be an intimidating place for a young person to visit and may be too strange for an initial exposure to the gospel. The pulpit messages are less likely to be directed to the visitor and may be hard to understand.

Primary Usage - This method is best used when the main goal is exposure to worship. Visitors not only hear the gospel, but also see it being demonstrated corporately. The life of the body need not be described, because it is in fact experienced. A trained member has more freedom to follow up by conversing with a person who has visited the church. The resulting personal relationship is a more fruitful method of evangelism, especially in Russia.

Small Group Evangelism
Advantages - A small group, usually meeting in a home, provides a more natural setting for a young Russian who can see how believers interact with each other, care for each other, and pray together. A visitor can see that believers are normal people, with a living faith that exists outside the four walls of the church.  A visitor to a small group is much more conspicuous than in a church service, aiding in follow-up.

Disadvantages - The small group may be the most susceptible to being considered a cult, and this fact will frighten many away. It also may be less likely that a person will be there with adequate training to properly communicate with a visitor with particular needs. Visitors may feel conspicuous in a small group and thus be intimidated.

Primary Usage - This method is best used when the main goal is exposure to fellowship. The life of a church is best seen in the lives of its members and godly fellowship is the most important expression of that life.

One-on-One Evangelism
Advantages - This method has the advantage of being the most flexible. It can occur anytime, at any place. The person doing this kind of work is able to focus attention on one person, allowing for more particular probing into the person's special needs and questions. This is the only method that can be used with the many people who will not accept any invitation to a group. A loving, wise believer can take the time and build trust, being careful not to rush youth into something for which they are not ready.

Disadvantages - In Russia one person evangelizing another is a very strange thing.  Young people will likely feel that this is not a normal person talking to them. The fear of cults will also be a factor because this is the common approach of cults in Russia. The young person may be very reluctant to open up, so the method is often limited to close acquaintances or gifted personal evangelists.

Primary Usage - This method is best used when the main goal is exposure to personal counsel. Young Russians can see how this one person cares enough to take time and deal with their personal life problems. When church members are trained to do this kind of evangelistic ministry sensitively, it can become the most important way to give people first exposure to the gospel.

Mark J. Harris is a candidate for the doctor of missiology degree at Western Seminary, Portland, Oregon.  He has been involved in evangelism and pastoral training in Russia since 1993.  His wife Delisa ministers in a prison for teenage girls near Riazan.

 Mark. J. Harris, "Evangelism in Russia:  What Works and What Doesn't," East-West Church & Ministry Report 8 (Winter 2000), 5-6.

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© 2000 East-West Church and Ministry Report
ISSN 1069-5664

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