For ten years, my wife Meg and I served in Paris, France as missionaries with TEAM, The Evangelical Alliance Mission. Our goal was clear cut: to finish a church-plant that had been started years before by other missionaries. That meant bringing the church to a point where it could be autonomous – have its own pastor, a meeting place, and a leadership team. By God’s grace, in the ten years we were there, we saw the church grow from 50 people to 80 people. Today the church is autonomous and has actually grown some more under the leadership of the new pastor. It is running about 100 people every Sunday.

A funny thing happened as we were transitioning out of that ministry. My heart’s desire had always been to come to Geneva, Switzerland, to minister. Why? Because Geneva is where I grew up as a child for the first 15 years of my life. My Dad had been an American businessman in Geneva, and during the first 15 years of my life, I never once heard the true biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ! That is amazing when you consider that Geneva is where John Calvin preached 400 years ago!

When my French colleague heard about our intentions of coming to Geneva to minister, one well-intentioned brother said to me, “John, it makes no sense! Why are you leaving France with all of its tremendous needs, and going to a country that is already evangelized (talking about Switzerland)?” I was stunned by his remarks. He then added: “John, I think you basically have three choices: either you go to Switzerland and have an easy ministry. Or you can go back to America and have real easy ministry. Or you can come to France and have a hard yet meaningful ministry.”

I understood where this French brother was coming from. France is, after all, considered the graveyard of missionaries. It is a very tough field. The French are renowned atheist, humanists, pessimist and intellectualists and rationalists. Most are totally unopened to the Gospel. So many evangelism opportunities lead absolutely nowhere. Many missionaries get very discouraged. Today it is estimated that France has 0.03% evangelicals. That means that 99.7% of all French people are headed toward a Christ-less eternity. Switzerland on the other hand, inheritor of the Reformation, has about 5% evangelicals. Yes indeed, compared to France, Switzerland seems evangelized.

So, how did I answer my friend? After some thought, I answered, “It is true that Switzerland is more evangelized than France. But remember that 95% of the population of Switzerland is still headed to a Christ-less eternity!” Then I added. “If you think that going to the country with the greatest need is what constitutes a call to missions, then you should pack up your bags and move to Morocco!” Because Morocco, statistically speaking, is much more needy even than France! It is 99.99% Muslim!” We both smiled.

This incident underlines well the importance of understanding what successful evangelism is. When is it that we are successful? Is it evangelising only where the need is greatest? Is it bearing much fruit? Is it seeing thousands of people come forward during a Billy Graham Crusade? Is it having coffee with a neighbor and sharing your testimony in the name of Jesus Christ? What exactly is successful evangelism? It is an important question, especially for those who may rarely see fruit, like Bob, a missionary friend of ours who actually did spend 12 years in Morocco, and who only saw a handful of people come to Christ, most of whom then abandoned the faith when the Government finally cracked down on their church and expelled Bob from the country!

 The New Testament gives us three wonderful examples of successful evangelistic encounters. But they are surprising. Why? Because they are what I call “low-fruit successful encounters”. Let’s look at them one at a time.


1. John the Baptistthe first example of successful evangelism

In Matthew chapter 3, we are told that John the Baptist was preaching in the desert (v.1). His message was clear: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand (v.2).” Notice that John the Baptist had great theology – he knew full well that a person could not receive forgiveness of sins without repenting. None could be forgiven without first understanding the gravity of their sin. They had to turn away from it and embrace the Lord. And one had to then produce the fruit of repentance (v. 8). The result? Verse 5 tells us that mobs of people came to hear him. People from Jerusalem, from all of Judea, and from the country surrounding the Jordan. Hundreds, maybe thousands came. Many did repent publicly and were baptized. Others did not. But one thing is for sure, this man was preaching the good news that forgiveness of sin was possible.

But then an amazing thing happens in Matthew 14. One day, Herod the tetrarch, or Herod Antipas who was ruler of Galilee, ran into John the Baptist. It turns out that Herod had fallen in love with Herodias, who was his brother Philip’s wife. Herod had talked her into leaving her husband in order to marry him (Mark 6 : 17), thereby violating Leviticus 18:16. This was public knowledge. And John was outraged that a ruler in Israel would commit such an open sin. So what did he do? Did he keep silent? No. John severely rebuked Herod for his sin (Matt 14: 4). And what was the consequence of this rebuke? I wish I could say that Herod recognized his sin, repented, and turned his life to the Saviour! But no such thing happened. Instead, John’s rebuke backfired on him. He was imprisoned, and later beheaded.

Question: Was John the Baptist a successful evangelist? After all, he could have held his tongue and simply let “God” convict Herod! Why stick your neck out like that? Why provoke someone, and especially a powerful leader like Herod? I mean if he had NOT confronted Herod, he might have saved his life and had many more years of preaching the Gospel! He could have led thousands more to the Saviour… But that is not what happened. If Herod was ever going to embrace the Saviour, he like all others needed to repent. John knew that. And that is how he understood success in evangelism. Success, my friend, is apparently not a numbers issue in the eyes of God. We know that, because despite John’s early death for having confronted someone’s sin, Jesus said that “… among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist… (Matt 11:11)!” In the eyes of Jesus, John the Baptist apparently did something right.


2. The Apostle Paul – the second example of successful evangelism

In Acts 21-23, Paul had been protected by the Romans from a mob lynching in Jerusalem. For his protection, he is sent by night to Caesarea (Acts 23:23). Five days later the Jews arrive from Jerusalem to accuse Paul before Felix the Governor of Judea. No charges are held at that time against Paul. More witnesses were needed (24:22).

An amazing thing happens while Paul awaits in prison. The passage tells us that Felix and his wife Drusilla had regular talks with Paul (24:24, 26b). Felix’s wife Drusilla was not only Jewish, but beautiful and only 20 years old at the time. Felix, like Herod, had lured this woman away from her husband as well. And here they were, talking with Paul. And what did they talk about? Verse 24 tells us that they “heard him concerning the faith in Christ.” Paul simply shared the Gospel with them.

But let’s get more specific. What exactly about the Gospel did Paul share with the Governor and his wife? Verse 25 tells us: “He reasoned about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come.” What does that mean? Righteousness means that God demands righteousness of all men because of His holy nature (Matt 5:48), something that we cannot do of ourselves (Eph 2: 8-9). Self-control means that to reach righteousness one would have to control himself from sin – a human impossibility (Romans 3:1-12). Hence, the result of failing to be righteous and to exhibit self-control (apart from salvation) is judgment, which is nothing less than eternal damnation (2 Thess 1:5-10).

Notice Felix’s reaction in verse 25 – “Felix was afraid.” Why? Because he felt royally convicted about his own sin, and he knew deep within that he deserved God’s judgment.

Did Paul, like John the Baptist, pay a price for what he said to them? Yes indeed. Verse 27 tells us that Paul remained two more years in prison.

Think about it. Paul could have kept his mouth shut and not confronted Felix and his wife, and perhaps been freed from prison? After all, no true legal charges had been proven against him. He might have had many more years of ministry before him. But that is not what happened. He did not keep his mouth shut. He shared the Gospel with Felix and Drusilla, despite their stature, like he did with everyone else. He even dared confront them with their sin. And he paid for it.

Question. Was Paul a successful evangelist? I dare say he was.


3. Jesus – the third example of a successful evangelist

Matthew 9:35 tells us something amazing about Jesus: “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.” During his Galilean ministry, Jesus did massive amounts of miracles. Luke 4:40 is more specific still. “When the sun was setting, all those who had any that were sick with various diseases brought them to Him, and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many…”

Jesus did more miracles in Capernaum than in any other town he visited. On that particular day mentioned above, Jesus literally wiped all sickness out of that town! He emptied the hospitals! Notice – He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them.

The reader of Matthew is stunned two chapters later (Ch. 11) to read verses 23 and 24. And you Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven will be brought down to Hades, for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the Day of Judgment than for you.

This is a stunning statement. The people of Capernaum, who had much greater opportunity to embrace Christ having seen His many miracles and heard His preaching, would be judged in Hades (hell) more severely than Sodom, which was known for its homosexual debauchery and pure rejection of God. It was destroyed by fire.

Question: Was Jesus a successful evangelist? He did more miracles in Capernaum than anywhere else, used Capernaum as a base of operation for His Galilean mission, and preached many times there – and what was the result? Except for a few who did embrace Him as Saviour, most rejected Him. The entire city was finally condemned to Hell.



Successful evangelism is then apparently much more than bearing fruit. Oh, of course, fruit is our desired result. Paul told the Romans that he desired to come to them so as to bear fruit among them (v.13-16) where the context is clearly making reference to conversions. We all want men and women to come to Christ. That is our greatest desire. That has been our driving force for the last 16 years of ministry in Paris and in Geneva. But, that is not the definition of success in evangelism. If it were, then John the Baptist, Paul and Jesus were failures. And so am I. And so are you, probably.

What then is successful evangelism? It is faithfully proclaiming the Gospel (Mark 16:15; Rom. 1:16) to all people, so as to put before them a choice – either to believe in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord for the forgiveness of sins, or to reject Christ and bear the guilt of their own sins. Is that not, after all, what John 3:16 simply states?

But we need to remember one very, very important thing as we proclaim the Gospel, wherever we are: That most people who hear the Gospel will reject it. That is exactly what Jesus told us in Matt 7:13-14. He said: “Enter by the narrow gate, for wide is the gate that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life and there are few who find it.” You see, few people will actually believe in Christ. And if we don’t remember that, we will get very discouraged when we see little fruit.

Hence, what we have been called to do is this: to faithfully and unashamedly proclaim the Gospel to all, like John the Baptist did, like Paul did, and like Jesus did. To tell all people they need to repent, turn from their sin, and turn their lives to the Saviour, Jesus Christ. Yes, tell them that they are sinners, and even at times point directly to the sin they need to repent of! And tell them that Jesus is ready to forgive them, if they believe in Him and trust Him. If we do that, we are successful. Oh, it may cost us our lives. It cost John, Paul and Jesus their lives! But they were truly successful.

Therefore, whether we are missionaries in France, in Switzerland, in Morocco or in Fox Valley, Illinois, our task is the same. It is to be faithful sowers of the gospel so that those whom God has chosen will come to Christ.

 That will make us successful evangelists.