Author: Ron Graham
The mark of successful evangelism is not measured by numbers. Though few are converted, we may still be succeeding in the evangelical task entrusted to us by the Lord.
Jesus measures success in terms of our dedication to the task, not in thousands baptized. Our responsibility is to tell the good message faithfully, boldly, unceasingly, undaunted by lack of response. The conversions come when hearers with good and honest hearts are reached with our message. Our duty is to preach the message. God will take care of the results (Acts 2:41, 4:31, 5:42, Acts 8:4, Acts 16:14-15, 2Timothy 2:2, Luke 8:15).
Results do, in some circumstances, come in thousands baptized. On the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, 3000 were baptized (Acts 2:41). But in Athens, where Paul preached the same gospel, only "a few men became followers of Paul and believed" (Acts 17:34). Who was more successful in evangelism —Peter who preached in Jerusalem where he had thousands of responses, or Paul in Athens where he had only a few? Of course! both were equally successful in the Lord's eyes, because both acquitted themselves superbly in evangelism. The difference was in their audiences. Peter's “success” is explained by the composition of his audience: "God-fearing Jews from every nation of the world" (Acts 2:5). These devout pilgrims were eager to receive the gospel. They were good soil for the seed. Paul's audience were pagans, agnostic philosophers, and Paul's “failure” is attributable to that.
Naturally, it makes sense to seek out good soil, to follow a strategy in our evangelism that targets our message to “the market” where possible. But Jesus said, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every one in all creation" (Mark 16:15-16). We should try hard to do that, and try hardest to get the message to the good soil where the return for our efforts will be the most abundant harvest. The thing we must avoid, however, is losing heart ourselves and making only a token effort at outreach and evangelism, on the grounds that “it isn't any use”, or there seems to be so little good soil and “nobody's interested”.
As just quoted, Jesus said, "Go ye into all the world and preach..." There is our task and responsibility. Jesus went on to say, "He who believes and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:15-16), and that is the responsibility of our hearers; we have little say or control over how people respond. Therefore, if we faithfully discharge our duty to preach, then we are successful in evangelism.
Noah was quite a “failure” as a preacher, in terms of how many he converted. Yet God accounted him a success in terms of faith and righteousness (Hebrews 11:7).
You can be a success in spreading the gospel, by planting the gospel wherever you find opportunity, and by carefully trying to open up opportunities to invite friends and acquaintances to hear the word of Christ. If you steadfastly set about doing this, and look hard for the good soil among your friends and neighbours, the results will come, because there are good hearts out there and you can find them with God's helpful providence.
But regardless of results, it is making the effort that is success, and refusing to try that is failure. On that basis are you a success?