Robert E. Coleman, “The Master Plan of Evangelism” (2d ed., abridged)

Our church recently distributed this book to its “small group” leaders, and a good friend who’d already read it said this was the best book on evangelism he ever read (he noted in particular its emphasis on the importance of replication). The whole book is online here: [link:].

The title contains the theme:  “Master Plan” refers, you see, to Jesus’ plan — his approach to ensuring the success of the Great Commission.  The overarching point is to stress quality (creating effective disciples) over mere quantity (number of people who profess, at least in the short-lived moment, to have been converted).  Evangelism must emphasize replication/reproduction, meaning that the new Christians will create more new Christians, who will in turn create still more new Christians, and on and on.  We must prioritize having converts who will in turn make more converts.

There’s a generous foreword by Billy Graham, and this paragraph toward the end is useful in summarizing the book (116, footnote omitted):

     [I]t is not without great significance that the leading evangelist in the world today, Billy Graham, recognizes the tremendous potential of this plan when employed properly in the church. In response to the question, “If you were a pastor of a large church in a principle city, what would be your plan of action?” Mr. Graham replied: “I think one of the first things I would do would be to get a small group of eight or ten or twelve people around me that would meet a few hours a week and pay the price! It would cost them something in time and effort. I would share with them everything I have, over a period of years. Then I would actually have twelve ministers among the laypeople who in turn could take eight or ten or twelve more and teach them. I know one or two churches that are doing that, and it is revolutionizing the church. Christ, I think, set the pattern. He spent most of His time with twelve men. He didn’t spend it with a great crowd. In fact, every time He had a great crowd it seems to me that there weren’t too many results. The great results, it seems to me, came in this personal interview and in the time He spent with His twelve.” Here Mr. Graham is merely echoing the wisdom of Jesus’ method.

Here’s the concluding paragraph before the epilogue (109):

     This is the new evangelism we need.  It is not better methods, but better men and women who know their Redeemer from personal experience — men and women who see his vision and feel his passion for the world — men and women who are willing to be nothing so that he might be everything — men and women who want only for Christ to produce his life in and through them according to his own good pleasure.  This finally is the way that the Master planned for his objective to be realized on earth, and where it is carried through by his strategy, the gates of hell cannot prevail against the evangelism of the world.


Three other notes:

  • The extended physical closeness of the apostles with Jesus is indeed remarkable when you think about it.
  • The author argues that the book of Acts “is really just the unfolding in the life of the growing church the principles of evangelism that have already been outlined here in the life of Christ”(108, footnote to the author’s book on Acts and the “master plan,” The Master Plan of Discipleship); “the Master’s plan for world conquest worked” and “before the [first] century had passed the pagan society of the day had been shaken to its foundations and growing churches had been established in most centers of population” (107).  He then laments, however, that the dramatic success story was not thereafter followed (107-08).
  • Re Matthew 16:18, Peter, and Catholicism,  there’s an interesting discussion at footnotes 2-4 in chapter 8 (136-37).


There are some objections that come immediately to mind, even beyond the obvious problem than none of us is Jesus Christ in our evangelical and teaching skills.  For example, not every saved person would be an effective evangelist, and consider (relatedly) that saving an old person will, ceteris paribus, result in less replication than saving a young one — so are we to discriminate against the old (as well as the inarticulate and the shy) in our evangelism?  And today’s evangelist, especially a layman, cannot possibly have the same extended physical closeness with his proteges that Jesus had with his apostles, can he?  Fair enough, I think, though the author does write this in his epilogue (116):

     A plan like this, of course, is going to take time.  Anything worthwhile does.  But with a little forethought we can plan to do many things together that we would have to do anyway, such as visitation, going to conferences, getting recreation, and even having devotions together.  Thus the time it takes to be together need not be overwhelming.  Likewise, if we are alert, most of the time our disciples could be with us while we are serving others, and in fact, helping us in our larger outreach.

He also has some textual arguments specifically on the point (see John 15:1-17, discussed at 102-03; and Matthew 28:19, discussed at 104 & n.6).

In all events, one need not ignore everyone else when taking to heart the need to target a few individuals especially carefully and to spend a lot of time with them.