As we look back at the history of evangelism in United States it is evident that the primary means has changed. Early evangelistic efforts in the United States were centered on the local community and done through the efforts of the local church. Men like Dutch Reformed Pastor Theodore Frelinghuysen (1692-1747) who upon coming to the colonies in the early 1700’s was saddened by the spiritual condition of the churches and preached the necessity of a “vital religious experience.” A fervent evangelist, Frelinghuysen was in many ways a forerunner to the Great Awakening.
Frelinghuysen was influenced by Pia Desidera or “Heartfelt Desire for God-pleasing Reform” written by pietist Phillip Spencer in 1675. The third section of this influential book was entitled Proposals to Correct Conditions in the Church, which included 1) a renewed focus on “a more extensive use of the Word of God” privately, to the family and studied in groups. 2) The priesthood of all believers with the goal to see more laity involved in the ministry of the church. 3) A greater emphasis on the believer putting their faith into practice, 4) and an avoidance of needless debate by placing love above dispute, “as no soul would be won through dispute.” 5) His longest proposal advocated a change in how pastors were trained as he emphasized the place of piety or personal spirituality along with that of formal training. 6) Last, he proposed that sermons use loving persuasion to edify rather than be displays of rhetoric or intellectual argument.
The most well-known evangelist of the First Great Awakening was New England pastor and evangelist Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). Edwards began his ministry as an apprentice under his grand-father Solomon Stoddard. When he later became the minister of that church in Northampton he too became concerned about the spiritual deadness in the church, and as a result preached a sermon on the doctrine of justification by faith alone that resulted in a tremendous work of the Holy Spirit. This appears to have caught him by surprise as he wrote, “the spirit of God began extraordinarily to set in. Revival grew, and souls did as it were come by floods to Christ.” Edwards, who saw tremendous fruit in his evangelistic efforts, primary focus was a reliance on the work of the Holy Spirit as he faithfully preached in a church setting.