Most commonly associated with missionary work, evangelism is derived from a Greek term meaning "good news." The mission of evangelicals is to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and his ministry.
Evangelism can be examined in four different stages: the time of Christ, missionary operations, the modern era, and the late 20th century to the present. Evangelism has a global objective in increasing faith in Jesus Christ. In the New Testament, Christ tells his disciples to "go make disciples of all nations." After the death of Christ, some interpreted this passage literally, and evangelism soon became a Christian mission enterprise.
Evangelism dates, then, all the way back to the first century C.E. Evangelism spread the word of Christ throughout the Roman Empire, Persia, and parts of India. Once Christianity became the dominant religion in Europe, missionaries were sent overseas in order to evangelize. Much of this missionary work was carried out in Africa and the Middle East. Since the late 1800s, evangelism in America has been more commonly associated with animated preachers and, more recently, with conservative politics. Preachers such as Dwight L. Moody, Billy Sunday, Aimee Semple McPherson, and Billy Graham are examples.
The year 1954 marked the first television outreach by an evangelical preacher. Televangelism, as it came to be known, led to the creation of an "electronic church" that allowed worshippers and curious viewers to receive sermons while sitting in their living rooms. Popular televangelists include Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson (founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network), and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Dedicated to the conversion of nonevangelists, televangelists Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Swaggart used their airtime to warn viewers of the evils of American society.
Several issues covered in television outreach stem from American society and the perilous consequences of everyday decisions. Homosexuality, divorce, interracial marriage, and financial responsibility are all frequent subjects in evangelist programs-as is finances. With regard to finances, viewers are often solicited to pay money to outreach programs or in some cases even to the preachers themselves. Several cases of fraud have surfaced regarding evangelist tithing. While there are negative stereotypes associated with evangelism in the United States, much can be said about its positive contributions to society. Bob Jones Sr., one of the most popular evangelists, built Bob Jones University, which has been thriving for more than 80 years. Beginning in Florida in 1927 and moving to South Carolina in 1946, the university is known as the "citadel of biblical Christianity." Jones's vision was to establish a center for Christians from around the world that would be known for its academic excellence and what he referred to as "refined standards of behavior." Learning centers such as Bob Jones University advocate that Christ should be the center of all thought and conduct of students.
Evangelism is a broader term than fundamentalism, although often the two have been used interchangeably. However, it is possible to be a community or individual with a strong belief in the value of evangelizing, and yet not be identified with the central characteristics of fundamentalism. On the other hand, all Christian fundamentalists believe in and value evangelizing.
Today in America, evangelical churches are growing at a faster pace than other more "mainline" churches, especially in the South and Midwest. In doing so, they have become a major force in American politics and in shaping American culture.