Some years ago, James Engel wrote a book which profoundly changed many people's idea of evangelism. The book, What's Gone Wrong With The Harvest? (published by Zondervan) introduced a tool which has become widely used and known as 'the Engel Scale'.
The Engel Scale has been used to introduce many Christians to a new understanding of evangelism. In the past, people have often seen evangelism only in terms of people being converted. Understood this way, most of our evangelism must be counted as pure failure. Few people can live with that level of failure, and few survive as evangelists, or even as effective witnesses, for long.
The Engel Scale completely changes this picture. If you understand something of the journey a person must take in order to discover God, then you know that helping someone take one more step towards God is successful evangelism just as much as helping them over the final line. The Engel Scale helps people to understand this journey.
Evangelists have long known the truth of this, but it has not often been taught and understood. Almost everyone who makes a commitment to Jesus has a story to tell of people and events in their lives bringing them closer and closer to the point of total surrender. Some figures indicate that the average length of the journey, from the time people start looking for God to the time they find Him, is four years. However reliable that figure, and whatever it means, it is clear that for most people the journey to God is a long one.
So the Engel Scale can help us. However, the scale as traditionally used has a number of drawbacks, both in the description of the journey and in the way people have tried to use it. I offer here a modified scale to answer the first problem, and a brief description of the stages and some further thoughts to help answer the second.
This is not intended to be a training manual for people who wish to become evangelists, but something to assist anyone who wants to share their faith in a way which fits what God is doing in the lives of the people they meet.
The Modified Engel Scale is, of course, a vast over simplification of the series of miracles which transforms an unregenerate sinner into a child of God. Each one of us is called individually and responds in a unique way. But the scale contains enough detail, and the details can be seen working out in real life often enough to make it useful.
And the more we allow ourselves to be sensitive to what the Spirit is doing in the lives of the people we meet and speak with, the more fruitful our conversations will be, whatever the outcome.
|The Dynamics of New Birth|
|Level||Description||God Is||Man's Task|
|-12||No God framework||Confirming||Prayer|
|-11||Experience of emptiness||Presence|
|-9||Vague awareness and belief in God|
|-8||Wondering if God can be known||Preparation|
|-7||Aware of Jesus||Guiding|
|-6||Interested in Jesus|
|-5||Experience of Christian love||Proclamation|
|-4||Aware of the basic facts of the gospel||Convicting|
|-3||Aware of personal need|
|-2||Grasp the implications of the gospel||Power|
|-1||Challenged to respond personally||Converting|
|0||Repentance and faith|
|+1||Holy Spirit and baptism||Transforming||Encouragement|
|+2||Functioning member of local Church||Empowering|
|+3||Continuing growth in character, lifestyle and service|
|+4||Part of Team Leadership||Support|
Please note that the characteristics of our task are cumulative: at stage -9 for example, we are to pray and reveal God's presence. For the sake of clarity this has been omitted from the diagram.
The fundamental message behind the scale is that salvation is a process. God is doing different things at the different stages, and we need to modify our behaviour and prayers accordingly. We therefore need to be sensitive to where the person is, and what God is doing right now. People sometimes move through the stages quite quickly, and sometimes more than one stage at once (Paul moved from -7 to 0 in a few seconds on the Road to Damascus) but this does not happen very often.
The various stages can be seen as steps along the traditional 'bridge' diagram.
Before looking at the stages in detail, it is interesting to note that the twelve steps between -11 and 0 fall naturally into four groups of three. In each of these four groups, we have an experience followed by an intellectual step followed by the corresponding personal or emotional step. This is the way God usually works: experience, message, response. Or, if you prefer, from feeling through intellect to the will. This idea is followed up in Appendix 1.
The steps from +1 to +4 do not follow the same neat pattern. Stage +1 is, in the Bible, part of the Salvation package. It is shown as a distinct stage here because that is the experience of most people, not because God wants it to be that way. Stages +2 to +4 are all present in embryo in stages 0 and +1: the whole of the Christian life consists of working out and learning to use what we have already been given in Christ. God continues to teach us through the same pattern: experience, message, response; but from this point He takes us along diverging paths.