Street Preaching: The Public Proclamation Of The Gospel
Many people today may not be used to seeing preaching outside of a church, but the form of evangelism known as street preaching, also known as open-air preaching, has existed by the mandate of God since Biblical times.
What is Street Preaching?
Street preaching can be defined as preaching the Word of God in the public arena so as to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who would never set foot in a church. Those who engage in preaching on the streets are called street preachers or open-air preachers. Normally, as can be derived from the name, these preachers deliver their sermons on public streets and sidewalks, in public parks, or other areas that are open to the general public.
At times, street preachers may stand upon a stool or other object to be seen in large crowds. Additionally, depending on the noise level of the venue and the size of the crowd, a street preacher may use amplification to ensure that his voice will be heard above the clamor of his surroundings.
Street preaching is generally unscripted, as compared to a written sermon delivered during a church service, and may be spontaneous, as opposed to a planned and advertised gathering. Street preachers address the public with the proclamation of Scripture, calling upon men to repent of sin and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Biblical Examples of Street Preachers
The Bible is filled with examples of bold men of God that lifted up their voice in the streets, including Jesus Christ himself.
In the Old Testament, God instructed through Isaiah the prophet, "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins." (Isaiah 58:1) Similarly, following Isaiah, God commanded a young man named Jeremiah, "Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, 'Thus saith the Lord.'" (Jeremiah 2:2) Years later, the Lord also called a man named Ezekiel to speak against the evil deeds of his nation, instructing, "Son of man, I have made thee a watchman over the house of Israel. Therefore, hear the word at My mouth and give them warning from Me. When I say unto the wicked, 'Thou shalt surely die,' and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked of his wicked way, to save his life, the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at thy hand."
Perhaps one of the most well-known street preachers of the Old Testament is Jonah, who was instructed by God, "Arise, go unto Ninevah, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee." (Jonah 3:2) Scripture states that when Jonah began to enter into the city, he lifted up his voice, and the entire city of Ninevah thus repented at the preaching of the Word of God.
Jesus himself preached in the streets and various public places. Mark 1:15 explains that after the street preacher John the Baptist was put into prison for denouncing Herod's adultery with his brother's wife, "Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of the kingdom of God and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye, and believe the Gospel." Matthew 11:2 also states that Jesus often went out "to teach and to preach in [various] cities." As he did so, "[g]reat multitudes were gathered unto him and he spoke many things unto them." (Matthew 13:2 &3)
One of the last commandments Jesus gave to his disciples was to "[g]o into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature," (Mark 16:15) "and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations." (Luke 24:47) Therefore, the disciples followed in the footsteps of Christ "as they went forth and preached everywhere." (Mark 16:20)
Street Preaching Throughout History
Although those who engaged in street preaching were often persecuted, including every one of Jesus' disciples, who all lost their lives for preaching the Gospel, street preaching continued faithfully throughout history. For a number of years, the church endured great affliction, yet it was not ashamed to rise to the occasion and declare the truth of God's Word, especially due to the increasing apostasy being perpetuated by false religious establishments.
Over the past 500 years, a number of notable ministers of the Gospel have engaged in street preaching, both in America and around the world. During the 1500's, a preacher named William Farel began ministering on the streets, of whom it was said that he "turned every stump and stone into a pulpit, [and] every house, every street, and marketplace into a church." In the 1600's, John Bunyan, who is known for penning the classic allegory
felt the call of God to become a preacher, and thus began to engage in street preaching. He was arrested and jailed a number of times for preaching without a license.
In the mid-1700's, a preacher named George Whitefield traveled throughout America and England, preaching in parks and fields to reach out to people who normally did not attend church. Large crowds would often gather to hear Whitefield's sermons, even into the tens of thousands. The well-known preacher John Wesley also began preaching in the streets during this time, and Jonathan Edwards, who is known for his sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," additionally also declared himself to be a strong proponent of street preaching. Edwards exclaimed, "It is the cooping yourselves up in rooms that has damped the work of God, which never was and never will be carried out to any purpose without going into the highways and hedges and compelling men and women to come in."
William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, began preaching in the streets of England at age 23. In 1852, he became a full-time street preacher after resigning from his other ministerial duties, which he felt too often kept him from his evangelistic work on the streets. Booth once stated, "No sort of defense is needed for preaching outdoors, but it would take a very strong argument to prove that a man who has never preached beyond the walls of his meeting house has done his duty. A defense is required for services within buildings rather than for worship outside of them." Other well-known street preachers during this time period included Charles Spurgeon and D.L. Moody.
Is Street Preaching for Today?
Today, many people think of a preacher as a person who speaks behind a podium every week during a church service. Some may even say that preaching should be kept within the confines of the church. However, the Gospel does society no good if the saved only tell each other how to be saved, and the church is not being obedient if it is not carrying out the commandment of the Great Commission.
Since the lost will not come to church, the church must go to the lost. But is street preaching still an effective way to reach the masses? According to the words of Christ, the public proclamation of the Gospel must continue until the end of time: "And this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come." (Matthew 24:14)
Romans 10:13-17 explains why: "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him in whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent? As it is written, how beautiful are the feet of them that preach the Gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things. But they have not all obeyed the Gospel. ... So then faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God."
Scripture also explains, "[I]t pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." (1 Corinthians 1:21) Therefore, street preaching, proclaiming the Gospel to the lost, is a method chosen by God to be a vehicle unto the salvation of men. Because of this truth, the Apostle Paul wrote, "[N]ecessity is laid upon me. Yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel!" (1 Corinthians 9:16)
Necessity is likewise laid upon today's church. While the lost have no reservations about proclaiming their messages of homosexual pride, abortion "rights," drunkenness and lust in the streets, why are so many Christians afraid to proclaim the message of the Gospel in the streets as well? Public celebrations of sin are optimum locations to engage in street preaching and to "seek and save that which was lost" just like Christ did. Street preaching in such locations is the epitome of taking the light to the darkness and being the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13-15).
Although many today may reject the public proclamation of the Gospel through street preaching, still this form of Biblical evangelism is not any less valid. Many turned away from Jesus when he preached in the streets as well because He exposed the sins of the people. (John 6:66) Jesus explained, "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin. But now, they have no cloak for their sin." (John 16:22)
In these current times, until Christ comes again, the mandate is the same as is written in Ezekiel 2:2-7:
"Son of man, I send thee to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day, for they are impudent children and stiff hearted. I do send thee unto them, and thou shalt say unto them, 'Thus saith the Lord God.' And they, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear (for they are a rebellious house), yet shall [they] know that there hath been a prophet among them. And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briars and thorns be with thee and thou dost dwell among scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house. And thou shalt speak My words unto them, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear, for they are most rebellious."
Get the DVD:
Go, Stand, Speak: The Forgotten Power of the Public Proclamation of the Gospel
If you would like to learn more about street preaching, please get your DVD copy of
Go, Stand, Speak: The Forgotten Power of the Public Proclamation of the Gospel
. The video, produced by The Apologetics Group and Go, Stand, Speak Ministries, explores topics from the urgency of the proclamation of the Gospel to the Biblical method of public preaching.
Go, Stand, Speak
also features interviews with street preachers such as Paul Washer, Ray Comfort, Jeff Rose, Rusty Thomas, Michael Marcavage, Shawn Holes and many others. This valuable resource will help equip you as you go forth to preach the Word of God in the streets of America and around the world.