EFFECTIVE EVANGELISM & The Hidden Power of Engel’s Scale

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 2010.

To visualize this process, (James) Engel began with what he called “the Great Commission in common dress”[i] and viewed this as a process of stages. Let us look briefly at each stage (Figure 1) in what Engel labeled “a model of spiritual decision processes,” [ii]

Figure 1: Engel’s Stages of Spiritual Decision[iii]


-8 Awareness of supreme being, no knowledge of Gospel

-7 Initial awareness of Gospel

-6 Awareness of fundamentals of Gospel

-5 Grasp of implications of Gospel

-4 Positive attitude towards Gospel

-3 Personal problem recognition

-2 Decision to act

-1 Repentance and faith in Christ

New birth: A New Disciple is Born

+1 Post-decision evaluation

+2 Incorporation into Body

+3 Conceptual and behavioral growth

+4 Communion with God

+5 Stewardship


-8 A person at this stage might label themselves an agnostic, knowing there is a god but not knowing who that god is.

-7 Here a person becomes aware of Good News about God (i.e. the Gospel) through the deeds, words, testimony, etc. of Christians or others.

-6 A deepening awareness of the fundamentals of this Good News could include the traveler experiencing charity, forgiveness, graciousness, reciprocity, etc.. This could be exemplified in acts of mercy, sacrifice, justice, etc., which fulfill the Great Commandment (Mark 12:31) to “love your neighbor as yourself” (sometimes called the “cultural mandate”). A sizable portion of people today may lie in this realm, appreciating the good deeds of Christians but not moving into the next stage (-5) where they grasp the personal implications of the Good News.

-5 This indicates the person understands the personal requirements of the Good News. Here is where major disconnects may occur, when people see good deeds but fail to grasp that the Good News has requirements and obligations upon the hearer. Jesus noted this many times, for instance when he said, “take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30).

-4 The person develops a positive view of the Gospel. Again, because of what was noted above, many unchurched people today probably reside in a realm between -7 and -4.

-3 Here a person recognizes a personal deficiency, incapable of being addressed without divine interaction and assistance.

-2 A person makes a decision to act and reach out for supernatural assistance to address the deficiency.

-1 A person recognizes they have not lived up to God’s standards, and that only by faith in Jesus Christ and His death on their behalf can they escape the penalty of their sins.

New birth. God creates an intersection between the spiritual and physical words; and a new person is born (John 3:3-8).

+1 Here the person reviews what has happened and whether the decision was worth the effort and/or the emerging criticism. Some, after reevaluating their decision, lapse back to -3 or -4 with either a decision not to act, or to revaluate their positive attitude toward the Good News.

+2 If forward progress occurs a person will seek out a support network of fellow Christians, fulfilling the admonition of Hebrews 10:24-25 to “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another…”

+3 Here spiritual growth is observed in faith and action. In Acts 2:42-47 we observe three types of church growth that should emerge: growth in maturity (growing in passion for the Bible, fellowship and prayer), growth in unity (growing in harmony with others ) and growth in service (growing in service to others both inside and outside of the church).[iv] Engel places traditions associated with new birth, such as adult baptism or confirmation, in this stage.[v]

+4 At this point Engel clouds the picture a bit, referring to this a stage as communion with God “through prayer and worship.”[vi] Though he acknowledges that this happens earlier too, by stressing it here Engel gives the unintended impression that supernatural encounter mostly flourishes later.[vii]

In fact here is a weakness of the Engle Scale, it is stronger and more descriptive of the pre-birth process than of the post-birth journey. If both aspects of the journey should be balanced as Engel suggests[viii] then further waypoints must be added to the upper realms of Engel Scale to make it truly holistic.

[i] Engel and Norton, What’s Gone Wrong With the Harvest?, 45.

[ii] James F. Engel, The Church Growth Bulletin (Fuller Institute of Church Growth, Pasadena, CA: 1973). Engel stressed that his decision scale emphasized how a church’s “communication ministries” must change as the traveler journeys through the spiritual decision process, What’s Gone Wrong With the Harvest?, 44-45. Unfortunately, the published designation, “Engel’s Scale of Spiritual Decision” clouds Engel’s emphasis upon the elastic role of the church’s communication, and thus this scale’s designation does not correspond to its content.

[iii] Engel’s Scale of Spiritual Decision has been codified from several of Engel’s variations, c.f. James F. Engel and Wilbert Norton, What’s Gone Wrong With the Harvest? A Communication Strategy for World Evangelism (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1975); 45, James F. Engel, Contemporary Christian Communications: Its Theory and Practice (New York: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1979), 63-87, 225; James F. Engel and William A. Dyrness, Changing the Mind of Missions: Where Have We Gone Wrong (Westmont, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2000), 100-101. The current example has been adapted by the author.

[iv] For an explanation of each of the four types of church growth found in Acts 2:42 along with measurement tools to track each, see Bob Whitesel and Kent Hunter, A House Divided: Bridging the Generation Gaps in Your Church (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 207-218.

[v] Engel, Contemporary Christian Communications, 81. Scot McKnight’s observations indicate that some denominations might disagree with Engel’s placing baptism at +2. McKnight notes that some liturgical traditions place baptism earlier, at Engel’s New Birth juncture. McKnight offers a helpful overview of when and how different denominations view baptism as corresponding to the conversionary experience. He notes that evangelicals and Pentecostals view “personal decision” as the place of conversion, while some mainline Protestants see conversion associated with a long nurturing process (McKnight calls this “conversion through socialization”). He then notes that some liturgical traditions may view conversion as attached to liturgical acts such as baptism, the sacraments and “official rites of passage,” Scot McKnight, Turning to Jesus: The Sociology of Conversion in the Gospels (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 1-7. Subsequently, depending on the tradition and practice, baptism may be viewed as occurring anywhere between the stages of New Birth through +2.

[vi] Engel, Contemporary Christian Communications, 82

[vii] Engel sometimes talks about communion with God (+4) and Stewardship (+5) as subsets of +3 Conceptual and Behavioral Growth. Engel, Contemporary Christian Communications, 83; What’s Gone Wrong With The Harvest, 45, 52-56.

[viii] Engel in Contemporary Christian Communications, 66-68.

Excerpted from Spiritual Waypoints: Helping Others Navigate the Journey (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2010).

Download the chapter here: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT Spiritual Waypoints Introduction & Appendix

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