Biblical "street preachers" gathered interested and/or interactive crowds, often followed by mass conversions. We could conceivably chalk some of this up to the "signs and wonders" they tended to perform; but even on that note, it's oft-noted in scripture that belief precedes the signs and wonders. Hence, the crowds must have gathered first.

Even the Biblical preachers who worked no signs and were abrasive gained a lot of positive attention. Consider John the Baptist, who stayed in the desert/wilderness and told everyone they were sinners -- folks went, presumably out of there way, into the desert to see him!

Modern street evangelists don't appear to garner many converts. They're commonly portrayed as lunatics and nuisances. And in general, they don't seem to gather the crowds of Biblical proportions, or even small crowds or anyone in most cases.

Why the difference? Is it cultural? Are the modern evangelists saying or doing different things? Were early evangelists more like the well-known motivational or expert speakers of today?

Is there sound evidence to suggest that the Biblical "street preaching" was a normal means for content/news delivery? And/Or was their delivery different than a modern street-preachers?

  • There is probably some element of survivor bias - we have stories about John the Baptist, but not about his contemporary Reuven the Ineffective Preacher (who I just made up).
    – James T
    Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 17:09
  • 1
    @JamesT Probably. But, for the ones whose stories survived, why did their crowds show up? And if we have modern evangelists that are equivalent to the Biblical ones, what are the differences that can be clearly attributed to culture, technology, etc.? And is there sound evidence to suggest that "street preaching" (or whatever the Biblical folks really did) was just a normal means of content-delivery in their culture?
    – svidgen
    Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 17:40
  • "street preachers" gathered interested and/or interactive crowds, often followed by mass conversions. -- They still do in many places. Which I think suggests a cultural difference.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 20:22
  • The answer should probably address the accuracy of scripture. Were there really mass conversions based on street preaching alone? How did the early Church rise?
    – Double U
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 0:02
  • I wonder if I am the inspiration behind this question. :P
    – Double U
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 0:03

2 Answers 2


If we look at scripture, we can see that great effort was taken to make the presentation of the gospel make sense within the cultural context of the day and people being reached. Hebrews addresses the Jews in a way that focuses on how the old testament pointed to Jesus. Roman's focuses on a logical presentation of core gospel from a context the Roman's could understand.

The Jews were frequently reached out to in synagogues where they went for religious learning. Paul reached out to the Greeks by speaking in their place of religious discussion and used reference to their own alter to the "unknown god" to reach them. The only thing that really remained consistent was the message of Truth. The how and the where were changed to fit the time, the place and the people.

At the time, without the Internet or mass media, people got their news and learning locally, directly from talking with people. Additionally, culturally, individual preachers tended to accumulate followings then rather than stand alone churches. This explains John the Baptist's following. He's not so much a parallel to a street preacher as he is to a Billy Graham convention or the lead pastor of a church. (He actually primarily spoke out away from people and people came to him. [Matthew 3:1 - In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea])

Our methods of getting information is much different now and our culture far less personal. The approach of street preaching doesn't fit the cultural perspective of the day and so it is dismissed as irrelevant since the methods being used are irrelevant to the culture.

  • Probably accurate. But, for the sake of completeness, could you possibly add some references?
    – svidgen
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 21:20
  • @svidgen - I'd suggest reading the books of the Bible I mentioned. I don't know of any specific references, but you can see the clear difference in the way things are presented from Hebrews, to Acts, to Romans. Any basic information of the culture of the day shows the correspondence between the style and the culture. Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 21:35
  • Solely for the benefit of having a complete and fully-supported answer, it would be good to include some specific references to support this. Most of the veterans on this site are familiar enough with the biblical books; the visitors are not as likely to be. And the differences between forums and parallel you're drawing between John and Billy are probably accurate, but they're unsubstantiated here.
    – svidgen
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 21:57

Consider that relatively recently George Whitefield gave over 18,000 evangelistic sermons, mostly outdoors--up to 30,000 in attendance. He had a booming voice and spoke from his heart. Even skeptics like David Hume and Ben Franklin would go out of their way to listen to Whitefield preach.

  • Welcome to C.SE. When you get the chance, please check out our tour and specifically How we are different than other sites. These are good and relevant examples - but you might want to contrast this modern practice. The fact that 30,000 were in attendance is good, but how many people attended a Billy Graham crusade? Commented Mar 17, 2014 at 15:39
  • Just an observation. I suppose we could find many other examples of "street preaching" in modern times. 20th Century evangelists such as Billy Graham used speakers, and an unbelievably effective marketing campaign. Whitefield stood in a field and spoke. People came. He closely resembled b
    – user10415
    Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 6:05
  • (cont).... He closely resembled biblical "street preaching," if that is what the original post was about. My suggestion is to study him.
    – user10415
    Commented Mar 18, 2014 at 6:20

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