Recently, I was asked my opinion on the best and most effective way to do evangelism. I tried so hard to just make a list with a few bullet points, but that never happens with me! Haha. This is my opinion, based on my experiences in Manti, with Worldview Academy, with non-Christian friends, etc. Disagree if you would like, and we can have a fruitful conversation about it.
Soli Deo Gloria.
Let us begin.
Relationship evangelism should typically, in my opinion, be used on someone you already would be friends with, with or without the attempt at evangelism, based on your personalities meshing. Non-Christian classmates, family members, etc. who you have a genuine interest in having a relationship with with can be witnessed to, but with tact.
This is where I suppose lifestyle evangelism comes in – that is, allowing your life, your actions, and the words that you say to be the Christian witness that you have to a friend. Often in these relationships, the other person is the one to bring it up, or certain Christian words or actions that are a stark contrast to the way of the world can cause them to question your lifestyle, noting that it is different than the lifestyle of others, giving you the opportunity to share WHY you are different.
The part where this tactic becomes dangerous lies in something that Mormons call “friendshipping.” This is the act of befriending someone with the sole intent to bring them to LDS events and meetings, set them up with a missionary, and ultimately convert them. Sometimes, this is done with the genuine interest of friendship in mind; other times, Mormons do it for the gold star in heaven that they want to earn. When we, as Christians, do this – befriending someone just so that we can save them, which is often an ultimately selfish action, this is wrong.
I believe that above all, Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. He didn’t say, “Bring your neighbor to church” or, “Make sure your neighbor adheres to all five points of Calvinism,” he just said to love them. If we are doing what Matthew 5:16 instructs us to do, which is letting our light shine before men, THEN they will see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven. Also, if we love someone as Christ loves them, the natural result that will flow from that love is a desire to see them experience the same hope and joy that we experience in Christ.
Basically, relationship evangelism is something we shouldn’t have to think too hard about. It is a natural outpouring of our relationship with Christ and our love for other people.
That being said, evangelism that is done without previously knowing a person is applicable in most other venues – often, there is little to no chance of speaking to someone ever again, but we love them as our neighbor in such a way that we want them to have what we have in Christ. This can be tricky, because stranger evangelism takes many forms, from street preachers to people who hand out tracts to people who just walk up to strangers on the street with a question to start a conversation.
The approach and the attitude of the heart are truly the keys in this evangelism method. If either of them misses the mark, they have the potential to turn someone AWAY from the Gospel – which is bad – and I think that’s why so many people have such strong aversions against stranger evangelism. Street preachers who are disrespectful, tracters who spread a fire-and-brimstone type message, and people who go into a conversation with the intent of proving a point or being right – these people all give a bad name to stranger evangelism.
However, stranger evangelism is an amazing thing when done right because it gets the Gospel into the hands of many more people than just the sphere of influence that each Christian has. The businessman walking down the street might not have any Christian friends and might never even hear about the Gospel until someone hands him a tract with the Gospel message. Granted, he can make the choice to just toss the tract into the next trash can he sees. Or he can read it, think it’s a silly message, and toss it aside.
But what about 10 years from now, when he finds that tract in the bottom of his junk drawer while he’s cleaning out his house because he lost his job and he’s facing a foreclosure? That tract might contain a message that God has been training his heart to hear for years. And what about the person who is handed a tract or hears a street preacher who is seeking truth and just doesn’t know where to look? The evangelist came to HIM, instead of him having to seek it out! Obviously, tracting, street preaching, and even conversations with strangers are like job applications in that you put out tons and tons of them, and you’ll consider yourself very lucky if one or two come through. In the same way, I have handed out hundreds of tracts over the last few years – maybe thousands – and until we get to heaven, we may never know the extent that those tracts did or didn’t do, but at least we were not silent.
Neither of these tactics is the right or wrong way of doing it. There is a right and wrong way of executing each tactic, however. To use one of my dad’s favorite expressions, it’s important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. (Weirdest expression… ever.) That is, you can’t just say that since one street preacher made some people mad, street evangelism is the wrong way to go. Or on the flip side, since some Christians end up losing their faith when they become too open-minded in their evangelism tactics but end up listening to someone else’s view, that no Christians should evangelize in their relationships. There’s just a time and a place for each, and I have heard incredible testimonies of people being led to Christ through both methods, so there cannot be a right or wrong answer in leading someone to Christ.