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Effective Evangelism

By Brian Congdon

EvangelismEffective evangelism is the product of a heart burning for the cause of the unreached, the defenseless and voiceless. There is a compassion and desire for disseminating the hope of salvation and relationship with Christ which drives the evangelist. Its effectiveness is most obvious when the evangelist lives a specifically identifiable lifestyle, pointing to the likeness of Christ.

Kenneth Boa’s Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation, describes various approaches and examples of evangelism in the New Testament. “Scripture illustrates different methods of evangelism, and three of these are proclamational, confrontational, and relational. The apostle Peter used a proclamational approach in his sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). About three thousand souls were added to the family of God that day (v. 41). Philip the deacon illustrates a confrontational approach in his one-time encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-39). All of us are called to represent Christ, but a few believers are given a particular gift of personal evangelism that enables them to be effective in sharing the gospel without first developing a relational history with outsiders. The relational approach is portrayed in the apostle Paul’s description of his intimate personal engagement with people in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:1-12).”

Barriers to evangelism stem from misconceptions of the task, held by both Christians and unbelievers. Many Christians are reluctant to present the gospel intuitively sensing it may result in rejection. Unbelievers who have had sour experiences with forceful, insensitive ‘would-be’ evangelists will view all contact with Christians through giant eyes of skepticism. And the truth is that they are right to feel this way. Charlatans and some who were not even born-again have taken it upon themselves to force condemning interpretations of doctrine down people’s throats. Unfortunately, this has pre-polluted the atmosphere needed for successful evangelism and gospel presentation. The next and possibly most important barrier to evangelism is learning how to let one’s life to speak. It will always be tempting to shout out what we know in a way that makes us feel powerful and noticed. The trick, however, is to let personal character and lifestyle, do all the talking.

In general, the power of God is desperately needed in the church today. Doctrine borne out of cessationism has threatened to squelch the Holy Spirit altogether in some churches. Young people in particular, unless drawn to religion for performance-reward reasons, are not likely to be impressed with a stale, powerless, philosophical sermon series in a church. The power of God, demonstrated in myriad ways, with theologically sound underpinnings, will draw young people in droves. For example, Hillsong church in Sydney, Australia has a worship ministry which powerfully draws in the lost and ministers life in an undeniable, free-flowing Spirit way. It is truly exciting and attractive, not dull and repetitive, or worship track monotony as some churches specialize in.

A great way to make the gospel relevant is to bring it to the community by meeting their needs. This is highly effective outreach and doesn’t require others to join a church. Rather, unbelievers and strangers alike can freely become the recipients of outreach and blessing. One strategy as practiced by a local church in the Vienna, VA area, is to offer free ice water to thirsty cyclists along the 45 mile W&OD (Washington and Old Dominion) Trail. Most leave refreshed and merely say “thanks,” while some start up a conversation that may lead to sharing Christ. Overall, their kind and generous actions speak much louder than words.

A Well Planted Presentation of the Gospel

By Brian Congdon

Baby PlantChristians tend to find evangelism a foreboding or unattractive task. Christians may be reluctant to evangelize due to our North American culture’s over-saturation with the gospel. The culture has been overly permeated with shallow preaching, shallow examples of Christian living, and in some cases charlatans have grabbed the spotlight. All these influences, when taken together, give Christians and the Church a poor name. Christians intuitively know the message will be poorly received and therefore shy away from it. After all, no one likes rejection.

Others are repelled from the ministry of evangelism because it is considered a violation of ‘sacred’ codes of individualism. Thinking one is going to disturb a stranger or co-worker’s personal space by making a passing reference to Christ or the church often lurks in the back of people’s minds. Others simply live far too private and/or isolated lives and as a result, evangelizing is never even taken into consideration. To make oneself vulnerable and step out of one’s comfort zone to share about Christ takes courage and conviction, and many would rather continue in a state of personal comfort. This, however, should not be confused with the careful discipline of respecting individuals’ lives and conscience. It should always be a top priority of the evangelist, especially for new Christians, to be trained in thoroughly respecting a “no” answer. Failure to do so is to willfully take on the job of the Holy Spirit and force the gospel on others, the very thing which many are so turned off by.

The forceful presentation of the Gospel does not make the Gospel attractive. It makes the Christian presenter come across as untrained and in need of character development. I have yet to meet an atheist who forced his atheistic values on me. Other reasons for people being turned off are: improper timing, lack of relationship, trust, or incorrect context. We would do well to remind ourselves that when the Holy Spirit is present and willing, any context will suffice. When God is not empowering the activity, it will be wasted (or carnal) energy.

Unless the LORD builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
– Psalm 127:1

In John 1 we observe a principle of networking which can be highly effective for drawing others into the church. Here, Andrew “spontaneously spreads the word to his brother” (John 1:41). Having heard John’s words, he almost unintentionally brought his brother to Christ. In merely spreading the word, Andrew’s behavior is exemplary for Christians today at the moment of inviting others to a church service, small group, or other church-related event (such as a concert). This is effective because it is solely invitational, and does not impose another’s values on the unbeliever or the un-churched.

Overall, I believe the best way to truly share the gospel, in addition to the above, is to build relationship with those in one’s personal sphere of operation. There are many facets of wisdom to this approach, but the foundation is probably the issue of trust. People simply can’t trust an ethereal concept articulated in philosophical or business terms. Unbelievers/the un-churched need to see an example of the character of Christ in the evangelist. Once the Holy Spirit opens their eyes to the aroma of Christ, it may become hard for them to resist it! Otherwise, it is hard too hard to win a person to Christ if there is no investment in relationship or evidence or aroma of the Savior during the interactions.