My first experience of doing “evangelism” was when I was around fifteen years old and our youth group traveled to an inner city neighborhood. After some training, we broke up into teams and went door to door to “share our faith.” The catch, of course, was that we could “share our faith” after we’d completed a faith survey with the people whose house we’d walk up to. The survey was essentially a way to open up dialogue. We ended up visiting about ten homes and had a number of conversations with people about faith and, to God’s glory, were able to lead one woman to the Lord. From what I gathered later, she had plugged into the local church that we were working with too!
I do have some reservations about the door to door approach here in the United States and wonder about its effectiveness. I know many people are super critical of certain evangelistic practices and while I have concerns about what often falls into the category of “street evangelism,” I think there are some extremely effective ways to do it too. Sometimes it simply depends upon the culture you are in. In my travels to Africa, street preaching is very effective. Here in the US, not so much.
Anyway, I think it’s helpful for most of us here in North America and Europe to look at evangelism through the following two concepts:
(1) Evangelism is about telling a story. I want to remind you that the word “evangelism” is deeply connected to the word “gospel.” The Greek word translated as “evangelist” (euaggelistes) contains the root word “gospel” (euaggelion). To be an “evangelist” is to be a “good -newser.” To evangelize is to tell a story… the story of God’s great work of redemption through Jesus Christ. To be an “evangelist” is to go about “gospeling.” Do you see that? Evangelism is intricately connected to telling of the good news.
I have found that evangelism boils down to telling people about Jesus and what he’s done for me and what he’s done for other people. I get this evangelistic model straight from the apostolic preaching found in Acts. We see many evangelistic messages proclaimed that center on what God’s done for us in Jesus and how that connects with the larger work of God in his people while also revealing the personal dimension of that work. Paul was a person who had feelings and ideas and experiences that were relatable. His “gospeling” was, quite frankly, telling the story of Jesus and what Jesus had done for the world and for himself and for his fellow Jews.
But what’s this mean for you? You are likely not an apostle or called to be a preacher. Great question. What this means for you is that you are doing evangelism when you tell people your story. What has God done for you? What has Jesus saved you from? How has God worked in your life? What is God still doing in your life? Tell people your story.
(2) Evangelism is about hearing a story. When I was living in California, I used to spend a lot of time in downtown San Diego. Many of my friends would hang out at coffee shops and restaurants. On one occasion I happened to be walking down the main street and came upon some gentlemen dressed in suits doing “street evangelism.” In addition to telling everyone that they were going to hell, they were passing out tracts that were likely written and produced in the 1960’s. I’ll refrain from criticizing their appearance and literature. What I will criticize is how uninterested in hearing from the people they were attempting to evangelize. Their evangelism was a monologue. This became painfully obvious when they told me I was going to tell and that I needed to repent and believe. When I responded that I was a follower of Jesus who believed deeply in his work on the cross for my sins, they simply ignored my words and kept repeating the same thing over and over again. Their evangelism was a monologue.
And that’s why I believe that evangelism is often about hearing a story too. Truth be told, this is simply a relational dynamic that will help you with your story telling. If you want to gain a hearing, you need to give an ear toward what others are saying. In fact, one of the most important aspects of telling people the story of Jesus and God’s work of redemption is in listening for where other people need to hear good news!
I’ve found that when I’m having a conversation with other people and telling them about my story (which is saturated with Jesus) and hearing their story, if I’m listening well I will hear places in their story that Jesus can speak to. Evangelism as a monologue makes this difficult.
A number of years ago I was having coffee with a young woman who wanted to know more about my faith. As she listened to my story and about how God had saved me and had, through some really crazy circumstances, changed the course of my life and called me into full time vocational ministry, I ended my time of sharing by saying, “So what’s your story?” Her face lit up at the prospect of having someone interested in her life and she began to share with me all that she had gone through. As I was told about her lack of a loving father and never really fitting in, I found several places where the good news had application.
I wan to know what you think:
- How does thinking about evangelism as “sharing our story” versus “telling you facts” change things, or does it?
- Why do you believe that monologue evangelism versus conversational evangelism is more effective, or is it?
- In your experience, what’s the most effective way of sharing your faith?
- What road blocks stand before you when it comes to sharing your faith?