It’s official, Christians are no good at evangelism. Add it to the list of things we aren’t good at.
I think that’s probably been official for a while. Greg Laruie recently said it again though, that Christians are generally unncessarily offensive, lame, and poor communicators. It’s not something most people want to admit, though we all feel really guilty about it.
I’ll be the first to admit it. I’m terrible at talking to people one on one about Jesus. I’ll gladly recommend my latest favorite movie. And like any good evangelical, I’ll look for an opening to slip in the Savior. And if I get that far, I’ll stumble through some half-baked “evangelism.”
Not that I get that far too often. Probably because an obvious opportunity doesn’t usually present itself. People don’t walk up to strangers at Golden Corral and say, “You know what would be great? A stranger telling me if this fried chicken is any good and that Jesus is the Savior of the world. That would really make my day.”
I desperately want to share Jesus with other people. You probably do too, and feel guilty that you don’t. But I think my seminary evangelism class left me woefully unprepared to share Jesus with people.
I think the problem is Christians don’t have enough choices on how to do evangelism. Here’s what I mean…
Four Sort-of-Not-Great Ways to do Evangelism
Bus Stop Evangelism
This was the extent of my seminary evangelism training. Step one: approach an unwitting stranger. Step two: disrupt their day by giving them a tract and asking them if they know where they’re going when they die. My professor ridiculed any other methods because this was “how Paul evangelized,” by talking to people in the streets. Really? Did he hand out tracts with cute stick figure drawings too? He even justified it by saying, “It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work and it gets no results because it didn’t work all that often for Paul either.” Okay, I guess you’ve got a point…sort of.
When most people hear the word “evangelism,” this is what they think of, and I don’t know who hates it more, the people being evangelized, or the Christians. Most Christians hate the thought of confronting strangers and getting into a big debate about the meaning of life.
Christian: “Hello, stranger. May I talk to you about Jesus?”
Stranger: “Get out of my face.”
Christian: “I was hoping you’d say that. Good-bye.”
Once in a while, I see a couple of Christians handing out tracts, and they always look miserable, like they’re doing something illegal, or they’re waiting to get shot. But hey, this is what Jesus said to do, so we’ve got to, right?
My only saving grace in our class’s street evangelism was pairing myself up with a very outgoing guy who had no problem telling strangers they were going to hell. It was amazingly easy for me to do it when I was with someone else, even though we produced no results. I think another pair got a confession of faith out of a guy who was drunk as a skunk. But I’m sure that counts, right?
I think someone once called this method “rape evangelism.” That was a comparison my evangelism professor repeatedly derided and scoffed at. After all, how does cornering a stranger on a street corner, assaulting them for ten minutes, and then running away resemble rape?
Encyclopedia Salesman Evangelism
When my dad founded a church in the late eighties, he did it by cold calling people on the phone and asking if they wanted to come to church. Wow. And beyond anything I could imagine today, people said yes. Double wow. I cannot imagine getting a call from a stranger and deciding to go to church based on that call. People must have had very different attitudes twenty years ago. But my Dad was also probably a very good salesman. Problem is today, people hate advertisements. And they loathe salesmen with all that is inside them. People just aren’t hoping someone will come to their door and sell them…well, anything. Most people are on “do not call” lists, and will shut their door in your face. They aren’t just not looking for Jesus. They avoid people who are trying to tell them about Jesus, because they think anyone hawking Jesus is just looking for money so he can buy another cheap suit.
This is a sneaky thing some people do. You don’t have to waste your waitress’ time by telling her the four spiritual laws. Just leave her a tract as a tip when you leave. Other people leave tracts in libraries, in books at bookstores, on public bulletin boards, and wherever else someone might happen upon it, and all without the mess of ever having to talk about Jesus. I guess we have the Gideons to thank for that. But unlike Gideon Bibles, which people expect to find in hotel rooms, the likelihood of anyone having a revelation from a piece of trash seems pretty remote.
Lifestyle or Friendship Evangelism
I think this is what most Christians probably do. Sure, we aren’t going to be the weird Christian at work who’s always talking about Jesus this and Jesus that. But we’ll be quiet witnesses who treat people well and just act like “good Christians.” This is what you do with your non-Christian family, unless you insist on bringing tracts to every Thanksgiving. And once every year on “Evangelism Sunday” (if your church is so inclined to have one), everyone will be made to feel guilty that they haven’t converted a single person all year.
My professor loved to mock lifestyle evangelism, as if people who didn’t go out on the street corner and spiritually attack people were skirt wearing pansy boys. But even though he was kind of a jerk about it, he had a point. After all, how many people have become Christians just because I’m a Christian?
Then again, this is actually the hardest thing to do, because it actually requires an investment of time, energy and emotion into people.
There’s going to have to be a fifth choice, beyond inviting friends to “pack a pew” Sunday and handing out tiny Jesus comic books. I don’t know if it’s Facebook or Twitter or blogging or something else. Maybe actually being friends with people is the only kind of evangelism that will work in the next twenty years.
There you go. Christians are uptight about evangelism, but we’re guilted into thinking it’s something we should be doing constantly, but we don’t know how to do it anyway. How do you feel about it? Are you great at any of these methods? Do none of them work for you? Do you want to share Jesus, but don’t know how?