Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Are We Over-Complicating Evangelism?

As someone with a heart to share the Gospel with others, I’m often thinking of better ways to “do” evangelism. Not that I believe that there is a one size fits all approach or that we should focus too much on methods. It’s important to remember that the Holy Spirit of God is the catalyst for all conversions and that we need to pray for Him to be at work in and through us.

However, it’s good to consider whether our various efforts are bearing fruit and if not, to consider whether our chosen methods might be creating unnecessary barriers, or even, perhaps, whether it might be time for a different approach. There is an ever widening gap between the church and the world, between Christians and non-Christians. It follows, then, that we need to be thinking about how we can bridge this gap.

My thoughts often turn to social enterprise as a means of reaching people, as this is increasingly popular. The evangelistic coffee shop idea. I had thought about combining this with a Christian book shop or library due to the decline of the presence of Christian literature on our high streets. The Salvation Army have recently opened a big charity shop with an attached cafe in my town. Visiting, though, there is no difference between this set-up and any secular coffee and charity shop. People are not going to be particularly receptive if someone just sits down and starts sharing the Gospel with them whilst they are trying to drink their coffee. This idea, as an outreach opportunity, necessarily fails at the first hurdle.

What about a coffee, or book, shop that is overtly Christian? It’s worth asking, how often would non-Christians visit, and for what purpose when there are so many non-religious options out there? Mostly, these places end up being visited, and sustained, by people from the church that started them. Unless it’s made clear to visitors at the outset that they might be interrupted and spoken to by a keen evangelist, we have the same problem as the secular environment; the people just want to drink their coffee in peace!

Some might argue that Gospel literature can be left on the tables and the building appropriately decorated with Bible verses etc. This is true, and if the Spirit prompts someone to pick up a tract or to start memorising a Bible verse, then great. But, if all Christians carried tracts and left them everywhere they went, this would easily cover the few non-Christians who might enter a Christian premises and end up taking away a tract or reading Bible verses on the walls. If people are that openly curious about Christianity already, then surely they would just go to a church!?

Turning then to other forms of passive outreach using social activity; sports clubs and activities and the like. How often have we actually managed to effectively share the Gospel with attendees? How can we get people to even attend without tricking them with mumbled explanations about what will happen when they get there, and then pouncing on them later when it’s too late for them to leave? How can we keep these programmes Gospel focused and stop people being distracted by the activity? How often do these activities end up being closed down after decades because they have become nothing more than another social event? How many people actually end up in church through these activities?

These questions are more relevant than ever in our anti-religious, apathetic, materialistic age. As people are growing increasingly indifferent to Christianity, perhaps, we need to strip away the exciting activities, comfortable surroundings and pleasant environments. Maybe, these things are distracting people from their real need and presenting a confusing picture in terms of what Christianity is all about.

What if our attempts to create the perfect platform for sharing the Gospel are resulting in barriers that we then have to find ways to remove further down the line? 

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Is it time for a less complicated, less expensive, and more direct approach?

I’m going to suggest three options that are comparatively cheap, direct and effective:

Open Air Work/Street Preaching

People are not often coming into our churches, we need to take the Gospel to them. The Open Air Mission evangelists go out into the high streets of England with a simple board. Using their board for the presentation, men preach a short Gospel centred message to the people passing by. Christians in the crowd note those who show interest and attempt to talk to them. Literature is handed to others walking past. (United Beach Missions do similar work.) You can read There Is Still Much To Do! by Andy Banton to find out more about this work or attend their Training Day on 14th April 2018.

Utilising our Church Buildings

Having highlighted some of the issues that can arise when we use social enterprise as a tool to share the Gospel, is there still a case for using our church buildings for evangelism? Of course, there is. Those who are blessed with buildings, especially in central locations, know how effective they can be when utilised. When a building is clearly a church, or used as a church building all of the time, people who enter it know what they are getting themselves into. They are choosing to enter an environment where they may expect to be spoken to by Christians and to hear messages from the Bible. Likewise, when activities take place in the church or a building immediately attached to it, there is no confusion. We need our church members to be proactive in inviting people to our church events and making sure they are upfront about what will happen when they attend.

Personal Contacts/Friendship Evangelism 

This is where any natural contact with non-Christians is important whether through work or just where we happen to live. All of us should be seeking to cultivate these relationships with a view to sharing the Gospel when the opportunity arises. Our words should be backed up by our prior behaviour. Let's not wait indefinitely to actually tell people, though, as none of us are guaranteed tomorrow. Pray first and then go for it!

It’s easy to be perpetually busy in Christian activities, but let’s make sure we are actually getting around to sharing the Gospel with the folks we are involved with. If we are running activities, whether in the church or outside, that have morphed into mere social events and there is no way to rescue them, perhaps we should consider closing them down and starting again. Likewise, if the things we are offering people are distracting them from the Gospel, our programmes might need a rethink.

My disclaimer here is that we must help people practically and they have various needs. This is a call to ensure we start with the Gospel and present this as the answer to the person’s most pressing need of forgiveness of sin and peace with God. At the very least, we must offer hope along with practical help.

The enemy will provide plenty of reasons why confrontational or direct evangelism is not the way to go, but these days it might be exactly what your friend, neighbour or relative needs to wake them up and make them stop and think. They aren’t going to be mad at you for being culturally inappropriate when they get to Judgement Day!

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