Considering the need for Christians to evangelize strategically, as we discussed in the Sunday sermon, I thought it would be useful to follow up with a few simple questions and answers regarding some common evangelism methods. May the Lord fill us with joy and boldness as we seek to be faithful disciple-makers!
Q: Is it acceptable for a Christian just to live quietly and wait for people to come up to him and ask questions about the gospel?
A: Certainly we Christians should be living in such a set apart way that we do provoke questions (and even persecution, Mt 5:11-16; 1 Pt 3:15; 4:3-5). But we need to do more than just “stay and pray.” Remember, the Christian mission is different than Israel’s in the Old Testament; we are to “go and proclaim” to people of all nations the good news of Christ (Mt 28:18-20). Therefore, we should be actively trying to enter into gospel conversations, not just passively waiting.
Q: Does inviting unbelievers to church so that they will hear the gospel preached from the pulpit count as evangelism?
A: It is not wrong to bring unbelievers to church or for a Christian assembly to admit curious visitors. Paul does mention as a hypothetical possibility unbelievers entering a church worship service and being convicted by God’s word made clear (1 Cor 14:23-25; cf. James 2:1-9). However, the New Testament pattern of evangelism does not consist of believers inviting unbelievers to church services but of believers going out from the gathered assembly, making new disciples with the preached gospel, and then bringing in those new believers to be baptized and to join the church. After all, the church is called to be holy and even to confront those in its midst who continue to live in sin (Mt 18:15-20; 1 Cor 5:9-13; Acts 5:1-13).
Furthermore, any evangelistic strategy that is reliant on just one special person is never good. Many a church has built itself on the charismatic evangelism of just one gospel preacher, but as soon as that evangelist dies or leaves, the church’s evangelism fizzles out. The fact is that the Bible doesn’t call for only certain Christians to evangelize, but for all Christians to do so. If we all bring unbelievers to one or a few evangelists to give those unbelievers the gospel, then we ourselves will never grow into faithful evangelists.
If you want to invite an unbeliever to church or to a church’s ministry, that’s okay, but you should then commit to following up with that person to preach to him the gospel. And never discount the importance of a one-on-one gospel conversation! I’m always amazed at how many people can sit under the public proclamation of the gospel and still never really hear it. These persons get distracted with other thoughts during the preaching or they interpret the message in such a way that it must apply only to others. That’s why your personally following up with someone is key; then you’ll find out how much your visiting friend really has heard and understood from the pulpit.
Q: How do gospel tracts fit into evangelism? Am I truly preaching the gospel if I just hand out pamphlets explaining the gospel?
A: Tracts are a fine tool to use in evangelism; they are the gospel proclaimed and explained in written form. But the great question with Christian tracts is: how do you know whether the persons to whom you give tracts will read them?
There are certain ways to use tracts more effectively. One way is to consider the cultural situation you are in and whether tracts might be particularly welcomed. For example, after the Soviet Union fell, Christians tracts were received like treasure among those previously cut off from religion by the Iron Curtain. Even today, there are people in certain places or situations who are quite grateful to receive gospel tracts and, therefore, much more likely to read them.
A second way to use tracts more effectively is to make sure you actually read the tracts you use before you hand them out. That way you know what kind of explanation you’re giving out and can further explain if people have questions. After all, if you’ve never taken the time to read the tract—and the recipient detects this—then why should he read it?
A final way to use tracts more effectively is to use them in conjunction with a personal conversation, even one in which you share the gospel verbally. If someone has already had a positive interaction with you, then that person will have more reason to read something you give to him. If you’ve preached the gospel before giving the tract, then the tract will be a great reinforcement or further explanation of what you spoke. If you didn’t preach the gospel previously to someone but did give a tract, then the tract becomes a convenient reason for following up. Provided you are able to see that person again, you can ask him if he read the tract, answer questions, and even preach the gospel on the basis of what was in the tract.