Naturally, as someone who is a paid evangelist, I’ve developed opinions about the issue of evangelism; many opinions! I am going to lay them out for your consideration today. Evangelism is a real concern for the Christian as it naturally follows from Christ’s command to go into the world and teach and baptise in His Name (a Lukian shorthand) and disciple the nations. Therefore, in keeping with the prophets’ and apostles’ teachings – we should seek to do it well. I am about to wade into this already saturated topic with yet another angle. Someone may well have said everything I am about to say before (I know I have) – but if they did, I contend, not enough people heard it so I am going to say it again.
The attitude that ‘any evangelism is good evangelism’ absolutely stinks and comes from a cesspit of lazy thinking that is hurting the Church. This view can express itself in all kinds of spiritual language and catchphrases that actually sound very pious; and probably are said piously, for example, “God’s word will not return to him void” or “It is the Holy Spirit who converts; we just sow the seed.” Indeed these phrases are true, in and of themselves, but they are often used as a cope for people who are doing bad evangelism to justify their actions – because no fruit is coming of it, rather than face the disquieting thought that they are doing a bad job. The one person who converted five years ago, for which we give thanks to GOD, does not legitimise years of fruitless work!
Let us think for a moment of the culture we live in; a very religious society, believe it or not, that follows an epicurean religion of humanity with cultic practices of self-worship. Due to this life outlook, it invests everything it has in the present life. This expresses itself through consumeristic materialism in which the individual is king, and must be empowered to make choices, and those choices are expressions of the self. In that world, the days of John Wesley-style preaching are over. Let us not fetishize this period in our history; and no – you’re not imitating Paul. Paul went to the places of public debate and learning; John Wesley went to the high street and fields.
Into this world strides the lone ranger evangelist who, filled with zeal for the souls of the lost and the love of the Lord, starts to shout at everyone, or projects his voice to them as he talks about sin, death, judgment, heaven and hell, and the love of GOD in Christ shown on the cross, that saves you and me! All whilst people flit by him, slightly aggravated at someone talking ‘nonsense’ to them, which they only heard a few words of anyway, but it sounded angry and priggish, so they dismiss both messenger and message. That sadly describes a lot of evangelism today. Not all of it, but a lot of evangelists like myself go down this road, and if you are an evangelist who does this, I beg you to stop! Not stop evangelising, GOD forbid, but stop evangelising in this way! Granted, there are genuinely a handful of street preachers who do a good job. I mean, they are engaging, good speakers, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule.
The other way of street evangelism is to try to tap into the entertainment culture of the epicurean religion. In this way, the Christians attempt to put on some kind of show or dance and, if done well, yeah, I would say great. Yet, if it is done badly, it can be embarrassing for everyone and humiliating for those that participate in it. I would say, if you are going to do this kind of evangelism, remember it’s better to do something well even if it’s only on a small scale than do anything poorly! Why? Because you are buying into the entertainment culture to make your message hearable; so people expect to be entertained. The other question around this is, how Christian is it? Take, for example, a street comedy sketch trying to be entertaining, but in the process results in mocking Mary and Joseph. Or, how about the dance troop of Christians, dressed in tight clothes, pulling off urban sexualised dance moves? There is a point where Christians draw the line on how far we lean into the entertainment culture to engage people.
Similarly, so are those evangelists who give out cheap, badly written and presented tracts in their hundreds because they think they are getting out the message to the greatest number of people who usually just chuck them in the bin without reading them. We are about to see a lot of this kind of evangelism at the King’s coronation; most of which will only increase people’s disdain for the Christian message.
Christians – have you never noticed that on nearly every high street of nearly every town – Muslims have book tables? Have you noticed the many channels dedicated to Dawa on Youtube and Instagram? When was the last time you saw ANY OTHER RELIGIOUS group standing on a street corner trying to shout at folks or give a public speech to a passing crowd? You rarely, if ever, see a crowd around one of these evangelists. Why? Because the vast, vast majority of them are terrible public speakers. Even the J. Witnesses have stopped going door-to-door; because they hate it, and the people they use to bother hated it, as well. Since they adopted their approach of just standing in the street with their false doctrine magazine, they have seen a dramatic increase in the amount of interest! Other religions are not giving away badly written pamphlets like confetti, so why are we?
A quick word on the Islamic tables – don’t approach them – as you are merely helping other people to approach them. Whilst you might be able to win an argument with them, the people you are helping to draw to their tables may not be able to and may be more open to spiritual things. Meanwhile, you just helped to bring them to the Islamic table. Muslims right now are riding a wave of progressive liberal enabling as the Liberal media has made Islamophilia, (the irrational love of Islam) almost an expected social position. Criticism of Islam is conflated with racism and, due to the merits of Muslims for standing up for their faith (because they are using the Benedict Option) and terrorism, Islam is a religion that has to be negotiated around and can not be ignored. Thus, their stalls attract natural attention due to the fact that they have a pronounced presence in the media narrative. The best response to Islamic outreach on the street is to do more and better Christian outreach; not engage their outreach on the street.
Can we not learn? Consider how many Christians are being paid by the Church to make a living from the body of Christ: How many Christians there are? How many fellowships? How many Christian books? and How many tables do Christians own? There is absolutely no reason why there should not be a Christian book table on every main high street; not just once a week, but every single day of the week (maybe except Sundays). So, where are all the Christians? Why have we abandoned the public face of our evangelism to bad unthinking evangelism done by those in the Church who are most ill-equipped to do it? Church! We can do better and we must do better! The good news is (well this is a Christian article so why not use the cliché verbiage), it’s not hard at all to do better. Don’t wait for your leaders on this. They are rubbish! Organise the willing and do what your leadership should have had the vision to do.
We should be setting up Christian book tables, manned by Christians (paid or voluntary), in every high street across the English-speaking world! Why is that too ambitious? We have everything we need to do it. What we lack is leadership with a vision for it. These book tables should not be filled with cheap 12p pamphlets that have cartoons for kids on the cover, with a message for adults written at the reading age for thirteen-year-olds! They need to be all the Church’s second-hand books sitting on our shelves at home, covering a broad and wide variety of topics with some kind of sign on the table, or specially designed stand or gazebo, or sail flags, inviting folk to explore the Christian faith or speak to a Christian. The point is to be there, and I assure you people will come. In addition, you might also have teams of two people going around, male and female, approaching people and trying to get a conversation going with a simple question, such as, “We are asking people what they think about Jesus/church/abortion/religion and politics?” You could also be a bit of a fruit seller and try to engage people who look at you (they will) and, with a bit of warmth, street humour, and joviality, bring them to the table. The more personable, presentable, and respectable you appear, the easier that will be. So, don’t look like a scruff. The point is, it is on you to drive the conversation and keep it interactive. The simplest way to do this is as follows:
You should introduce yourself, shake hands, get the person’s name, and occasionally address yourself to that person directly with their name. You should have a two to three-minute mini-presentation to each kind of person you might meet: the atheist, the agnostic, the Muslim, the cultural Christian and so on… that – and hear this – ‘sells’ Christianity, in contrast to whatever position they are already standing on. Then, ask the person what they think. If you want them to engage, you have to be prepared to listen to what they say and engage with it. Listening to someone usually wins you the right to be heard. I am, of course, assuming a sincere interlocutor in this dialogue (which is not always going to be the case). You should use open-end questions to get the person engaged, and then use closed questions when you want to drive a point home. The book that you give them should have some means of them contacting you back if they want to, and be given a personal give to ‘George’ or ‘Sarah’.
The aim should be to build a connection with someone whom you will then take out for a coffee or a meal on another occasion and continue to build a relationship with and discuss the issues important to them. All the while, making it clear that becoming a Christian is still on the table through jovially given comments like, “You will make a great Christian one day!” or “Are you a Christian yet?” You should engage with their issues, their topics, personal or public, with EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE (I can not stress that enough). Try to win them over to a sympathetic understanding of, or outright embracement of, the Christian worldview on whatever the topic, or just show some human kindness and solidarity if the personal matter discussed requires it. The more they embrace Christian thinking, the more they reduce their own resistance to the Christian worldview in total. You need to be clear about what your own faith teaches, on its own doctrines, values and ethics, and history. If you do, you will be able to engage with nearly any issue from a Christian perspective.
The backbone of this style of conversational evangelism, if you will, is good apologetics. To do this evangelism well, you need to know four things well: (1) Christian beliefs, (2) Christian values, (3) Christian ethics, and (4) Christian history. Once you have a solid grounding on these, you will be able to engage with most topics of conversation. You also need to be firm in your beliefs, stand on the truth, and firmly feel rooted in a Christian identity in all things because, in good evangelism, we are not just asking them to accept Christ’s work on the cross, but a whole identity, a worldview, and way of life! I am sure that will be an easier sell if it looks like you are doing that yourself.
Additionally and ideally, evangelism should be corporate, as in groups of Christians working together, rather than lone rangers. Why? Because a single individual is written off as a quack, but a group is seen as a movement. Plus, when it comes to street evangelism, having some backup is not a bad idea, as very rarely things can become confrontational. You might need to make your own recordings of interactions with the police. Also, it means you can befriend people in a group. One thing that is important in conversational evangelism is, where and with whom a person does the ‘processing’ of information shared. A great five-point critique of Islam is going to be less effective if the person processes that argument with a Muslim apologist! The ideal circle is that one Christian does the engagement and another Christian helps them process the information and bed that information down in their lives. A person needs to be able to see what their life might look like as a Christian, and thus we should try to lay it out for them prosaically; appealing to the mind with a solid argument, tactically engaged, and the heart in genuine friendship and romantic sentiment, but grounded in reality.
It follows logically, a point I often bemoan, that our fellowships need to be the kind of place that a person wants to see themselves belonging to. A welcoming place, ideally, that love-bombs the guest, not in some contrived way, well-intentioned as they always are from the front, but with varying degrees of cringe-inducing experience. When everyone in the fellowship actually understands and lives by biblical hospitality, they will be sensitive enough to when someone is an enquirer into Christianity, applauding and encouraging them to take a step closer to embracing Christ. A visitor to a Church should see and feel the brotherhood of the believers. It should not be down to a ‘welcome team’ which is, again, a cope for the absence of hospitality as a value amongst the believers.
I think I should confess if you have not picked this up already, that my missiology is not encumbered by the slightest whiff of Calvinistic predestination (much love to my Calvinist brethren). Rather, it assumes free actors, making real choices based on external realities and internal decision-making processes.
Now, here is an important point. I thank GOD that, through my efforts, He has brought many people to Himself; as the grace to choose GOD is a gift from GOD; that people discover my moving towards embodying more truth. Those who have become Christian and sought baptism in my work have rarely heard me preach a ‘gospel message.’ Instead, I have engaged them on their questions and issues and sometimes presented my own topics to a mind of that bent. Don’t get me wrong, the cross has and does make an appearance in these conversations, and prominently so if the conversation moved in that direction. However, most of the folks accepted other Christian truths, and then just took the cross as part of the package without it needing to be at the front and centre of the conversations we were having. They believe it all the same, but I did not need to bang on about the Cross of our Lord when they wanted to talk about the threat of communism to the family. Remember, this is an epicurean religious world in which the emphasis is on this life and this world. Once a person believes Christianity is the answer they need in this life, a source of their own identity, they are willing to accept all the rest without real question. I know this may seem counterintuitive – and I agree – a person must accept Christ’s work on the cross to be a Christian, amongst other things, but we do not need to force it into a conversation if the person we are speaking to is asking different questions. In my experience, once they are sold on Christianity, they accept the cross as part of it. It appears in their worldview and increasingly takes centre stage. We must present Christianity as a complete way of life and identity, and that is best done when we have lived it as a complete way of life.
My final thought is actually not all that relevant to my argument; which is this: religious growth is achieved through the creation of families. The number of people who will actually convert will always be a low number, a tiny percentage in a secular world, at least. Until something changes in the political and legal structures, mass conversion is unlikely. Until Christians adopt the Benedict option, good fellowships will continue to have a trickle of people converting (sometimes more through poaching other believers – but this is not conversion, really). Christians must focus on creating families if we want to see our community continue! The ones who usually convert are people who are not particularly well-integrated into their own community (if one even exists) in the first place, and that means discipleship needs to zoom in on creating emotionally mature, secure, and functioning individuals.
I hope I have not just given you food for thought, but a blueprint for action!