Yesterday, I read an article by Greg Stier of Dare to Share (“Does Street Evangelism Work?”). I have never been a proponent of striking up a conversation with random strangers by smacking them around with the fact that they’re heading to hell if they don’t change their ways. This kind of drive-by evangelism seems to have very little lasting impact, except to often leave a bad taste in the mouth of the “target” (who really wants to be a target?) and a sense of rejection and perceived slight (which may be pridefully seen as a badge of honor) for the “witness”.
D2S always seemed to be driven by this kind of approach to outreach – so I’ve never taken a group to their conferences. What I’m seeing in this article, however, makes me think that either my perception was wrong or their approach is shifting. Here is what Stier is saying about evangelism in the article (I’ll put his statements in bold, with my comments mixed in):
“Street evangelism can be effective in making converts, but is rarely effective in making disciples.”
This has been my criticism of unrelational evangelism. What good have I done if I get someone to convert, then leave him with no relational support? There has been too much of a distinction between evangelism and discipleship in the church. We have been called to make disciples (which is a lifelong endeavor) not to go out trying to get another notch in our Bible. A conversion can be manipulated or coerced (or even faked) – but there’s no shortcut to discipleship. Can we see evangelism and discipleship as 2 parts of one relationship?
“Evangelism should start with our immediate circle of influence, our friends, family, co-workers and neighbors.”
This is an echo of Jesus’ own words. He told the disciples to start in Jerusalem (where they were) and then move out from there, making disciples.
“As God allows, we should share the gospel with the strangers we encounter and do our best to disciple them if they accept Christ.”
God works in ways that we don’t always understand. While I don’t make it a normal practice to go door to door and ask people if they are saved or not, I also need to make sure that I’m paying attention to the Holy Spirit when He’s wanting me to engage a stranger. They may be unknown to me, but He knows them intimately and on occasion He gives me the words to say exactly what they need to hear.
“Our evangelistic efforts should be done relationally and relentlessly.”
This is the center of this issue. It’s not a matter of whether or not we should boldly tell people about God and His love for humanity and how His Son is our only hope. We should. There’s no question that we should enter into life-giving relationships which draw people deeper into the heart of God. We must. But we can’t afford to do one or the other. Discipleship requires both, and it’s going to take some work to learn how to fuse the two into words and action that are led and fueled by the Spirit to build His kingdom.
Let’s roll up our sleeves…