While living in the Los Angeles area, I led a team of street evangelists. We’d either go to a public location (train station, mall) or door-to-door to share the Gospel. And while I make no claim at being particularly gifted at evangelism, I did learn a few things from the years that I spent doing street evangelism.
Here are four things that I learned.
First, Be Normal
Being normal is probably the most important aspect of street or door-to-door evangelism. We (hopefully) act normally throughout the week at our jobs. Then on the day of evangelism, we become someone else entirely!
Yet God calls Christians to patience, love, forbearance, kindness, and so on. And we are to act the same every day. The same way that you’d talk to coworkers, friends, and family is the same way you should talk to people you meet on the street. Be kind. Ask questions. Understand that a conversation is an exchange (i.e., don’t dominate the conversation).
If any offence is given, it should not be because we dominated the conversation and acted like a Christian drill sergeant when we presented the Gospel. Offence should only be given because God calls all people everywhere to repent and believe in good news about Jesus Christ. Not everyone responds well to that message.
Do not let weirdness get in the way of the Gospel.
Second, Have a Reason to Talk
In our society, we do not often walk up to strangers to engage in conversation. It just is not the normal way to communicate. Perhaps it was the same in Paul’s day too. So he would speak in the marketplace or in the synagogue—two places where public discourse was normal.
In North America, we do not have too many places that are set up for public discourse (besides online forums and social media). Yet for better or worse, we often expect a salesperson or an advertiser to walk up to us. We expect and accept this (as long as they are not pushy).
By analogy, Christians may use this modern day forum to engage someone in conversation. In short, invite someone to Church, to a church event, or to some other equivalent thing. Have a flyer in your hand (or a tract that leads back to your church).
That way, the first five seconds of the conversation does not scare the person away. You have engaged that person in a respectful way that is akin to speaking in the marketplace of Paul’s day.
After handing out the flyer (or what have you), see if you cannot continue the conversation. Ask questions. Learn about the person you are talking to. And see if you can challenge them with the good news about Jesus.
We can use this culturally acceptable mode of communication to engage with people and share the Gospel.
Third, Be Flexible with Your Gospel Presentation
At a train station in North Hollywood, I remember talking to someone who said something to the effect of: “You don’t want to talk to me. There’s no hope for someone like me who struggles with my particular sin.” The look on his face was grave. He knew that he bore a heavy burden due to sin.
I immediately walked through the ten commandments! Not. While sometimes people need to feel the weight of their personal sin, other times they already bear this weight. What they need to know is that Christ came in fulfillment of the promises to put sin to death, Satan to flight, and sin to rest. They need hope.
Be flexible in your Gospel presentation. Treat people like friends. You listen to friends. You ask questions of friends. Remember this is the first moment of a life-long process of discipleship. Take the time to learn the person and how to share the Gospel with that person.
Explain the Gospel. Then invite the person to church. The reality is that personal evangelism must include the whole church. Discipleship and evangelism take a church with elders, deacons, congregants, worship, and teaching. Jesus calls us to make disciples.
Fourth, Don’t Count Converts
Lone ranger evangelism misunderstands the Great Commission. It is not about going on your own to a public place, proclaiming the Gospel, and then counting your converts. While sometimes you may be on your own, evangelism (and so discipleship) usually requires a number of people. You need partners to invite the disciple over for lunch, to teach them a new believer’s class, and so on.
I remember a couple of men coming with us to do evangelism. They had clickers in their hand that counted the number of converts they had made! Yet they did so without being a part of our local church. I was aghast.
But sometimes we follow their line of thinking without the show of it. We feel guilty for not having enough converts or prideful on account of how many converts we made. Yet both feelings mismatch the goal of evangelism: life-long discipleship in the church to worship the triune God. Stop feeling guilty and instead meet faithfully with a couple young believers in your church. Stop being prideful by counting converts because it takes a church to make a disciple. If you are doing it on your own, you are doing it wrong.
We may be fathers and mothers to some children in the faith (like Paul was to Timothy), but we need to pull away from the door-clicker style of evangelism. If you have invited someone to church and they have entered in discipleship, that’s a Gospel win.