Who knew talking to my atheist friend could change my view on evangelism? Last year, I was asked to prepare a class on “modern day evangelism tactics”. I had some ideas, I had some tactics I knew would be effective (or so I thought). I’m glad I decided to message one of my friends for some advice.
You see, I had a friend, an atheist friend. While she may be an atheist, she has an interest in “spirituality”. This has allowed us to discuss numerous topics relating to Christianity, religion, and other topics relating to "spirituality". We have the type of relationship that I can ask anything and get a very honest answer. So I sent a message: “Being someone who isn’t really interested in “church” as a Christian would be, what tactics would work today? What would make you interested to at least listen or do a Bible study?” I explained that I thought it would be beneficial to ask someone in our target audience who would be honest with me and not argue or become offended. She took a day to gather her thoughts, and what she said changed the way I view evangelism.
"When I think of someone who might listen to a bible lesson, I think about people who have not been shown enough love or acceptance. You have to know what people need. We are bombarded with ads every day everywhere, so not many people would respond to something impersonal. Faith and spirituality are not a product to be sold.
With that in mind, keep the mentality that you are not someone with a knowledge advantage, but someone who can offer something to someone in need because of what it has done for you. Gratitude for your faith should be key, not an interest in trying to stop sinful behavior. If someone develops a heart filled with love and faith, their actions will reflect that.
People on the outside do not understand that there is real spirituality to be found in Christianity because most Christians are only interested in trying to convince everyone they are defective. Make sense?"
While you and I may not agree with 100% of the things she said, there are some valid points. So, what exactly did I learn from her response?
You Have to Know What People Need
People need love. People need grace. We still must teach the truth, but we must teach the truth in love and "with grace seasoned with salt" (Eph. 4:15, Col. 4:6). We must meet people where they are. Let us be a light shedding light on the ultimate source of light, God. Everything we do should point back to the cross, should point to God. People do not need a "life-referee". Instead, people need a friend. People need a family. People need a place they can confess their sins and struggles without fear of being judged (unrighteously) and ridiculed. Above all people need the Savior. It is our job to show them the Savior.
Faith and Spirituality Are Not A Product To Be Sold
Effective evangelism is personal. Effective evangelism is not printing and mailing out pamphlets. Effective evangelism is not recording a commercial and putting it on TV and online. Effective evangelism is not putting up big billboards. Effective evangelism is not telling someone they're going to hell. Effective evangelism is not waiting for people to come to you.
Effective evangelism is personal.
Like my friend said, we are bombarded with ads every single day. YouTube even has ads now. We HATE ads. So why do we treat evangelism like a product to be sold? Simon the Sorcerer tried to buy the Holy Spirit and was told it was not something he could buy (Acts 8:18-24). We know and remember that story, yet our evangelism methods often say the opposite.
Now before you tell me to get in the 21st century--TV commercials, billboards, and other media are now just a part of the culture, I AGREE! Yes, those things have their purpose, but they should NOT replace PERSONAL EVANGELISM. Please don't misunderstand me, I love congregations who use commercials, billboards, pamphlets, and other resources. Those ARE GREAT for getting the word out about events and a church's location; however, NOTHING can replace evangelism lived out in our personal lives. I still encourage a congregation to invest in these media resources because they still have a role in our outreach to our communities; we just need to use them properly and effectively.
Don’t Try To Convince Everyone They Are Defective
This one is a little tricky. Do we want others to cease sinful behavior and become a faithful follower of Christ, OF COURSE! However, that is our desired result; it should not be our method. Trying to convince someone they are "defective" is not an effecting evangelism method. When we let our anger over something immoral get in the way of showing love to others we have completely missed the point. Do we still need to correct sinful behavior? OF COURSE! But our methods must reflect Christ.
We must focus on showing them love, mercy, and forgiveness. We must focus on showing them what God has done for us, personally. Your story + God's story = an effective evangelism method. We must remember that if someone develops a heart filled with love and faith, their actions will reflect that. We cannot expect non-Christians to act like Christians.
Not Earth Shattering?
While these are not “earth-shattering” take home points, I think it leaves us with a big question—“Is this how we do evangelism?” I've been saying for a long time, we're missing something. What we've been doing isn't working. We cannot wait for non-Christians to come to us and we cannot go to non-Christians and run them off. We MUST go to them, but in an effective way.
Evangelism is not a one time event, a campaign, or even a single conversation or Bible study. Evangelism starts with every day Christian living. We cannot be effective in our evangelism without first being faithful Christians. We cannot be effective in our evangelism unless we treat those around us with love.
If we can learn from my atheist friend and if we can apply the advice she gave me on how we do evangelism we will be much more effective.
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