For many years I suffered from what you might call ‘evangelistic frustration’.
All my zeal and all of the evangelism methods I employed weren’t producing the results I was aiming for. No matter how many evangelistic scripts I memorized or how passionately I presented them, my listeners were rarely moved.
Why? What was I missing?
Reflecting on the successes and failures of the last 20 years of my own evangelistic journey, there are some important keys I have learned along the way.
In an effort to pass on tips from my experience, here are six principles for effective evangelism.
It takes a deliberate act to speak to someone about the gospel. We sometimes excuse ourselves from the work because the opportunity doesn’t present itself or because the subject doesn’t come up on its own. But it really is up to us to look for (or even create) the opportunity, and it’s also up to us to broach the subject.
This isn’t always easy. Sometimes it’s difficult. That’s why it’s intentional. It’s going to cost us something, whether it’s time, resources, or even our precious pride. Any ministry you want to be a part of will involve sacrifice on some level. Sharing your faith is not an exception.
Are the people we intend to reach worth what it takes for us to speak to them? Yes! So let’s be deliberate and intentional in our evangelistic approach.
Not every situation is the same, and not every person is the same. Everyone you meet is unique! Whether its someone across the ocean, or someone across the street, we all come from different backgrounds and different circumstances, and each of us is viewing the world through our own lens.
That’s why its important for us not to adopt one script and robotically share that same message to every person we meet. Doing so limits our effectiveness and narrows our evangelistic field.
Some people have heard the gospel their whole life, but have never experienced God’s power. But when they see signs and wonders, it causes them to surrender. (See Acts 9:32-43) Others have seen signs and wonders, but are unaffected spiritually until presented with the message of the cross. (Acts 3:11-4:4) Still others may have heard the message of forgiveness and eternal life, and have even seen miracles done in Jesus’ name, but are won over when shown genuine love in action. And the list of scenarios could go on and on.
There are all sorts of popular evangelistic styles out there, many of which are very good. We need to be flexible enough to realize that people are different and generally don’t respond to a scripted message.
We tend to lump, or stereotype people of different faiths or world views into their own evangelistic category, then pull out our script for that particular group. We have one method for Muslims, one for Hindus, one for Mormons, etc. But we need to remember, Jesus’ ministry was primarily to the Jews of his day, yet he still took the time to connect to individuals, and relate the gospel to them on their own level.
It’s important to meet individuals where they are at, not where we imagine or think they are. In order to do this, we need to have genuine interest in others. We have to listen!
There’s the old, cheesy saying, that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” While that statement is a bit cliche, it’s absolutely true in many cases.
We really do need to love people. In Mark 10, as Jesus spoke to the rich young ruler, it tells us that “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” Then he went on to say some very tough things to him. You’d be surprised how directly you can speak to people about things that need to be said when they know that you genuinely care.
If we see them as God does, we will love and listen to them, and find how best to win them.
This cannot be stressed enough. While we have an almost unlimited number of conversational connecting points, the gospel never changes. The core identity of the gospel must always stay the same. How we get there can vary from person to person, but our aim is always to share the ultimate truth about who Jesus is, what He has done, and how to receive it.
We must keep in mind what Jesus told us to preach (Luke 24:46,47), what Paul preached (1Cor 15:1-4; Col 1:13-23), what Peter preached (Acts 2, 3, 4,10)
Keep the gospel the gospel. Our message must be centered on Jesus, crucified and risen. And the offer of forgiveness of sins and eternal life is available to anyone who will receive it. There is no substitute avenue for salvation other than through the cross.
Billy Graham, when asked if there was anything he would tell a younger version of himself, said, without hesitation, “I would preach more on the blood, and more on the cross, because that’s where the power is.”
Another great Billy Graham saying is that “when you preach, preach with conviction, preach with authority, and give people and opportunity to respond.”
You might be surprised how many people will get saved if you just ask them! A missionary friend of mine told me about the first person she ever led to Christ. After witnessing to him for some time, she just came out and asked him if he would like to receive Christ. She was surprised when he said “Yes”.
Should we be surprised? The message of the cross is the power of God to salvation for those of us who believe. Is it so unreasonable to think that people are hungry to receive that?
The message of the cross is confrontational. It demands a response of some sort. Ask them!
It’s not about you. Leave the results in the hands of God.
Stay humble, and you won’t have a hard time dealing with rejection. It’s bound to happen. Some people just aren’t open. And some people will hear you out and still decide to think about it. All is not lost if you don’t “close the deal”.
Our responsibility is to be faithful to God and to the person we are talking to.
The average person has 5.6 evangelistic encounters before coming to Christ. For some people, they immediately recognize a good deal when they see it, and get saved right off the bat. If you’re like me, you heard it 100 times before eventually surrendering to the Lord. But on a statistical average, its somewhere around 5-6 times.
That’s why we don’t measure our success by how many decisions we get, we measure our success by how faithful we were to plant or water the seed. Your witness is a valuable contribution in the process of reaching that person. That’s something worth rejoicing over!
Ultimately, people don’t convert people, the Holy Spirit does.
“So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.” (1Cor 3:7)
Of course, these principles do not provide a perfect soul-winning recipe. There is no method or style out there that boasts a 100% conversion rate.
My hope is that these tips offer some perspective and help you avoid some of the same pitfalls and frustrations that I faced.
Until the nets are full and the Lord returns, may you be about your Father’s business!