Cold-turkey. Walk-up. Library-lawning. Door-knocking.
This kind of evangelism provokes a wide range of responses, but very rarely an enthusiastic: “Yep! I can’t wait to get out there and do some!”
For some (even Christians), it’s something that is deeply offensive. It’s an invasion of a person’s private time or space. Moreover it’s somewhat dehumanising to approach to someone with a hidden agenda.
For others, they avoid it simply because it’s not the natural way of doing evangelism. Evangelism should be done in the context of friendship and relationship. Sure, some may be extremely gifted for this sort of thing. But for the average Christian, this just isn’t the best or most natural way of going about it.
And even for the minority who might see some value in this kind of exercise, its value is like eating for breakfast. It might be good for you, but you don’t like doing it and can’t wait for it to be over.
Not many Christians embrace walk-up evangelism with unbridled enthusiasm. And who can blame them? The thought of hitting the streets to talk to strangers about the gospel puts knots in my stomach. I’m in that ” category” when it comes to these things – and I’m a pastor, who has God telling me (regardless of where I see my strengths) to ‘do the work of an evangelist’! (2 Timothy 4:5).
So it may seem strange then that I’m here writing about reasons why you should give this kind of evangelism a go. After a number of years where I hadn’t done much stranger evangelism (not an unwelcome break mind you!), it’s now a regular part of our new church plant’s evangelism training program. Getting back into this kind of evangelism has reminded me of some of its benefits.
Here are five reasons you and your church should give this a go:
1. You will be reminded how many people don’t know the gospel
Studies have shown that the longer a person is a Christian, the fewer non-Christian friends they have. In my experience, this is absolutely true.
What’s most tragic about this state of affairs is that my non-Christian circle of friends isn’t the only thing that’s diminishing. My passion and desire to see the lost saved also diminishes along with it. The truth is, I can get quite comfortable in this new state of affairs.
Walk-up evangelism reminds me that the majority of people ‘out there’ don’t know Jesus and are headed to an eternity without him. It lifts my eyes behind my diminishing circles of unbelieving friends and shows me that the harvest is plentiful (Matthew 9:37).
If you’re in that growing majority of Christians who simply don’t have many non-Christian friends to meaningfully share the gospel with, this kind of evangelism may be the only evangelism you get to do.
2. You will pray more
No one I know feels adequate for stranger evangelism. It’s daunting. It’s scary. It’s risky. You feel vulnerable. You fear rejection. You don’t want to cause offense. You’re afraid you’re going to make a complete hash of it.
And this kind of fear and inadequacy drives you to pray like you don’t usually pray.
Inadequacy is a wonderful means of grace. Because guess what? Every single time I’ve done this with a group of Christians, and every single time we’ve been driven to desperate prayer before going out to talk to strangers, we’ve seen God come through in extraordinary ways.
Putting ourselves in the place of inadequacy is a great work-out for our spiritual muscles. Walk-up evangelism helps develop your prayer life.
3. You will gain a better understanding of people
We all know that ‘like attracts like’. Without meaning to be homogeneous, most churches take on differing degrees of homogeneity for that exact reason. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that. It happens to most churches, and that’s why we need to keep planting lots of different churches to reach everyone.
However, what tends to happen if people in our churches never talk to strangers is we begin to lose touch with our mission field. We begin to gauge people ‘out there’ by the people who walk through our doors. As a consequence, a church’s homogeneity gets even more entrenched, and their teaching and strategy become geared towards people who are already in their pews, rather than all the people they could and should reach.
Church leaders and pastors in particular should make walk-up evangelism (or simply talking to strangers) part of your ministry. There’s no better way to get out of your ministerial trenches and to help you lead God’s people on mission in your area.
4. Your relational evangelism skills will improve
My ministry mentor used to tell me that walk-up evangelism is ‘training with real bullets’. Even if you baulk at the metaphor, I hope you can see what he meant by that.
This sort of evangelism may not be the main way that God wants “ordinary” Christians (whatever “ordinary” means) to relate to outsiders. I agree that it’s primarily through friendships and relationships.
However, this kind of evangelism invariably makes a person better and more equipped to share the gospel with their friends and family.
Every cyclist will tell you that doing hill-climb repeats helps you on your weekend group rides. Every football player (whatever your code) will tell you that high-intensity intervals with a good amount of plyometric exercises helps you on the field. It’s what training does.
Stranger evangelism helps you in all sorts of ways with evangelism in general. You get better at listening. You get better at introducing the gospel in a conversation. You get better at explaining the good news in a succinct and clear way. You develop better apologetic skills (or at the very least, it forces to you brush up on your apologetics).
The people who are most successful at sharing the gospel with their family and friends tend to be those who have done a good amount of stranger evangelism. It’s not difficult to see why.
5. People get saved this way
Training with real bullets means that in God’s goodness and sovereignty he uses this form of evangelism to save people. He really does.
It may not be the primary way or even the secondary way that God will use you and your church to reach those around you, but he will use it. At the very least, that one gospel conversation is a seed planted, and God’s Word doesn’t go out and return empty (Isaiah 55:10-11).
In conclusion, it’s perhaps helpful to remember how the gospel itself addresses all of our fears and objections to doing stranger evangelism.
For the gospel reminds me that God reached out to me when I was a stranger to him.
The gospel challenges me to step outside my comfort zone and put in the hard yards to better reach the lost.
The gospel addresses my crippling fear of rejection.
And the gospel assures me that I can be confident in the sovereign Saviour who stands behind his message and his messengers, so that no matter how insignificant one conversation may seem, it can make an eternal difference in the life of that one stranger.