MCKEES ROCKS, Pa. (BRN)–When I came to Christ I was taught direct, sometimes confrontational, approaches to sharing the gospel.
Initially I was taught to lay the groundwork for the the Roman Road method by asking folks, “Do you know what would happen to you if you were to die today?” and I took to it as taught.
I led teams of young believers out to San Diego’s Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, downtown to the trolley stops, to Fashion Valley mall, where we sprung that question on many folks. The vast majority of folks tolerated us, some engaged in longer conversations and debate, and, over time, a couple of folks listened hungrily to a presentation of the gospel, prayed with us and made a profession of faith.
Then I saw my dear friend Tom Wilkins come to Christ. Tom and I were in college together, both unsaved at the time, and bonded, two aspiring writers looking for someone as excited about prose as our own hearts were.
I came to Christ shortly after that season of my life. Tom would let me talk about my faith, but he wasn’t there yet. He had other friends who’d begun their journey with Christ and were sharing with him and praying, but he had both intellectual doubts and, I believe, a deeper barrier created by losing both of his parents as a teen.
Over time, Tom would ask questions, voice objections, and listen. Just as importantly, he’d talk about Padres baseball, go to writer’s group meetings with friends of varied beliefs, and attend games, concerts and events with me.
In other words, his encounter with the gospel wasn’t just words on a street corner. He watched the early days of my personal transformation, realized that I didn’t grow three heads or insist that he be like me in order to warrant my attention. We were friends and I valued him as a person.
Eventually, Tom came to Christ, and honored me by asking me to be the one who baptized him. I was, and remain, thrilled. Last year, approaching 50, Tom finished seminary and serves at a church in Yuma, Arizona.
When my family moved to Pennsylvania, our initial efforts at “cold call” evangelism weren’t met with tolerance. They were rebuffed, often rudely, sometimes with menace. We were outsiders in a town that had seen lots of ministries set up shop only to disappear in short order as they found the populace tough and reticent.
The old saying is that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care, so we hit the brakes and started building relationships within our neighborhood. It was a slow slog, but it bore fruit. Cold call evangelism was replaced with “relational evangelism” and many folks have come to Christ. We’ve baptized 175 folks from our community, and are seeing God do much.
But, over time, there was a problem. As we engaged in, and taught, relational evangelism, we found that many of our folks were only practicing the relational part. They’d gain friends, but shy away from sharing the gospel. This really hit home when one of our folks was shattered at the unexpected death of a neighbor they’d befriended.
“I kept meaning to share Jesus with her,” my brother in Christ told me, “but the time never seemed right. She knew I was active at Faithbridge, and I’m pretty sure I invited her to come, but I always felt awkward, waiting for the ‘right time’ to share the gospel.”
I started asking folks, and sure enough, heard again and again how people had gained friends by being intentional about befriending people, but fear of upsetting their friend or losing the friendship served as a barrier to sharing the gospel.
The message was loud and painfully clear, so I shifted focus some and really emphasized the importance of being intentional with both the “relational” and “evangelism” parts of relational evangelism.
For some folks, who have almost a phobic reluctance to share the gospel, I’ve stressed the importance of inviting or bringing their new friend to church events and worship. Getting them to an event like a cookout gives some other believers a chance to also befriend their new friend, which means someone more confident in sharing the Good News may get a chance. I’m confident that If they can get them to worship, they’ll hear the gospel.
Cold call conversations still happen sometimes, as God leads and creates opportunity – mostly on public transportation and when someone in crisis is sent to the church – but even our most diehard advocates of the approach admit that as a primary system of evangelism for Faithbridge it’s been a pretty dry well.
Our initial read that relational evangelism would be necessary and prove fruitful was solid, but we needed to apply our tradition of “constant assessment” to it as we do with the majority of what we do. In truth, I was blind to the shortcoming, and it should have been assessed earlier.
Emphasizing evangelical intentionality with our folks has stoked the fire and landed the importance of loving others beyond our natural aversion to risk in our newest relationships.
This intentionality among the church family, as well as helping instill the same mindset at the Good News Place, a local Christian storefront we’re partnering with, has resulted in a big uptick in Sunday attendance – we recently added another service – and God has used it to draw several folks to salvation.