By Randy Newman
Have you heard the recent news about evangelism? Some non-Christians seem willing to engage in spiritual conversations, but many Christians are not. The gap seems disturbing, doesn’t it? How can leaders in the local church “equip the saints” for the specific task of evangelism in our world today?
After researching, teaching, and writing about this topic for several years, I have a few suggestions.
1. Don’t tell people it’s easy
Even if having spiritual conversations is easy for you, don’t assume it will ever be easy or comfortable or natural or smooth or effortless (or a dozen other adjectives I’ve heard over the years) for every Christian. I’ve found when we tell people evangelism is easy and then they step out and try it and find it difficult, they quit. “I guess I’m not that kind of Christian,” they tell themselves.If we tell people evangelism can be difficult, and then they try it and find it is indeed difficult, they’re more likely to tell themselves, “I need God’s help for this.” — @RandyDNewman Click To Tweet
If, however, we tell them it’s difficult and then they try it and find it is indeed difficult, they’re more likely to tell themselves, “I need God’s help for this.” Remind them even Paul evangelized “in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3, CSB).
2. Encourage people to value pre-evangelism
Most people will need clarification of what that term means. I talk about it in my recent book Mere Evangelism: 10 Insights from C. S. Lewis to Help You Share Your Faith. Make clear distinctions between evangelism and pre-evangelism.
The first term is rather narrow. It’s the verbal proclaiming of the gospel—that God sent His Son to die for sinners so all who respond in faith can be saved. Pre-evangelism, on the other hand, includes seemingly countless interactions that pave the way for spiritual conversations and the plausibility of the gospel.
3. Train people to tell their stories of coming to faith
Help them craft short, prepared, memorized-without-sounding-memorized statements to answer the question, “So, how did you become religious?” This training process may seem tedious—to them and to you, probably. But if people don’t think through what needs to be said and what needs to be omitted, they’ll probably say a great deal that’s unhelpful and leave out things that could be life-changing. The process of helping people write their conversion story (and yes, it should begin as a written assignment) may help Christians understand the gospel more fully than ever before.
This is also an opportunity to look for key components of the gospel message to weave into their personal stories. For example, someone might say: “I grew up in a family that didn’t value faith or religion that much. So I came to believe that Jesus was just a good teacher and nothing more. When I read some of the New Testament for myself, I found that Jesus claimed to be God, that His death actually paid for people’s sins, and that He really did rise from the dead. I had to admit people who are only ‘good teachers’ don’t do that.”
4. Remind people evangelism can be a “team sport”
They’re not in this alone. Particularly in our digitally connected world, we have some of the finest apologists and evangelists at our fingertips (literally). Curate the best online videos, blogs, articles, and presentations and show people how to find them and incorporate them into spiritual conversations. That way, when one of their non-Christian friends asks how we came to accept the Bible “since it was just written by men” they can say, “I may not be the best person to answer your question, which is a very good question, by the way. But here’s a link to a really smart person who, I think, can help you.”
These online resources should include “reaping” tools that walk people through the climactic step of becoming a Christian. Many Christians feel uncomfortable at this most crucial stage of the evangelism process—calling lost sinners to repent and receive the salvation offered by Jesus. We should train them on how to navigate those tricky steps. But, even so, many will want help in the final stages of spiritual childbirth. And many non-Christians may be more likely to respond well in the privacy of the space in front of their computers, with the help of a video presentation, than through a conversation with a friend. My current favorite reaping tool is The Story Film which ends with, “This is God’s story. Will you make it yours?” They also have a link to click that says, “Yes, I want rescue.”
5. Adopt the mindset of an ongoing coach rather than a one-time seminar presenter
At one time, evangelism training was accomplished through weekend seminars culminating in people knocking on neighborhood doors and sharing a booklet. Those days are gone—at least in America at this moment in time. Instead, I recommend environments where people can get help from evangelism coaches as they engage in spiritual conversations.
This could be online, through an adult education venue, or in small groups. They could ask, “I started a dialogue with my non-Christian neighbor about faith. She’s interested but says she’s agnostic. I gave her a copy of Rebecca McLaughlin’s book Confronting Christianity, and she’s reading it. What do I do next?”
6. Find ways to regularly enamor people with the wonder of the gospel
In sermons, lessons, written communications, and casual conversations, we need to find ways to bring people to that marvelous place of, “Can you believe how good the good news is?!” If all our preaching should be “Christ-centered” (and it must be), those moments in the sermon should sound like we, the preachers saying those words, have a bit of trouble uttering such ineffable truths. What if we occasionally had to swallow, take a deep breath, and slow down our delivery to say, “this is really wonderful, isn’t it?”We need to find ways to bring people to that marvelous place of, “Can you believe how good the good news is?!” — @RandyDNewman Click To Tweet
Our equipping of the saints must include very practical lessons—training people to say what needs to be said, suggesting illustrations they can share, pointing them to resources to answer questions from inquirers. Our training must also involve honing our skills—giving them time and space to practice sharing their testimonies, role playing to grow into better listeners, brainstorming ways to start spiritual conversations.
But in preparing people to be “ready at any time to give a defense” (1 Peter 3:15, CSB), we must also include consistent, varied, and multifaceted doxological moments of adoration for the One who died to save sinners. We want people to gasp in amazement that “He did not even spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. How will he not also with him grant us everything?” (Romans 8:32, CSB). “Everything” includes the words to say to outsiders and compassion for lost people. After all, they may be more willing to discuss these wonders than we could have ever imagined.