Although fear in sharing the gospel is a reality most struggle with, studies show we have reasons for evangelism to be part of our conversations.
By Scott Hildreth
Fear prevents most Christians from being more purposeful about evangelism. We are afraid that a lack of knowledge will lead to embarrassment or inaccuracies. We’re also afraid of the reaction of others—anger, embarrassment, rejection, hostility, or apathy.
Although fear in evangelism is a reality most of us struggle with, a recent survey of Americans provides us with some surprising insights that may give us reason to be more confident as we share the gospel with others. The 2022 State of Theology report reveals that a majority of Americans believe it is very important to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus as their savior (56%).
Understanding the significance
Notably, the research included both believers and non-believers. Of course, a higher percentage of evangelicals (82%) affirm this statement; however, the data seems clear. Even non-believers think evangelism is important.
Furthermore, the phrasing of the question highlights conversion as the goal. In other words, a majority of Americans believe it’s OK for Christians to seek to convince non-Christians to become Christians.“A majority of Americans (56%) believe it’s OK for Christians to seek to convince non-Christians to become Christians.” — @dshildreth Click To Tweet
This is an important point because many Christians are content with dispensing information but uncomfortable pressing for a decision. Our cultural value of tolerance and pluralism encourages silence at the point of asking for a response. However, the data seems to indicate that most Americans believe it is important for Christians to evangelize with the goal of asking the hearer to trust Jesus as their savior.
Reasons for evangelism
Several other statistical findings support this belief about the importance of evangelism:
- 59% of Americans believe hell is a real place and certain people will be punished for eternity
- 64% of Americans believe there will come a day when Jesus will return as a judge for all people who have ever lived
- 57% of Americans believe righteousness before God comes through faith in Jesus, not by personal effort
- 64% of Americans believe the only way sin can be forgiven is through Jesus’s sacrificial death
- 60% of Americans believe God’s gift of salvation is only available to those who trust in Jesus alone as their savior
In other words, a majority of Americans believe Jesus is the only hope for a right relationship with their God and a blessed eternity. It is at this point that Christians do well to remember the words of Paul to the church in Rome:
Everyone who believes on him will not be put to shame…For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.Romans 10:11-15, CSB
Since it’s clear both Christians and many non-Christians agree evangelism is important, how might this impact how we approach this task?
1. Look for God’s activity in people around you
The Bible tells us God wants everyone to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). It also tells us that the Holy Spirit draws unbelievers to Jesus (John 16:7-11).
As you are looking for God’s activity around you, here are some indicators God may be at work:
1. A person expresses interest in things of God
This could be interest in the gospel, church, sin, forgiveness, etc. But note, this interest is not always expressed positively. It may be a search for justice, hope, or fairness. Remember, any cry for love and hope is a cry for God.“Any cry for love and hope is a cry for God.” — @dshildreth Click To Tweet
2. A person is talking with you about a problem that seems hopeless without God’s help
Resist the temptation to play pop-psychologist. God placed you in this conversation to talk about your hope in Jesus.
3. A person shows interest in an area of your life that can only be explained by God’s help
Maybe this is your marriage, your hope in crisis, your parenting, your finances, or your freedom from past addictions. This could be a moment where God is highlighting his handiwork as an invitation to faith.
2. Share with kindness and conviction
Evangelism rooted in fear or guilt often comes across as aggressive. It is as if we are trying to do something uncomfortable and not enjoying the process much. However, the assurance that we are telling a story most people find helpful should shape the way we share. Remember, the kindness of the Lord leads to repentance (Romans 2:4, CSB).
3. Provide an opportunity for follow-up and response
When you get to the end of the conversation about Jesus, don’t just walk away. Ask one more question: “What do you think about this?” or “Have you ever thought about trusting Jesus?” Remember, most people will not be offended. In fact, it is probably the natural conclusion.“When you get to the end of the conversation about Jesus, don’t just walk away. Ask one more question: ‘What do you think about this?’ or ‘Have you ever thought about trusting Jesus?’” — @dshildreth Click To Tweet
These statistics cited in this article simply confirm reasons for evangelism we have known all along. “Don’t you say, ‘There are still four more months, and then comes the harvest’? Listen to what I’m telling you: Open your eyes and look at the fields, because they are ready for harvest” (John 4:35, CSB).
For permission to republish this article, please email Marissa Postell Sullivan.
D. Scott Hildreth
Scott serves as Associate Professor of Missiology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of Together on God’s Mission and the co-author of Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out. Both books are published by B&H Academic.