There are several major theories of evangelism out there.
Fundamentalist Evangelism – This method became popular in the early part of the 20th century and has carried on in conservative groups down to this day. The basic approach is that everyone must hear the gospel. It involves going door to door, passing out tracts, or accosting people on the street. The goal of each of these encounters is to get someone to pray a prayer of salvation with you. This generally requires a lot of stamina and courage because it involves being rejected a large percentage of the time. In addition, during the process I often wonder if I’m not pushing some people farther away.
Seeker Friendly Evangelism – On the other end of the spectrum is the approach that says we should create church environments where non-believers are comfortable and then find ways to get them to come. Getting comfortable involved toning down the message, adding good coffee, saying things like “the Bible works for me,” etc. The main problem with this is that it’s very easy for people to go to church there a long time and never have a true conversion to Christ. Easy to get in the door, hard to get “to the altar.”
Power Evangelism – This approach says that what brings people in is the power of God. We should heal, prophesy, interpret dreams, and pray deliverance prayers over the lost and they will come to Christ — that is what Jesus did. The problem with this strategy is that it can be like building a baseball team around always hitting home runs, or a football team on “hail mary” passes. When something miraculous happens, there is no doubt it has a powerful impact on bringing people to Christ, but it also tends to make people feel excused from doing the more basic evangelism activities. Instead we get focused on getting enough power from God to have one of these power encounters.
Servant Evangelism – Pioneered by Steve Sjogren of the Cincinnati Vineyard, the idea here is that by serving people in uncommon ways, you can open their hearts to God. Instead of passing out tracts on a hot day, you will be passing out water. Instead of knocking on your neighbor’s door with a Bible, you might be cutting his grass. There is no doubt that this method does in fact open people’s hearts, and it is definitely lower stress than confronting them all the time. I’m going to put in this category also approaches which focus on doing good things for marginalized groups like the poor and elderly. By meeting their needs, the gospel is able to go forward.
Divine Appointment Evangelism – This method says that God will put people who are ready in our paths, and we need primarily to be ready to give them the Gospel. Larry Tomczak has developed this idea. He carries his personal testimony in the form of a tract and is on the lookout for anyone who could be ready to receive the gospel. He will interact with them, and often give them his tract. The key to this theory though is that you do not need to touch everyone, you just need to touch the person who is ready.
Queen of Sheba Evangelism – The Queen of Sheba came from the ends of the earth to see Solomon in all of His splendor and encountered God in that way. This theory goes that by building great buildings, awesome music, big business, and otherwise impressive structures, the World will come to us and realize that God must be among us. If this does happen, I’ve never actually seen it. Normally this is a way for all kinds of worldly pursuits to come in the door of the church.
Each of these methods, except perhaps the last, has an insight that we can take as the basis of another model. Here are some principles I’d like to suggest
- Hell is real and there is urgency around reaching out to people. We must take definitive action.
- We need to be on the lookout and ready at all times to reach out to someone.
- We need to have a full toolbelt ready in our outreach. This means a business card at minimum, but it also means the power of God. Healing, prophecy and the power of God are essential.
- We need to have a place to bring them once we have reached out to them. Many encounters will just be a small step in a person’s conversion. If you are going to start reaching out to people, you need somewhere to bring them as a next step.
- We should scrub the environment we are bringing them to of “weirdness.” By that I do not mean the truth, or the Holy Spirit. What I mean is things that make coming to our church or group an unnecessarily strange environment. This means uncontrollable laughter, rolling around on the floor, etc, are not appropriate for a meeting where there will be unbelievers.