What is the best method of evangelism? Depending on whom you ask, the answer will vary. The only correct answer, however, is “whichever one presents the gospel clearly and asks for a response.” Unless the gospel is explained and the person is asked to respond to the gospel, then there is no evangelism.
There are multiple evangelism methods people and churches use to share Jesus with others, but each one has its own strengths and weaknesses. The one that works best is the one that is most comfortable to each person and most appropriate for each situation. This article will highlight some of the more common methods of evangelism, briefly providing some strengths and weaknesses of each.
Note: While the exact definition of each method may vary somewhat, this article uses generally understood meanings of each.
Lifestyle evangelism is often understood one of two ways:
- Live right and people will see the gospel in one’s life
- Live right and people will ask about God
This method is built on the foundation of how one lives, with the idea that one’s life will lead others to Christ, or at least lead others to ask about him.
- Encourages righteous living and self-evaluation
- Helps one’s life accord with the gospel
- It is not biblical evangelism, only a means to possible evangelism
- Employs a highly passive approach
Lifestyle evangelism is best summed up in a phrase I’ve heard many times: “My life is my witness.” That statement, however, falls apart when one considers what it means to be a witness (cf. Acts 1:8). This is best illustrated by a story a former professor of mine often told his evangelism students.
Court is in session, and the prosecutor calls his star witness. As she takes the stand, the jury awaits her testimony. The lawyer asks the woman, “Did you witness the events in question?” She replies, “Yes, I did.”
“Please tell the jury what you saw,” he says.
The witness sits there smiling. Unsure if she heard him, the prosecutor repeats, “Ma’am, will you please tell the jury what you saw.”
“I did,” she replies, continuing to smile.
Frustrated, the prosecutor retorts, “No, ma’am, you did not. Again, please tell the jury your testimony!” Yet, she continues to sit there smiling.
Impatient and angry, the prosecutor asks the judge to order the witness to answer the question. “Ma’am, you will tell the jury what you saw,” instructs the judge. “You will say what you witnessed.”
Insulted, the woman replies to the judge, “Your Honor, I did share my testimony. My life is my witness!”
The woman honestly believed that her life served as her witness, but she never shared her experiences. She did not serve as a witness for the prosecution, but only as a courtroom seat warmer. In the same way, many Christians warm the church pews, and although instructed to be witnesses, they silently sit there expecting their lives to be their witness.
Living is not evangelizing; lifestyle is not evangelism. Proclaiming the gospel is evangelism, and one’s life either affirms or detracts from the credibility of our testimony.
Servant Evangelism (aka Service Evangelism)
- Emphasizes showing love as a way to open doors to evangelism
- Simple and often affordable to implement
- Can be done at any time
- Tries to create opportunities to share the gospel
- People can improperly believe the service to be evangelism
- Serving may be emphasized while evangelism is de-emphasized
- Limited training on personal evangelism
- Though doable by individuals, seems more apropos for group outreach
I am a fan of servant evangelism, especially for churches, small groups, and youth groups. It doesn’t require a large budget, can be done with relative ease, can be exciting and fun, and has a tremendous opportunity to open doors to the gospel. The world accuses Christians of preaching love and not showing love; evangelists critique Christians for showing love and not preaching love. Servanthood evangelism, done properly, shows love and preaches love, addressing both criticisms.
This is a popular method among churches and groups, the most famous of which are revival services, vacation Bible school, and Halloween alternatives (often called “Harvest Fests” to avoid the clear association with the secular holiday). An outreach event is held, the public is invited, and ideally the gospel is shared with those who attend.
- Creates and builds on public interest
- Can generate name identification for the church or group
- Large crowds increases potential evangelistic encounters
- Often builds name identification for the church or group, very little for the gospel
- Can be very expensive
- Attendees are often primarily members of the sponsoring church or other community churches (especially with revival services, gospel concerts, and similar events)
- Most Christians do not have to evangelize or they choose not to evangelize
- Evangelism becomes an event rather than a regular, daily activity
Evangelistic events are a wonderful idea, if they are evangelistic. To be evangelistic, they should be about promoting the gospel, not promoting the church. That means the event promotion should focus on reaching the community rather than focusing on reaching other churches, and the sponsoring church should ensure that the gospel is clearly presented in every way possible. Events, however, are never a substitute for a churchwide personal evangelism strategy.
Neighborhood Evangelism (aka Door-to-Door Evangelism)
Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons—that’s what many think of when they hear about door-to-door evangelism. This method involves going to homes and sharing the gospel with those who answer. Many Southern Baptist churches do this type of door-to-door visitation on a weekday evening.
- Great for generating personal contact with new visitors
- Easily scheduled and inexpensive
- Great method for low-cost event promotion
- Common practice among many churches—easy to implement
- Participation is generally very low
- Urbanization, gated communities, technological advances, and other cultural changes reduce access in many communities
- Evangelistic effectiveness is generally very low
- Often becomes more about church promotion and new visitors than gospel proclamation and new believers (cf. the evangelistic delusion)
- Public perception and response to this method are often negative
Door knocking, though a traditional approach to evangelism, is becoming less effective as an evangelistic strategy and more effective as an event promotion strategy. Society has changed, along with its ways of communicating and the way people live. Door-to-door evangelism may be effective in one area and nearly impossible in another (a church can be banned from some areas if the residents desire). It is best to determine its usefulness based not on history, but on the current situation (tradition is rarely a valid basis for determining future success).
Street Preaching Evangelism
This is a method greatly used by John the Baptist and Ray Comfort to share the gospel with others. It involves someone standing at a location with pedestrian traffic and proclaiming the gospel to passersby.
- Effective at getting attention
- Gospel can be clearly articulated
- Can lead to opportunities for one-on-one evangelism
- Low-cost and not audience dependent
- Limited captive audience—most people will ignore the speaker
- Apologetics often necessary
- Requires thick-skinned practitioners—there usually arises those who are hostile
- Public perception and response is often very low
This method is not for everybody, and its effectiveness is limited, though its secondary and tertiary impact is potentially greater than many other forms. It’s recommended that those interested in this method be well-versed in Scripture, ready to address questions often asked by non-Christians (apologetics), and be able to articulate clearly.
Tract evangelism uses gospel tracts to present the gospel. There are three ways to use tracts: (1) take someone through the tract, using it as a visual aid, (2) sharing the gospel then giving the person a tract for further consideration, or (3) leaving the tract for someone without a personal conversation.
- One of the most simple and versatile methods of personal evangelism
- Ideal for situations where a conversation is not feasible (e.g., busy store cashier, passersby, waiter/waitress, etc.)
- There is a wide variety of tracts available for almost any style of gospel presentation
- Can be great conversation starters
- Many appeal to a visual-based audience
- Tracts can become substitutes for or tools to avoid personally witnessing to others
- Requires purchasing tracts (or the expense of self-printing)
- Some are wordy and thus may not be read
When it comes to personal evangelism, tracts are one of the greatest tools available, second only to Scripture. Their best use is that of visual aid and guide. Some people aren’t sure how to explain the gospel, and the tract addresses that uncertainty. Furthermore, the tract can be left with the person to read through later. When using tracts as a guide, it’s best not to read the tract, but to summarize the message.
High quality gospel tracts are available from any of the following sources:
- Living Waters/Way of the Master — Smartphone tract available
- Crossway (ATS & Good News Tracts)
Conversational Evangelism (aka Relational Evangelism)
Some may distinguish between “conversational” and “relational.” Conversational evangelism is starting a conversation for the purpose of sharing the gospel; relational evangelism is seeking to relate to the person, looking for permission—i.e., an open door—to discuss spiritual matters. While they may be technically different, their general approach is the same: sharing the gospel during a normal conversation. Thus, they are treated as one in this evaluation.
Conversational evangelism is the method most often used by Jesus. It involves finding ways in normal, everyday conversations to share the gospel with someone else. This can occur in a store checkout line, at a sporting event, on an airplane, or almost anywhere.
- It is personal evangelism
- Evangelism can occur anywhere at any time with any person
- A variety of tools can be used (tracts, the Bible, etc.)
- Doesn’t require schedules, only willingness
- Can be done by anyone
- It is the method used regularly by Jesus and the disciples
- It involves going out and sharing
- Can be intimidating to some
- It is often misunderstood: some think it requires special training or special gifts
In case you haven’t figured it out, this is the method that is most highly recommended. There are a plethora of ways to engage in conversational evangelism. One can use apologetics, a Q&A format (cf. Questioning Evangelism), tracts, a pocket Bible (cf. Share Jesus Without Fear), one’s personal testimony of how they became saved, or many other means.
Although conversational evangelism is probably the least common method of evangelism, it’s undoubtedly the most effective. It is simply sharing Jesus with someone in a normal, everyday conversation.
Some people prefer one method over the other; some may disagree with my overall assessment of each method. Regardless, none of these methods of evangelism alone constitute a comprehensive churchwide evangelism strategy. However, all of them can be part of that strategy, and John Rothra Ministries can help your church develop it.
When it comes to evangelism, there really is no wrong way of doing it, there’s only evangelizing and not evangelizing. As the professor who told the story of the courtroom witness always said, not everything we do is evangelism, but everything we do can be evangelistic. Sadly, though, most of what we do is neither evangelism nor evangelistic. That can change, if we are willing to become gospel-centered believers and gospel-centered churches.