How To Evangelize Effectively (and what we get wrong)

Let’s face it. Evangelism isn’t working. Or at least it’s not working well. How to evangelize is often taught as a formulaic approach that sounds more like an unwanted call from a solicitor than anything found in the Bible. Evangelism is important, but we need to rethink how to evangelize effectively.

In high school I remember being taught the importance of having a personal testimony that you could share at a moment’s notice. It was stressed to me that these conversations could lead someone to salvation (aka save them from hell). In college, Bible College to clarify, I had assignments to write out my personal testimony and have it critiqued by the professor. And again during my Masters (seminary) a similar story played out.

I know, I know… Not what you expected the curriculum to be for theological degrees.

The problem in all of this is I don’t think personal testimonies are effective. To me they are kinda like getting a sales pitch for that item that you don’t really want, but feel pressured to buy. They might result in an occasional sinner’s prayer. But rarely will it result in someone actually following Jesus. And yet they are still one of the primary tools for evangelism.

Here’s the problem: Most evangelism focuses on creating converts and not training disciples. Not only is that not working, but it’s the wrong focus. And that’s why we are getting studying like this one: 47% of Christian Millennials Believe Evangelism is Wrong

People are walking away from Jesus, not because of what He said. Rather because of how he was portrayed. It’s time to look at our evangelism and see where we can improve.

Let’s look at what we get wrong about evangelizing and how to evangelize instead.

We Emphasize Conversions

The church in America is obsessed with numbers. How many people came on Sunday, how many people were baptized this year, the number of first time commitments, and sadly sometimes the amount in the offering plate. We like numbers.

And listen, I get it. Numbers are easy to track and understand. When it comes to evangelism, this mindset makes us feel like we are accomplishing something by the amount of prayers prayed. Conversions are easy to track. But tracking whether someone is following Jesus is a lot more difficult. You actually have to know them.

We are called to make disciples, not convert people. We are called to be involved in people’s lives, even the messy parts. Not have a conversation, pray a prayer, and duck out. Following Jesus isn’t about a one-time prayer. It’s about a lifetime of ups and downs and daily dying to our desires and following him. There will be days we struggle, maybe years we struggle. And in those times we need people that are doing life with us.

That’s our call. Discipleship, not converting. Part of how to evangelize effectively is correcting our emphasis. We should focus on building relationships, not creating converts.

We Share Our Faith, But Don’t Talk About It

People need to see real faith in action, not be convinced that something is true. This is more true than ever in our current culture. People already know about Jesus, or at least think they do. The problem is they haven’t seen Jesus. Faith is increasingly becoming this personal thing. And that’s not how it should be.

If your faith is the most important aspect of your life it should come up naturally and regularly. You shouldn’t have to force it or craft a sales pitch. If your faith played an important role in the decision you make, share it.

Faith isn’t personal, it’s communal. And people need to see it. And not just the good side, they also need to see the struggles. When you are doubting or have questions you should show that side too. Hiding your weakness doesn’t make you a better follower of Jesus. It makes you a fake follower. 

So many people reject Jesus because his followers aren’t real. Following Jesus has many benefits, and we should talk about those. But it also has struggles, and we can’t ignore those either. I’ve written about mine here: Faith and Doubt (and how they coexist)

Be real about your faith. Tell the people in your life about your faith. The good parts and the bad parts. Share the difference it’s made, the impact it’s had. But don’t leave out the struggles you have too. Don’t just share your faith, talk about it. This step alone will make a huge impact on how to evangelize effectively.

We Try To Do The Saving

Many times Christians act as if they are the ones doing the saving. But we aren’t saving anyone from anything. That’s not our job. Jesus already did the heavy lifting.

Here’s the message of the Gospel… You are already saved! You’ve already been reconciled to God. Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplished that. Now it’s up to you to accept or reject what he did. You have the invitation to the party of a lifetime. It’s up to you to decide if you want it or not.

The common belief is that you aren’t saved until you place your faith in Jesus. But I don’t think that’s what the Bible says. We are already saved, we just choose whether to accept or reject God’s gift. Jesus didn’t tell us to go save everybody. Rather to go tell everyone the good news. What’s the good news? That they are already saved! Jesus has paid the price for their sin.

There inlays one of the problems with how to evangelize. A central focus is to get people to pray a prayer for salvation. But there’s no magical prayer that convinces God to save you. That’s not how things work. Otherwise Jesus would have walked around telling people to repeat after him.

There’s no prayer that will save you. It’s Jesus that saves. Followers of Jesus are tasked with telling others and showing others God’s love for them. We aren’t saving anyone. Rather pointing them to the one who already did that.

We Aren’t Focused On Our Relationship With Jesus

You will never lead people to where you are not. In other words, if you aren’t close with Jesus you aren’t going to lead anyone there. Not only will we lead people to the wrong place, but it comes off as fake.

How many of you would trust the words of a salesperson that doesn’t use the product he’s selling? Probably not many because it’s not genuine; he just wants a paycheck. That’s how many Christians come off. They aren’t really interested in Jesus, at least not enough to change their actions.

If you want to actually see Jesus change lives through you, you’ve got to first pour into your relationship with him. Otherwise what you do will be ineffective and come off as disingenuous. How to evangelize effectively means getting closer to Jesus yourself.

How To Evangelize

Our culture is changing. Our evangelism needs to change with it. Methods that once worked will increasingly become ineffective. Somewhere along the way, we lost the main objective and now it’s time to get back to it.

It’s time to start building relationships with people, not to save them, or try to “sell” them something. Rather because we care about them. We don’t have to bear the pressure of other souls. Jesus has got that part handled. Our command is to go tell them. But not in a weird, creepy, formulaic way. But to build a relationship and in genuine love and care tell them what God has done for us.

I’d love to hear from you! Drop a comment below and let me know what you think!

Jeffery Curtis Poor
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