The gospel is good news with eternal significance. It is the message that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again so that we might live forever with God (1 Corinthians 15:3–8). But as theologian Carl F.H. Henry said, “The gospel is only good news if it gets there in time.”
Evangelism is delivering that good news in a timely manner to the people who need it most. It is neither a suggestion for the Church nor a side hobby, but a mandate from Jesus Christ himself (Matthew 28:19–20). Paul describes evangelism as a ministry priority: “my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).
In the Assemblies of God, evangelism is the first of our fourfold “priority reason for being,” the others being worship, discipleship and compassion.
Our Fellowship came into being as “an agency of God for evangelizing the world.” And in 1914, the year of our founding, we committed ourselves to doing “the greatest evangelism that the world has ever seen.”
For all these reasons, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ is our privileged opportunity.
FEAR, HOSTILITY, APATHY
Why are Christians often hesitant to engage in personal evangelism? For some of us, the thought of evangelism conjures up negative emotions. We may worry that we won’t know what to say, that our religious devotion will embarrass us in front of our peers, or that friends will reject us.
There are also larger social forces at work. Contemporary culture spurns authority and embraces authenticity. There’s no absolute truth, only my truth or your truth. And how dare anyone attempt to impose their truth on me!
Additionally, there has been a massive change of religious affiliation. The majority of Americans in previous generations believed in a personal God and moral absolutes. They respected the Church and believed Christianity was good for individuals and society.
That respect for Christianity is dissipating. The fastest growing religious group in America today is the so-called “Nones,” people with no religious affiliation whatsoever. According to Pew Research Center, Nones accounted for 26% of the U.S. adult population in 2019 — up from 17% just a decade earlier.
A minority of the Nones express open hostility to Christian faith and practice. Typically atheists or agnostics, they believe Christianity is irrational and immoral. They reject traditional Christian moral views as bigoted, especially those regarding human sexuality.
The majority of Nones are what author Kyle Beshears calls “apatheists,” however. He describes them as “cognitively indifferent and emotionally apathetic” to religion. Apatheists don’t know whether God exists, and they don’t care. Fear, hostility and apathy go a long way toward explaining why many believers find evangelism difficult.
VALUE, CAPABILITY, SIGNIFICANCE
Difficulties aside, how does God see evangelism? How does He see the person who needs to hear the gospel?
Genesis 1:26 teaches that God created humankind in His image. The image of God includes our intellectual, moral and social design. He gave us reason to discern truth from error, right from wrong. God gave us the ability to live according to His commandments. And socially, He created us for fellowship with Him and with one another.
When we realize love is what motivates God and should motivate us, our perspective on evangelism changes. Love shows us the value, capability and significance of other people.
Every person matters to God. He created them and loves them, so they are valuable in His eyes. This is true regardless of their race or ethnicity, economic class or social standing, sexuality or gender identity. It’s true regardless of nationality or partisan affiliation. God loves “the world” (John 3:16) — the whole of it and every person in it. There is no person you meet whom God doesn’t love.
Every person can respond to God. Scripture says God “set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). He created us in His image, so we have an in-built God consciousness, a capability to respond to Him. That capability reaches its fulfillment only when we worship and obey our Creator. As Saint Augustine famously prayed, “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
Every person has significance before God. God created us to exercise “dominion” over creation (Genesis 1:26, KJV). Dominion means acting as stewards, using the gifts God gave us to bring His world to its full potential. When we use the gifts God gave us, however small or seemingly insignificant, we are doing the Lord’s work.
Not long ago, Barna Group reported that 47% of practicing Christian millennials think evangelism is wrong. That stunned me! The social forces I mentioned above may explain part of the reason for this.
Most people come to Christ because they have a personal relationship with a Christian. Relationship is the soil in which the fruit of the gospel grows. Rote methods of evangelism don’t require that you know anything about the other person. A real relationship does.
If every person matters to God, can respond to God, and has significance before God, personal evangelism should be personal. To that end, we need to do four things in particular:
1. Ask effective questions. Jesus posed dozens of questions in the Gospels. We often think of evangelism as giving answers, but asking questions is valuable, too. When we ask effective questions, we invite others to join us on a spiritual journey rather than just providing directions.
2. Listen without judgment. When you ask an unbeliever a question, you probably will hear an answer with which you disagree. That’s OK. It helps to understand what experiences led to another person’s beliefs. And the more willing you are to listen to others, the more willing others will be to listen to you.
3. Pace the conversation. Maintain eye contact and an open posture. Don’t think about your answer when someone else is talking. Use reflective language (e.g., “What I hear you saying is … .”) so those who are sharing feel heard and understood.
At a deeper level, know when it’s the right time to invite people to trust in Jesus for salvation. If you’ve been talking with an unbelieving friend about football, it would be forced and awkward to say something like, “Hey, would you like Jesus to be the quarterback of your life?” But if you’ve been talking about the meaning of life, a door may open for a spiritual discussion.
4. Give the Holy Spirit room to work. The Holy Spirit is the most effective evangelist, not you. When we are filled with the Spirit, we will know what to say and when to say it. The Spirit’s words will become our own.
Every person has value, capability and significance in God’s eyes. People reach their fullest potential when they put their faith in Him, who “loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). So, let’s commit ourselves anew to sharing the good news, whether across the street or around the world. And let’s do it on time!
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Summer 2021 Influence magazine. Used with permission.