1) Evangelism should be non-confrontational – Sharing the gospel is a not a shouting match, a guilt trip, or an extended theological discussion. Evangelism should never involve discussions about the end of the world or going to Hell. The best evangelical tool in your possession is the life you lead. Whatever words you ultimately use to talk about the faith should build on the example of what you say and do.
2) Consider: If you knew next to nothing or very little about Christianity or its basic tenets, how would it sound to you? Realize that what you want to share and the beliefs you believe to be self-evident sound foreign, strange, and alienating to many people. Put yourself in their shoes. You can’t tell your story, or what works for you, to people who don’t share your foundation or worldview.
3) As a result, you must hear their story, language, and worldview. This means: before we speak, we listen. Christian listening is active and engaged listening. The art of Christian listening is a tradition nearly lost in the era 140 character tweets and short attention spans. Listening well means slowing down.
4) Review: We are not confronting, convincing, or even converting (in the most traditional sense). In this era, people are rarely one faith then change to another. Conversions are drastic psychological and emotional shifts in one’s belief, lifestyle, and outlook.
5) Most of the people we encounter will be those who were:
a. Once connected with a church but stopped coming for any number of reasons
b. Have no religious background at all; they were raised without church
c. Their ideas of religion are shaped by popular culture (we’re all Bible thumpers or involved with the Da Vinici Code)
d. Had faith forced on them by parents or family
e. Come to United Methodism from a Christian tradition they knew as a child
g. Functional Atheists
h. Looking for a group identity beyond those already present in the community
6) How would you talk about your faith persons in these groups? What is the difference between a “testimony” and your “story”? Why does it matter how you characterize your journey? What’s the difference (or possible barriers caused in hearing when you contrast “giving” a testimony and sharing/telling a story? (Large group conversation)
7) Activity: Describe your religious life to people in each of these groups? Remember, evangelism is more about description than it ever is confrontation. (Try this as an exercise in small groups.) Try not to use “churchy” or “insider” words. What part or parts of your story would you tell? Are some more relevant than others?
8) This model of dialogue, listening, and conversation based evangelism/outreach mirrors Jesus’ approach to ministry.
9) In Luke 10 (The Mission of the Seventy) Jesus sends seventy disciples ahead him to begin the work of the kingdom of God.
a. The work is notable because their need for equipment (i.e. stuff) is minimal.
b. They are charged with bringing welcome and peace.
c. Avoiding confrontation at all costs.
d. Meet the most basic needs which they find (hunger, sickness, and shelter).
10) In listening to the stories of those we encounter, are we listening for needs? In the midst of these conversations, even before we have responded, do we find ways the church may help someone in a basic, even life saving way? This, according to scripture, is evangelism.
11) Our actions, as the church and individuals, tell the gospel story. If we are welcome (as in Jesus’ story) we can proceed. If not, we can move on.
12) Action driven evangelism is: non-confrontational, need driven, scripturally based, and central to our identity as United Methodists.
Richard Lowell Bryant