Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"Cold" Evangelism

I would like to start a dialogue in regards to what some people have termed "cold" evangelism. Recently, a well known evangelist, Greg Stier wrote an article entitled "Does Street Evangelism Work." In the article, he expressed his struggle with street evangelism in terms of it's effectiveness in making disciples. I would encourage you to click on it, read it and reflect on it. I respect what he said there and agree in many ways, but...

First of all, I really don't care for the term, "cold" evangelism. I believe this is a term used primarily by those who question the effectiveness of this type of evangelism. I would prefer using the term intentional evangelism or encounter evangelism. I believe this reflects the true nature of the methodology being used. The witness is being intentional in sharing the good news. Or, we could look at it from the perspective of the person encountering the message of God through the witness.

Basically this method of evangelism advocates the sharing of the gospel with as many people as possible even if you do not know the person. A number of people today are of the opinion that evangelism can only occur in the context of an established relationship. They advocate building the friendship first, then sharing the gospel.

First of all, I believe both types of evangelism are needed. There are some people who you will only reach in the context of a relationship. The problem comes when we build the relationship and fail to share the gospel.

let's just say you start building a relationship with a person with the intention of sharing the gospel with them. After three months, you feel that the time is finally ripe for telling this person about Christ. You make plans to share the gospel with them when you get a phone call; your friend was killed in a car accident. Where will they spend eternity?

You say, "Oh, that probably will not happen that way. You are just using fear tactics." Really? Are you willing to take that risk with a friend's eternal salvation?

We should never assume we will have tomorrow to tell someone about Jesus. As it says in James, "Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away." James 4:13-14

Secondly, let me give you some reasons why I believe that intentional evangelism works:

1) I believe in the power of the gospel. Romans 1:16 says, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek." When the gospel is proclaimed, I believe it can change a person right then and there. They don't have to be taken through the ten steps to the purpose driven better life to be saved. God is still sovereign and still saving people. He is powerful enough to get his message through.

2) I believe in the work of the Holy Spirit. His job is to draw people to Christ. He is the best friend of the witness and whenever the gospel is shared, He works through the witness and in the heart of the hearer. If the person hearing the gospel truly repents and puts their faith in Christ, do you think the Holy Spirit says, "Praise God, another soul saved," and then abandons the person??? NO! I believe He takes up residence in the person's life at that point and continues to draw them close to Jesus. This does not excuse our need to begin to discipleship process with the person by any means. In fact, we must do everything possible to help the convert plug into a local congregation.

3) I believe in divine encounters. God is at work redeeming a lost world. He has invited us to join him in that work. I believe that if we are faithful in looking for opportunities to share the gospel, God will send people to us who are ready to hear the gospel. This may not mean that the hearer is ready to receive Christ, we may be one link in the chain that God uses to draw a person to Christ. Still, God sends up clear opportunities to influence other with our words and we must seize those opportunities.

4) Jesus and the Apostles practiced intentional evangelism. How well did Jesus know the Samaritan woman at the well, or Zachaeus, or the man on the pallet brought to him by the four friends or the thief on the cross before He shared the gospel with them? How well did Paul know the Philippian jailer? How well did Phillip know the Eunuch in Acts 8. Did Phillip say, "Hey Eunuch, I would love to explain that scripture you are reading. Let me first go back to Ethiopia and get to know you better." Now, all of this intentional evangelism was done in a relational manner - as is the case with all evangelism. But it was all "cold" evangelism.

5) Intentional evangelism has a rich history of success. Well known Christians like D.L Moody, St. Patrick, George Whitefield, Charles Finney and many other well know evangelists believed in and practiced intentional evangelism effectively. It has worked for nearly 2000 years. It still works today when it is practiced.

6) Try as we might, no method of evangelism is 100% effective in producing disciples. I don't mean to rain on everyone's parade here, but Jesus didn't have 100% success with everyone he came into contact with either. (Judas, the rich young ruler, many of the ones who heard him speak, etc.) Read the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-23. Jesus compared four types of ground to the human heart. The seeds landed on all four types of ground, but only one soil successfully produced fruit.

I am interested in your comments and thoughts on this matter.


Anonymous said...

You are right on

Evangelism Coach said...

Good thoughts Darrel.

Particularly your first point that "both are needed."

Cold evangelism has been called "confrontational" because it often interrupts a person's life or pattern of thinking. It interrupts their day so to speak and confronts them with information from the gospel. Typically script heavy, using tools and logic to help a conversation move from phase to phase. Credibility is hard to establish in the short time.

Relational evangelism gives time to build credibility of the witness. Gives time for insight into a person's life and asking questions to examine that life.

As you say, both are valid forms of evangelism that can lead to a person wanting to follow Christ.

The challenge becomes the "then what". What happens next in the disciplemaking process? This I think is the author's contention -- If evangelism is the beginning point for making disciples then is cold evangelism an effective beginning?

What I think the author comes down to is being used in the immediate circle of influence and cooperating with the clearly visible work of the Holy Spirit.

We should be open to the random encounter (his point #3) and in all things -- relationally (#4)

Just my thoughts when I'm doped up on Nyquil.


Katherine K said...

I agree with you that both forms of evangelism can be successful in leading people to Christ. In my experience, however, the emphasis has been put on reaching strangers (or developing new relationships in order to share the gospel) and reaching old friends and family has taken a back seat.

I do think that "intentional" evangelism is valuable in that it increases a Christian's boldness and passion about their own faith. So even when converts aren't made, it is not a lost cause.

But ultimately, it should come from a heart broken over lost people, not an attempt to convert as many people as possible. If you share with someone who verbally accepts Christ, you should spend more time talking to them about what to do next rather than saying "GREAT!" and move on.

I loved your point about the Holy Spirit..."If the person hearing the gospel truly repents and puts their faith in Christ, do you think the Holy Spirit says, "Praise God, another soul saved," and then abandons the person??? NO!" I definitely have fallen into the pattern of thinking "Well, if I don't plug them in to a body of Christ, then they won't ever be plugged in!" It's so easy to turn the focus around to us, rather than trust God to do His work in others' lives.

Jason said...

I enjoyed your blog post. For what it's worth, and I know you said you agreed with most of Greg's article, the fact is he is a proponent of both types of evangelism and how they work together. At Dare 2 Share we specifically refer to it as "Relational" and "Relentless" evangelism. The goal for anyone, regardless of what end of the spectrum you are on (Relational OR Relentless) is that we work to balance it out. Greg, by admission being much more relentless, focused on relational in the article because that's where he wants to improve.

Again, great blog post. Thanks for sending readers to Greg's article. Keep up the good work and never stop sharing the Gospel!

Question of Identity said...


Another fantastic post! So many people seem to think that all of a sudden the Holy Spirit has lost His power to convict. It is a major understatement to say that this is pure folly.

Satan is a liar - he tells the church not to bother, that your word will not bear fruit!

You are so right about divine opportunities. God leads us to the people we are to witness to - it was the case with eg Philip in Acts and it is the same for us today.

If Jesus is right (and He IS!) [present tense!]when he says that "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few" then we are going to come across those who will be convicted by the Holy Spirit en mass.

Incidentally, I think we read those words nonchalantly, I feel sure that Jesus said these words with great emotion, perhaps tears in His eyes, perhaps with anger in His heart, as he contemplates those who are still lost.

Thanks again Darrel