We may need to rethink our default evangelistic methods. We’re not in Judea with the Jewish people who grew up hearing about the Exodus, God’s law, and Justice. We’re in Athens, where most people assume that every god is the same god and that man is free to do as he pleases so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else.
The problem with cold-call, door-to-door evangelism is that we live in a world where most people don’t have the backstory of the Christian worldview. They don’t have a mental structure where that story fits any more. We still need to do it as the Spirit leads (praise God for those who are street preachers and bold evangelists!), but we also need to leverage the relationships we have. I believe that without relationally-based evangelism and it’s ability to give people long exposure to the deep truths of the Gospel, we will see significantly decreased effectiveness.
Here are six things that I believe are essential to make our relationships truly evangelistic in nature:
1. Up-front declaration of your allegiance
One of the first things you should communicate about yourself is that you’re a follower of Jesus. Not mainly that you go to church, but that your life is Jesus’. This should be done in a natural, unforced way. It should be an easy thing for us to declare our allegiance to our King. To have that happen, point two needs to be a reality.
2. A life that imitates Christ’s
Relational evangelism won’t happen if you’re living a life that’s the same as those around you. As Jesus said, “it is enough that a servant should become like his master in every way.” Michael Frost calls it “living a questionable life.”
This is one of the greatest things about relational evangelism, in my opinion. Whereas door-to-door evangelism allows a person to hide their spiritual immaturity, relationships reveal the truth. The greater your life is lived in line with Jesus’, the more effective your relational evangelism will be.
3. Powerful prayer and the miracles that result
A central part of a life that imitates Christ’s in prayer. Powerful prayer. Prayer that sees results. If we want our relationships to be calling people into God’s kingdom we need to be praying publicly for others. When a friend shares a struggle or a need with you, stop and pray for them right there. Answered prayer is one of the greatest declarations to a skeptic that our God is real. It was the early church’s miracles that confounded the skeptics and opened doors for the Gospel in places previously closed.
4. Joy in the face of negativity
One of the side effects of living in a place of prayer and connection with God the Father is joy, that beautiful fruit of the Spirit that every human longs for. Joy regardless of circumstances. You’ll have plenty of questions about the reasons for the hope you have when you can laugh in the midst of painful trials and have joy when you’re being drug down.
5. Connection to a gospel community
Relational evangelism means the weight isn’t all on you. It’s a network of relationships in which the Gospel shines brilliantly. As Leslie Newbigin wrote, the hermeneutic of the Gospel is the local body of Christ.
6. Following the Spirit’s leading
Ultimately all of this comes down to one simple thing – following the leading of the Holy Spirit. When we do that our lives imitate Christ’s because he is the spirit of Christ. We pray constantly because we have a permanent connection with the Father. We have joy because he is the fountain of joy. We can call people to Jesus because he is the one who convicts them of the truth.
But where I want to point us to particularly is those moments when the Spirit calls us to do something that doesn’t make sense, seems risky, or totally out of left field. Maybe you’ve been developing a friendship and the person is extremely anti-Christian, so you’re worried that they might respond negatively if you clearly call them to repent of sin and put their faith in Christ. Set aside those worries. If the Holy Spirit is calling you to take the risk and lay out the Gospel clearly, do it. If he’s calling you to stop and pray for a stranger on the street, do it. Take risks, follow the Spirit’s lead, and watch as the relationships you have turn into an infinite array of opportunities for people to encounter Jesus and receive the salvation that he so freely offers.