Evangelism is the title given to the concept of sharing our faith in Jesus with people who are not believers in him. It is the cornerstone of the Christian mission. Jesus instructs his followers to “Go into all the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20)” and to be his “witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).” The message of Jesus is always expanding to reach new people with the message of his grace.
In my ministry, I have seen the emphasis on how evangelism is done change greatly. The early days of being a preacher focused on evangelism programs. Me, as a Church leader, would teach people a series of material revolving around questions and/or scripture and people would go door to door to share their faith. The problem was that most people did not want to hear about faith the moment you showed up on their doorstep. It discouraged more people than it brought to faith.
Then came what was called lifestyle evangelism. Instead of going door to door, you would invite people into your life. They would see your faith, and they would ask you to explain it. You would then walk them through your material and lead them to faith. This was more encouraging for the person who wanted to share Jesus, but its fatal flaw was the presentation of the gospel. Lifestyle evangelism became more about lifestyle, and little evangelism happened.
Over the last ten years, the movement has been to community service evangelism. I also call this good works evangelism. The idea is that an individual or a Church group does something good for others, usually in their community and they hope it will open the door to faith. Some Churches have used local service to see tremendous growth and numerous people find faith in Jesus. Once again, this method has a fatal flaw. For many, the service project or good work is seen as the end goal. If we did something kind and people are happy then we have accomplished the task of sharing our faith. Evangelism or explaining the gospel is dropped entirely.
My one warning for the people who plan these events, lead them, and get excited about them is that they are simply tools to work the ground for the seed to be planted. Good works open doors for the gospel to be explained and believed. They are what is called “pre-evangelism.” They are what happens so that we can now tell the message of Jesus.
This is an essential understanding and distinction for the followers of Jesus and his body. If we are not clear on what we are doing, then we can slide into a “good works salvation.” The people of the Church do good things and hope that others will join them to also do good things. Jesus gets dropped, and the family of believers gets reduced to a civic group working only for a better community.
The Church is about faith in Jesus and spreading his message to the world. Christians must tell people about the God who came to us, lived among us, died for us, and rose to demonstrate his superiority over everything. These truths are what bring us salvation and cannot be separated from the work of the Church. So, my encouragement is to go, share your life and do good works, but be sure people know about Jesus, or we have all failed.