By The Rev. Bill Oldland, Rector, St. Bartholomew’s, Hartsville
Last summer I attended a Diocesan evangelism workshop at Holy Comforter, Sumter. Some very interesting information was shared concerning evangelism. Using the book, Becoming a Contagious Christian by Bill Hybels, the workshop unpacked six approaches to evangelism.
The six styles are: Direct, Intellectual, Testimonial, Relational, Invitational, and Service. Every single person has God-given gifts and abilities that fall into one or more of these six approaches. A church community will have all of the styles present. The members, using their gifts and working together, can become very effective at sharing the message of Christ in their community.
I’ll unpack the different approaches here. See which one best fits you.
This approach is what we see in Acts 2 where Peter addresses the crowd on Pentecost. He boldly proclaims the Gospel to those who are present. It is very direct. Those who have this gift get straight to the point. They preach Christ and they seek a response. The issue isn’t forced but the person with this approach directs the conversation to a discussion on faith. In Becoming a Contagious Christian, the direct approach is described as “redirecting conversations to Christ.”
The biblical person who best exemplifies this approach is Paul. In Acts 17 Paul reasoned with philosophers and deep thinkers in Athens. Today this is practiced by apologists and other logical thinkers. The intellectual evangelist is challenged to have an excellent knowledge and understanding of the Gospel. Intellectual roadblocks can be a significant barrier to belief. These roadblocks can include questions and objections that cause doubts about the veracity of Christianity. However, this approach is becoming more important in today’s world. Hybels says, “This style of evangelism has become more and more important as our society has become increasingly secular. So many seekers need to hear the Gospel not only declared but also defined and defended.” As it says in 1 Timothy 3:15, “Be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
I know when we think of evangelism, we tend to see in our mind someone who uses the Direct approach. We might think of Billy Graham. It is true he is an example of that approach. We also might think of someone like C.S. Lewis when we read the description of the Intellectual approach. He, too, is a good example of that style. Perhaps one or both of the descriptions listed above have piqued your interest. It may be that you have some of those characteristics.
However, we are not all gifted in those approaches and these two might not fit for you. Take heart! There are four more approaches for us to discover. Everyone has been gifted to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. I know one will describe your style.
The most effective way to describe this approach is with one word: Storytelling. Storytelling has been an effective method of teaching since the beginning of humanity. This approach uses a very natural, conversational way to evangelize. It is sharing our story. Sharing personal stories of one’s own walk with Christ often carries unique weight. They often do things that facts alone cannot provide. One of the best Biblical examples is the story of the blind man in John 9 healed by Jesus. When he was asked who healed him, he replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I do know is that I was blind, but now I see.” Many people might not respond to a challenge or an argument about faith. In fact when approached in those manners they might put up a wall. They might respond to something more personal to which they might relate. Our stories do not have to be dramatic or miraculous. In fact, it could be as simple as sharing that one changed from being a “religious person” who attended church regularly to one who now has a deeper relationship with Christ.
This approach is exactly as the name describes. Some people’s evangelistic abilities come from the natural ability to relate to people. This person loves being with others, and it is a wonderful way to share Christ. The story of the calling of Matthew in Luke 5:27-29 is a great biblical example of this approach. Jesus sees Levi in his tax collecting booth and calls him saying, “Follow me.” Levi (Matthew) follows him and invites a number of guests to his house for dinner that night with Jesus. This approach places a high value on building relationships. It requires a commitment of time because relationships take time and energy to build trust. There are all kinds of areas where this approach is effective: work, home, sports, hobbies and social and community activities. The friendships developed there are fertile places for evangelism.
Perhaps one of these two approaches might be a better fit than the Direct or Intellectual. They were certainly a little more comfortable for me. We still have two more to go. The goal is for us to find the approach or approaches that speak to our soul and quicken our spirits to share God’s love.
This approach is similar to the Relational approach. However, it is characterized predominantly by inviting people to church events such as services, retreats, bible studies, and other faith based activities. It is definitely one of the most natural and easiest ways new believers can reach out to others. It is particularly helpful to those who feel they don’t have the right words.
In fact, we do this same approach naturally in other venues. I am part of an exercise group and Bible study called F3. I had never heard about this national group before. Someone invited me to attend. I went, and I now find it to be an important part of my life. I would never have gone if I hadn’t been invited. I owe a great deal of thanks to my friend, Mel Pennington, for inviting me. Bill Hybels, the author of Becoming a Contagious Christian says, “There are many people who would take great strides in their spiritual journey if someone would go to the effort of strategically inviting them to a seeker-oriented church service or outreach event.” It is all about extending the invitation.
This is another way to share our faith with people. If you are a person who naturally notices the needs of others, this might be the perfect way to share your faith. A person who prefers this approach enjoys sharing the love of Christ through deed over word. They find this approach to be easy because it is the way God made them. Actually service evangelism is at the heart of the Christian faith. Most of us have been made by God with gifts and talents that call us to be kind to others and assist those in need. At the same time, a service evangelist knows that it is not by our good deeds but by God’s grace that we are truly saved.
Now, we have reviewed all six approaches to evangelism. I am grateful for the members of the Diocesan Evangelism Commission for providing this information.It is obvious that God has given us the gifts and abilities to serve him in one or more of these evangelistic styles. We are called to identify them and use them in our community. If we will take the opportunity and use the gifts God has given us appropriately, we will see great things happen.
The six approaches were shared by the Evangelism Committee of the Diocese. Many of the aspects originated with material written by Bill Hybels.
Interested in learning which approach fits you? Come to the Evangelism Workshop on Saturday, March 2 at Trinity Church in Myrtle Beach. Learn more and register.