Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Friendly Evangelism: What is the goal?

Before you start trying to share the Gospel - with anyone, not just unbelievers or former believers - it is vitally important to have a clear idea of what your goal is. I'm going to explore some possibilities, but there's no way I can cover everything. So (again) if you feel there's something important that I've rejected, ignored, or overlooked, feel free to talk about it in the comments.

If you, as a Christian, can't say what you hope to accomplish by your evangelism in a single sentence, then... well, I'm not a Christian, but I'm still going to suggest that you need to spend more time in discernment. Pray about it; think about it; read about it; talk to others about it; whatever helps you figure things out. If you don't know where you want to go, then it's damned hard to figure out how to get there.

Here are some possibilities:
  1. I want to have more people attending my church. If this is the only goal, it's easy. Of course, this is almost never the only goal. But in this case, add social activities and other opportunities for people to get involved in the church community. The less you worry about whether people understand your particular approach and doctrine, the easier it'll be to get them involved. Oh, and make sure there are donuts. 
  2. I want to convert people to Christianity. This is generally the ultimate goal of any sort of evangelism. I mean, in an ideal world, you'd bring the message of hope and redemption to people who don't have it and desperately need it, and they would repent of their sins and turn to Christ, and the Peace and Wisdom of the Lord would come into their hearts. Right? And honestly, this isn't bad... as a goal. Just keep your expectations realistic. If you aren't going to be satisfied until the person you're talking to has come to Christ, then you've set yourself up for frequent disappointment. And if you let those expectations make you frustrated and pushy, you're far more likely to drive people away... and even if you bring them in, they're going to resent the way you did it. 
  3. I just want to share the Gospel. Depending on precisely what you mean by this, it isn't a bad approach. In my brilliantly misspent youth, I worked on the adolescent boys wing of a drug and alcohol rehab. If I'd been deeply focused on tearing them away from their addictions, I'd have been deeply frustrated - and soon after that, deeply burned out. Most of these kids had no reason to believe anything that adults bothered to say to them. So, rather than trying to actually change them, I focused on showing them the tools so that if (and when) they eventually wanted to make a change, they had some idea of how to do it. Sharing the Gospel is rather like that.

So think about it. What is it that you really hope to get out of your attempts at evangelism?

Next up: choosing your target audience.

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