This fall I enjoyed doing something I haven’t been able to do in over two years because of back issues: take students out to knock on doors and do some cold call evangelism. I actually enjoy this; however, in a Post-9/11, post-Christian America, the way I do cold call evangelism (unannounced gospel-sharing to strangers) has changed. I know, for some readers the very idea of talking to a stranger unannounced causes all sorts of fear of uncertainty. And, some believe such approaches as this are no longer effective and should be relegated to the category of the Edsel automobile. I’m in between: I think any method we use should be constantly assessed, but rather than rejecting some, we might try tweaking them. And a reminder, nothing works if you never do it.
I’m convinced cold call evangelism is not only biblical—let’s face it, there’s a lot of unannounced, stranger-to-stranger witnessing going on in the Acts—it’s also important. At the same time, I think it needs to be conducted differently than years ago.
There was a time in America where in many places a stranger knocking on a door was greeted not with suspicion but with a welcome, or at least with a greeting something short of “what the heck are you doing at my door?”
We live in a different day.
In our book Get Out, which focuses on helping student ministries reach out to public schools, my son Josh and I note that a couple decades ago, when a youth pastor brought boxes of pizza at lunchtime for his students, he was generally welcomed by the school. Today, if a 20-something-year-old man shows up at a public school, the response would hardly be described as welcoming. Our world has changed, and our 24 hour news and social media laced society keeps mass shootings, dangerous people and tragedy ever in front of us. This has raised an awareness of the dangerous world in which we live.
So how to do cold call evangelism? Here are a few principles I follow. Feel free not to agree, but I’ve found these to be encouraging and effective:
1) I do all cold call evangelism to homes in daylight. Recently I took students knocking on doors as I mentioned. We went at 4 in the afternoon. We found the people we met were friendly (likely because we were friendly), and we had some good conversations. I simply don’t do this after dark in the winter.
2) When knocking on doors, I try to go in teams of three with a mixture of men and women. There is something less scary about opening a door to a couple guys and a lady than two or three dudes, especially in the late afternoon when more women are home than men.
3) When you knock on the door, step back, turn sideways and let them size you up through the peephole before they see you stating at them. Turn, smile, and immediately introduce yourself and your team and immediately announce the church you represent (and by all means, do represent a church). Just the other day a lady said, “I thought you were Jehovah’s Witnesses,” and was relieved we weren’t! I tell the person up front our intentions: “I’m Alvin, and this is Sarah and Thomas. We are from Richland Creek Community Church and wanted to stop by and give you information about our upcoming Christmas activities (handing them a card with all that), and we wanted to know if we could pray for you about anything?” I’ve found people to be very open to talk then. Oh, by the way, if there is a dog, I say, “Is that dog a maneater?” Almost always they smile, say no, and talk to us more.
4) Three important things to remember: when doing cold call evangelism, we want people we meet to sense three things about us. First, we are harmless. We are kind, we care about them, and we are not pushy. We are their neighbors in the same community after all, and we care about a lot of the same things. Second, we seek to bring joy to our community, including to them. Third, we are not doing this to make visits, but to make friends.
5) What about cold calls after dark? I still do these, but differently. Just last night I met with a small group from our Young Pros Ministry to do some outreach. They go out the first Monday of each month. They discovered visiting people who had already visited our church went fine after dark, but when they made cold calls, people were far less open, and some were not happy to be visited. What to do? We went to a restaurant, broke up into groups of three to four, and shared with the servers. My group had a wonderful time talking with a server, a young, expectant mom. By the way, tip well when you do this! I asked her if we could pray for her. As she would come to the table each time I would interact with her. Near the end I told her I lead a ministry to young adults just like her. She said she and her husband had been out of church for some time but had talked lately about getting back involved. I gave her a fistful of ink pens from our church (servers have to provide their own pens). It was remarkable how grateful she was for that simple gift! It brought her joy. I asked her if she knew Jesus personally or if she was still figuring that out, and she said the latter, she was Catholic, but she wanted to know more. As she was working I could not have a long, involved conversation with her, but I shared with her a Story booklet, mentioning it was a little Bible study that explained the whole message of the Bible in a few pages, and encouraged her to read it. She took it enthusiastically. Remember what R.A. Torrey said about witnessing in public: 1) Obey the Holy Spirit, and 2) Don’t embarrass the other person.
I can tell you that one conversation was better than 99 percent of the cold calls at homes after dark we might have had. I found out the nights she worked, and we will soon come see her again. Only this time it won’t be a cold call!
We need to be actively, intentionally sharing our faith. But we need not feel a compulsion to do things exactly like we did years ago. That only shows we are not growing, and not aware of our context. Be intentional, and be wise.