It isn’t necessary for every Christian to rent a stadium to proclaim the gospel to thousands. Most Christians can gain a hearing for the gospel while exchanging life stories at the coffee shop, taking a meal to a hurting family or standing for justice in an unjust world.
What evangelism requires is that when we care for a friend or speak out for a cause, we tell others that our faith is the reason. We tell them the good news that was told to us.
People Are More Open Than We Think
When speaking to his disciples about sharing his message, Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37). The problem then and now has always been about the lack of workers, people who tell the news. It has never been about the harvest—those who do not know Christ. They are often more open to listening than we expect.
Famous magician and outspoken atheist Penn Jillette once talked on his video blog about an encounter with a Christian who gave him a Bible as a gift. Rather than be offended by it, Jillette recognized the gesture for what it was—concern for him. “How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize?” Jillette asked. “How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”
That’s a good question for many Christians to answer today.
Lifeway Research, the Christian polling outlet that I lead, found that 78% of those who do not attend church said they, like Jillette, would be willing to listen “if someone wanted to tell me what she or he believed about Christianity.” Younger people were even more likely to say they would be willing to listen.
The harvest at least seems ready to hear, while the workers don’t seem as willing to talk. That’s a missed opportunity.
Christians Are Timid
A 2012 Lifeway Research study found that 80% of churchgoing Protestants believe they have a responsibility to share their faith, but only 39% have actually shared with someone how to become a Christian in the past six months. In other words, a lot of people think they should share their faith, but they don’t often do so.
As I head to Wheaton College to take a newly created endowed chair, I’m aware of the man it is named after—Billy Graham. He was known for many things that should be part of our reputation as well. He cared for the hurting, sought to bring peace to tumultuous times, and partnered with others for the greater good. Ultimately, however, he was mostly known for one thing: sharing the gospel.
And we should do the same today.
In Jesus’ last words before he ascended, he said we are to “make disciples of all nations.”
Evangelism isn’t just one part of our calling. It is central to our calling. Jesus’ last words should be our first priority.