I resisted the temptation today to do an episode on what I think I would title “The Tithing Lie” or maybe “The Great Tithing Lie”, but I think I will let churches and pastors collect their tithe for another few weeks before I drop this one.
Instead today I want to talk to you about a very simple evangelism strategy. I’ve been doing a lot of teaching on personal evangelism lately in part because in my observation, personal evangelism, well evangelism in general, is the bottleneck in disciple-making. We’re just not reaching enough people and the bottleneck in evangelism is that people are not equipped to or engaging in personal evangelism.
They’re waiting for opportunity to invite their friends to church, which wasn’t working that great before COVID, it’s not working at all during COVID and it’s going to work even less afterwards. Some Alpha events are going well even online, so there’s always things that are working, but in general, it’s just not happening.
A basic evangelism strategy is really very simply to start praying for people that you bump into consistently. Whether it’s people you actually work with or know their name or go to school with or people you see even walking by on your street. My wife and I are in a place right now where we lived several years ago for a few years, then we were back for a few months, and now we’re back again. This time around, because of the nature of our ministry, we are engaged much more in outreach.
Last time we were here, we started very intentionally praying for our neighbors and for the people we see walking by. Now we’re continuing to pray in this way, including some that we saw even five years ago and have it amazed at how rapidly the relationships are developing.
Just in the last few days my wife and I has gotten to know two new ladies in the neighborhood. One has lived here for decades. She was living here when we were here before, but we never crossed paths with her at all. My wife’s already had a good visit with her and another lady across the street. We’ve got neighbors in our condo complex we’re getting to know, as well as people across the street. It’s just in part just by praying for people consistently.
Praying does things visibly and invisibly. We can’t see a lot of what happens, and when we pray, God does work in people’s lives and circumstances, and other people are praying for them and work in their lives. But praying also makes it much more difficult for us to be oblivious to what’s going on in people’s lives.
For instance, earlier this winter I could see through between the two houses across the street our neighbor was stuck in the back alley and I jumped my pickup, went around, and she was shovelling snow. I asked her if she need help. I had my pickup there and pulled her out. My wife since then has walked across the street and introduced herself, referencing that unstuck situation.
Things start to snowball when you start praying for people, and then really the first basic goal beyond getting to know people is having some kind of contact and getting their names. The target is to be able to do something with them socially, having them over or going out for coffee. As I record this, we’re still in some kind of crazy restrictions here, but that’s changing fast. We have several people right now who we’ve gotten to know that we could conceivably go do something with socially.
So the basic evangelism strategy is simply to pray, pay attention and allow the Spirit to prompt you to go speak to people, to help people, to encourage people and to engage with them. Another layer I added this, at the risk of going off on another tangent, is the CPR acronym for evangelism, where we talked about cultivating, planting and reaping.
There’s a cultivating stage that’s purely relational. There’s a planting stage where maybe we share a bit of our story and then the reaping, or harvesting, stage where people are at the stage where they become followers of Jesus. This is really helpful in my mind to start to see where people are at and act accordingly; not to jump into the reaping stage when there’s been no cultivating and no planting. No farmer would ever do that. And there’s a similar dynamic as well in personal evangelism.
So personal evangelism strategy: pray and pay attention. I encourage you to start doing that, to start modelling that if you’re in leadership and lead your people into true disciple-making with new believers.