What is wrong with evangelism?


The communication team of the BGCT commissioned an intern to do man-on-the-street interviews last September. With video camera in hand, the intern asked random Texans “How do you experience hope on a daily basis?” If money were no object, I’d request they send one out to ask this question, “How do you experience Christians you know on a daily basis?” Wouldn’t it be great if their first response was “Hmmm … Christians? Can’t say it’s true for them all, but the ones I know are replete with integrity. That’s what distinguishes them – their integrity.”  Or …

“Christians? The ones I’ve come across are ludicrously filled with compassion. They’re just plain kind to people!” Or …

“Christians? They unapologetically tell the truth … they shoot straight with you.”

“Christians? They have concern for the poor—no one cares for the poor like Christians do.”

“Christians? They’re humble people … they admit when they are wrong, seek forgiveness and forgive others.”

“Christians? They are genuinely open toward all kinds of people, regardless of their background, race, soceo-economic status. Man, Christians go out of the way to make you feel welcome!”

“Christians? Whenever somebody needs a little encouragement or friendship, Christians are the first to lend a hand.”

Or best of all, what if people said what the ruling council of Israel said of Peter and John, “Christians, they are ordinary people who have been with Jesus” (Acts 3:13).

Click below and listen to the man-on-the-street above-mentioned interview. Precisely two minutes and twenty four seconds (2:24) into the video listen, if you dare, to the lady respond to a question about hope and the church.

You didn’t watch it, did you? That’s ok! She said, “I never disliked myself more than when I was going to church.” She haunts me. She is legion.

We have a real problem in evangelism. But just what is it? I am often told the problem is using the word “evangelism.” Don’t use that word, we are told. Is that the problem with evangelism? Texas Baptists are vocal about evangelism, particularly in regards to best practices. Which is the best practice: prayer evangelism, small group evangelism, personal evangelism, event evangelism, relational evangelism, ministry evangelism, church starting evangelism? Are methods the problem? For myself, I like and support them all!

What is the problem with evangelism? When a newspaper posed the question, “What’s Wrong with the World?” thinker G. K. Chesterton reputedly wrote a brief letter in response: ‘Dear Sirs: I am. Sincerely Yours, G. K. Chesterton.” What is wrong with evangelism? I am.

Scott Willingham

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3 Responses to “What is wrong with evangelism?”

  1. ruip Says:

    The problem is with evangelism, in my opinion and personal experience, is that many ‘Christians’ don’t know how to argue with a skeptic other than the cliche, theological arguments we all already know. That might have worked in the 1st century, when people were generally mystical, but in a scientific, rational era, telling people that “Jesus was resurrected,” fundamentally begs the question, and needs better support than “the Bible says so.”

    In my small/large/medium/petite groups, we learned very little beyond what was already written in the Bible, and with due respeect, ‘evangelism’ is more of psychological repetition and group dogma.

    The method of modern evangelism is obsolete, and most Christians I dare say, don’t know what faith is themselves. So how can they tell me?



  2. David Troublefield Says:

    Besides Scott, the problem is our continual effort to put square pegs into round holes. (Just kidding about you, Scott–though we know you’re capable!)

    Believers don’t know/aren’t taught how the Lord made/re-made them to do evangelism, nor how their God-given personal styles of evangelism differ from the styles of other Christians, nor how/where/when to use those evangelism styles–which, if implemented, would seem more natural to the “man on the street” and to the believer.

    Instead, we get one-peg-fits-all evangelism training (the Billy Graham-style peg: confrontational evangelism, when 5/6 of us aren’t Billy-like) at one-peg-will-do-you evangelism meetings led by understand-one-peg-only evangelists year after year. The last thing Texas Baptists need is another one-peg evangelism conference–but, if the BGCT’s evangelism section is promoting a multi-peg approach to sharing the really good news about salvation in Jesus Christ, then I think lots more believers would be interested in attending (no less nervous maybe, but still more interested) and using what they learn. The man on the street might finally realize, “What’s wrong with the world . . . ? Well, as I understand it now, it isn’t Jesus and it isn’t Christians–it really MUST be ME! Tell me what to do . . .” (cf. Acts 2 and Pentecost).

    Of course, when it comes to state-wide training, you have to be able to get the people there–which was discussed last year in preparation for this year’s evangelism conferences as not likely to happen as in days gone by. So, get senior pastors on board to lead/do it in local churches. Best wishes to the BGCT’s staff: you have your work cut out for you if you have to keep leading the way!

  3. Ken Coffee Says:

    The most effective evangelism I have ever seen is a happy Christian living like a Christian and being willing to tell others what happened in his life that makes him such a joyful person.

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