“I won’t do evangelism.”  Genuine fear played across the face of the church council member.  When I asked what he thought evangelism meant, he described someone preaching on a street corner.  If that’s evangelism, I’m unlikely to do it either.

Evangelism is not a neutral word.  Some see it as an imperative, others as the preserve of judgemental fundamentalists.  While the church generally has a sense that it should somehow be announcing the good news of Jesus, the exact content of that good news and the means by which it should be communicated are far from settled. 

For as long as I’ve been hanging around the church (and that’s nearly fifty years), there has been a succession of tools, techniques, programs and products all designed to mobilise the church toward evangelism.  All the while, the church as a proportion of the population has halved.  If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us are pretty happy to leave evangelism to evangelists.

What if we could be effective in helping unchurched people become followers of Jesus without learning scripts, without ‘steering’ conversations, without campaigns, crusades or anything else that seems like relational kryptonite?

At the end of Luke’s gospel, Jesus states that repentance and forgiveness will be preached (and there’s another article in that) to all nations.  And then he told the gathered disciples, “You are witnesses of these things.”

In court, reliable witnesses have a degree neutrality: “This is what I saw, this is what I heard, this is what I experienced.”  Unreliable witnesses try to craft their testimony to get an outcome.  Hostile witnesses resist giving testimony to the extent they can.

When I run a Pathways workshop I often conduct a straw poll as to how many people were brought to faith by a stranger (vary rare), while only knowing one or two believers (uncommon) and already knowing three or more Christians (vast majority).

Research by Rodney Stark and Roger Finke bears this out.  The overwhelming majority of people who convert to a new belief system do so having become a part a community that holds the new system of belief.  People generally belong before they believe.

An essential part in making disciples is simply bearing witness to your own experience of being a follower of Jesus.  We have no trouble talking about other aspects of our lives – our kids, our work, our hobbies.  Can we be just as open with our spiritual lives?  Witness is not pressure-selling people, it’s simply being honest and a little transparent.  If we’re honest about our lives, the essential ingredients of the gospel (God is gracious and compassionate, we’re all sinners, confession and repentance are essential) will be both apparent and – without our anxious efforts – compelling.

Hanging around in a community where those kind of stories are as routinely related as talk of a child’s first tooth or a tricky problem at work, an unchurched person is seeing and hearing the gospel played-out.  It’s no great stretch for them to want to know more.

From there, it’s a natural invitation to Alpha, Christianity Explained or a discovery bible study.  People need to hear the gospel in propositional terms, and they’re more likely to be interested if they first observe it in experiential terms.