My first two years on staff with Cru, we were encouraged to share our faith with multiple college students each week. But we had no quota we needed to reach.
That changed in year three. We were required to witness to ten or more students per week one-on-one. When I spoke to the basketball and football teams that year, I did not count that.
The rule was that it only counted as evangelism when we shared the entire Four Spiritual Laws booklet and asked someone if he wanted to receive Christ (which I’d explain as believe in Him for your salvation). Sometimes students would let me start through the booklet and then ask a question or raise an objection. I should have loved that. But I was thinking in terms of my quota. Those questions or comments derailed my speech, and I often was unable to finish. So I discouraged all questions and comments. I just rushed through the booklet so that I could count this person as someone I evangelized.
Shameful? Yes. But it seemed right to me at the time. Twice when I was teamed up with another staff member while witnessing, they rebuked me for not giving the other person a chance to talk. I just thought they did not get the urgency in evangelism. I came to realize that I did not realize the personal element in evangelism, even though other staff did.
Yes, there is a guilt-free evangelism. We are having a Dallas regional conference on that topic on Nov 18-19 at Coppell Bible Fellowship.
I have several suggestions based on my four years on staff with Cru and over forty years of evangelism since then, including intensive study of the way that the Lord and His apostles evangelized.
First, don’t have a quota. There is no Scriptural support for that. And it sometimes produced crazed evangelists like I was.
Second, make sure you know the message of life well. If you don’t know what to say, then you should be nervous about making something up. It is better to say nothing than it is to share a false gospel (Gal 1:6-9). Read the Gospel of John enough times that you have the message down. Pick your go-to verse. I would suggest John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47; or 11:25-27. This should be a verse that conveys that whoever believes in Jesus has everlasting life. That is the message the Lord wants us to convey.
Third, use the KISS method. Jesus’ method was simple. Look at John 4:10-26. He called upon people to believe in Him for the gift of God, everlasting life. We should tell people that Jesus guarantees everlasting life to all who believe in Him for it. Is that too simple? The Lord did not think so.
If you have some complicated material you need to cover, then you will surely be nervous about saying it all in the right way. But if the message is simple and easy to explain in a sentence, then it takes the pressure off.
I suggest you do not have some complicated plan that covers Mary and Joseph’s trip to Bethlehem, Jesus’ virgin birth, His early life, His ministry, His death on the cross, His bodily resurrection and appearances, His ascension to heaven, the inerrancy of Scripture, and then at the end a mention of the promise of life. It’s hard to remember all that, and the promise of life tends to be obscured by all the material presented before it.
Instead, I suggest you follow the Lord’s method. He led with the promise of life (e.g., John 3:3, 5; 4:10-14; 5:24, 39-40; 11:25-27). After you share the promise of life, you might ask something like, “How in the world could it be that simple?” They might say, “I was wondering the same thing.” Then you might say, “Well, why do you think that Jesus died on the cross?” Instead of first telling them, let them see if they can explain it to you. You might ask, “What does Easter have to do with the promise of everlasting life?” The cross and empty tomb explain why the promise is true. But in America, most people already believe in the cross and empty tomb. You can ask them about those events, rather than tell them.
Of course, there are many ways the conversation might go. But it will be a conversation, not a monologue.
People like to interact. I can tell you from personal experience that they do not like someone parroting a memorized presentation to them.
Fourth, leave the results up to God. Do not ask them if they believe what you have said. The Lord only did that once (John 11:26b), and then only to someone whom He knew did believe. It puts pressure on us and on the person that we are talking to if we ask them if they believe (or if we ask them if they have decided to believe/receive/accept/commit/surrender/etc.).
Fifth, do not keep score. That is, do not try to keep track of how many people you’ve led to faith in Christ. The Lord knows. We will find out at the Bema. There is no need for us to worry about that.
Evangelism is like hockey. A goal is rarely scored without an assist or two. In evangelism, there are often many people who sowed the seed before the person believed in Christ for everlasting life. All the people in the evangelism chain get credit for what they did. Of course, you also are laying up treasure in heaven when you evangelize people who never come to faith in Christ. Whether someone believes or not is beyond your control. We are to share the message of life when we have the opportunity. But the results are between the person and God. If the person is open and responsive, he will come to faith then or in the future.
We are not selling anything. There is no “close” as in a sales pitch. We are telling people about a totally free gift. This isn’t a BOGO deal. This isn’t free shipping. This is a free gift. We simply tell people about the promise of the gift of God. If they have questions, we should try to answer them. But even if we can’t answer their questions, we’ve told them about the promise of life.