“You’re all going to hell!”
The same man who appeared on our local college campus annually, as part of a pilgrimage to bring judgment to young adults, was back. He stood on the corner outside of the library, shouting his mantra over and over again. I remember the looks on the faces of my fellow students—both Christians and non-Christians—and realized this version of evangelism wasn’t encouraging anyone to follow Jesus.
Years later, I found myself watching as my coworkers in a small coffee shop received tracts instead of tips. They had been counting on their tips to close the gap between their minimum-wage jobs and their living costs, and this was a slap in the face. The various denominational tracts left them still hungry—while their hunger for God was stifled by the slights they experienced financially.
Neither of these avenues worked to proactively make people seek God back then. And today, it’s no different. For some, showing up for worship is simply not part of their weekly (or even monthly) schedules. That means our how we display our faith, beyond our churches, our homes and our circle of Christian friends matters even more. So how do we properly represent the heart of the Lord in a meaningful way that allows Him to change the hearts of those we encounter?
We need to consider what it means to witness, to evangelize, in a way that displays who Jesus is and what God looks like. Of course, there’s tension in the way we do it, but it must be done if we are going to actively engage in Matthew 28:19-20 action. How each of us goes about it will vary, but building relationships leads to significant opportunities to grow your faith and the faith of those around you.
Evangelism on the Grassroots Level
A year ago, our neighborhood church felt called to do more than meet and create more programs. After a time of praying for discernment, we engaged in “adopting” a local elementary school. We discovered this school was the only one in the community that no church was currently invested in; in fact, one of the administrators said no one had ever asked if they needed help!
In a community where 60 percent of the people live below the poverty line, this school reaches 750 students from some of the poorest neighborhoods. For seven years, the school has fallen farther and farther away from state accreditation standards.
By holding monthly outreach events for teachers, the church slowly built relationships with them and the community. When a hurricane hit, the school reached out to the church to partner in a clothing and supply drive for those devastated by the storm. By Christmas, the guidance counselor had identified 75 students who had no winter coats, so we used community connections to purchase new outerwear for each of them. By spring, church members were volunteering in different aspects of ministry to adults and children at the school alike.
This June, the school became fully accredited, thanks to the hard work of its teachers and staff. The church didn’t play a direct role in that but publicly, we were able to remind the teachers and students that the congregation (and God) loved and supported them. By offering help, our church was able to publicly display its faith and values in ways that had far-reaching impact on the people in the community.
Practical Steps For Evangelism
So what can you do? What change can you make to stand publicly for your faith and help build relationships in your community? Here are just a few ideas that go beyond traditional proselytization.
- Become a mentor or coach. Whether you are a parent or not, there are opportunities to help children learn how to become better citizens and people of faith. Sign up to coach an athletic team; volunteer to tutor; serve as a member of a Parent-Teacher Organization; become a Big Brother or Big Sister. Modeling your faith in mentoring allows others to see the way you love God and allows them to ask you questions about your decision-making.
- Serve locally, or abroad. You may not have the time to go away for a week to build or teach, but you have a few hours a week where you can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or visit the sick. Serve at a shelter or soup kitchen; organize a drive of clothes, shoes or food. While you’re at it, take a friend with you and model the kind of Mathew 25:31-46 service that explains what you believe.
- Tell your story. You have a story that needs to be shared with others. Writing it out on a blog, or even shooting videos of your story, will help your comfort level grow as you tell others about how your life has changed. Too often, we fail to recognize that it’s our story in the midst of God’s story that will grab people’s attention. Remember, Jesus told stories to help people understand the Kingdom of God!
- Advocate for change. Social media is a powerful tool that we fail to use to its fullest extent. What you believe, how you vote, what you think about the way God is working in the world—it all matters, and people are hungry to hear thoughtful discourse. Instead of worrying about what others think, or if you’ll offend them, patiently share what you think should happen—and ask others to consider joining you via Twitter, Facebook, etc. Just make sure it’s a genuinely thoughtful, respectful discourse—that alone will speak volumes in the Twitterverse.
- Pray. Pray that God would open up doors for you to share your faith, and open your heart to the people who need to hear it. We are instructed to go out and make disciples—but our fear, external pressures or lack of experience can get in the way. The way through, around and over those obstacles is to rely on God’s grace to see us through. God’s grace reminds us He is the One at work in sharing our faith, and it’s our privilege to be part of the process.
Originally published in the October 2017 issue of Citizen magazine.