I have a confession: I’ve been a full-time evangelist for over two decades and I rarely do the job you think I do. In a moment, I’ll tell you more about what I actually do. More importantly, I want you to know what evangelism really is, why it is important, and how to do it—but better. You will see that you can do it. You can evangelize the people you encounter.
Bill Bright’s Four Spiritual Laws is one of the most cherished evangelistic tools in modern memory, but I’d like to talk about what I consider to be a better evangelistic approach available: we might call them the Three Laws of Evangelism for the Care of Souls. These three laws, as we will see below, are:
Before we explore those further, we need to examine what evangelism really is.
What is evangelism?
Evangelism is more natural, relational, and life-giving than you might imagine. If, when you think of evangelism, you only think of confrontational conversations, short-term intense efforts to guide non-Christians into instant conversions, or memorizing a script so you can say the words of someone else’s evangelistic plea “just right,” then you have a pretty narrow, unrealistic, and inefficient view of evangelism.
These tasks are quite costly relationally, emotionally, and spiritually. Because of this, these tasks of evangelism are difficult to sustain. So, the Christian committed to this type of evangelism outsources it to “the professionals” like me. We pray for missionaries, donate to mission funds, and expect full-time ministers to evangelize the non-Christians we know and don’t know.
The key task of evangelism is not “demanding a response” to the gospel, though there is a time and place for that. The key task of evangelism is announcing that Jesus is Lord (1 Cor 12:3; Rom 10:9; see also Phil 2:11; Acts 10:36).
While the briefest summary of the gospel is that Jesus is Lord, the fullest statement would be the complete testimony of the entire Bible. The early church centered its proclamation around a summary of the gospel called the rule of faith which has its earliest written expression in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
All of this is good news.
To “evangelize” means to bring or announce that good news. The English words “gospel” and “evangelism” are related. When we take a closer look at the Greek noun for evangelism, euangelion, broken down as eu-angelion, we see that the Greek prefix eu- means “good” or “beautiful,” while the second part, angelion, is a “message” or “messenger”—as in “angel,” since an angel is a messenger from God.
I like to say that evangelists are people who are messengers who bring the news that God is good. I don’t say it aloud because it might seem a bit too much, but I picture evangelists as playing an angelic role as they deliver a gift directly from God in heaven to people on earth deeply in need of good news.
What is evangelism, then? Evangelism is the good announcement that Jesus is Lord.
Because evangelism is an announcement—one that takes many forms and routes, as we will see below—faithful evangelism does not require an immediate response. This may startle modern evangelicals, but it also helps us imagine evangelism in new ways. As always, but especially today, we need to reimagine evangelism afresh, because evangelism is critically important.
What is evangelism? Evangelism is the good announcement that Jesus is Lord.
What is evangelism? Evangelism is the good announcement that Jesus is Lord.
Is evangelism important?
Near the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, he traveled extensively “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom” (Matt 9:35, NIV)—the good news was that the king of the kingdom was in their midst. Jesus saw that the people were harassed and helpless and told his disciples to ask the Lord to “send out workers” because there were too few (Matt 9:38). Little did the disciples know that they were the answer to their own prayers. This is because, as we see in the next verse (Matt 9:39), Jesus called his twelve disciples and sent them out.
Today, people are still harassed and helpless. Today, workers are still too few. Today, I believe Jesus’s command to the disciples is a command to us: pray for more workers to proclaim “the good news of the kingdom.” Chances are: you, like the first disciples, are an answer to that prayer. I urge you not to shrug off Jesus’s call to evangelize and ignore it like many treat the intercom instructions of an airline attendant telling people to reset their phones to airplane mode.
If you have been a Christian for a while, you might be numb, even callous, to the sheer wonder, vibrancy, and beauty of announcing God’s kingdom. A pastor told me of a funeral that he officiated for a stranger. Astoundingly, no one showed up for the service. He, nonetheless, honored the deceased person with the dignity they deserved and went through his plan for the service, including a short sermon and presentation of the gospel. The pastor confessed to me that his experience was, quite obviously, tragic and depressing. He further questioned why he would proclaim the good news of Jesus to an empty room and a dead body.
That is when God gave him a vision: a vision of angels filling the empty funeral service.
In that moment, the pastor was reminded when Peter wrote that the prophets “searched intently and with the greatest care” regarding “the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven,” and that “even angels long to look into these things” (1 Pet 1:10–12). He told me that when the good news of Jesus Christ is proclaimed, angels crowd into the room since they long to hear the good news of Jesus. Christian, whenever you announce the good news of Jesus, some humans might ignore it, but angels rush to the scene. Not only is evangelism important, it is the angel’s envy.
Evangelism is important because it glorifies God; evangelism is also important because the message of Christ brings salvation. We are saved and born again by faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is a gift. The most basic student of Scripture and theology knows that faith is a gift from God and not from ourselves (Eph 2:8). How does faith come to humans? Faith comes to humans through hearing the word of God. Reconsider the familiar words from Romans: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (10:17). God manifests faith in Christians through the word of Christ.
The task of the evangelist is not to call, urge, beg, motivate, stir up, plead, implore, exhort, press, encourage, demand, solicit, pressure, request, or appeal for faith because faith is not a resource the hearer can supply. The task of the evangelist is to deliver the word of Christ. When evangelists deliver the word of Christ, our task is done.
How to evangelize—better
God has used the Four Spiritual Laws to work powerfully in the lives of millions of people. And yet, as an isolated tool, they are insufficient for evangelism. Packets of the Four Spiritual Laws are sitting on the shelves of households around the world gathering dust. Evangelism requires a messenger, and we’ve learned that many people today require much more than a predetermined script. Predetermined scripts are the tools of telemarketers, form letters, and spam emails. These only work as a numbers game: if you try it enough times, it will eventually work with someone.
There is a better way. But this way is slower, nuanced, and a bit of an art. This is because effective evangelism is personal, relational, and pastoral. This way allows us to see evangelism as the act of caring for a person’s soul. This approach requires three steps. The first step is to listen.
1. Listen and re-listen
Here’s some evangelism advice from a strange source: doctor’s offices. If after waiting alone in Room 2 for twenty minutes, the doctor walks in, sits down, and immediately explains four steps to make you healthier, and then hustles out to his next patient—leave. Better doctors sit down and ask, “What brings you in?” Then they listen. After listening to your words, they listen in additional ways: to your lungs with a stethoscope, to your blood flow through your pulse, and in all sorts of ways with x-rays, MRIs, etc. Then, after listening, they apply their education, experience, and wisdom to announce how to help. This process is slow. This process is personal. Efforts to automate, scale, or mechanize this process dehumanize us.
Do you know why most people don’t listen? It is because they are preparing to speak. People spend hundreds of dollars per month so that someone will simply listen to them—that someone is their counselor. Counselors know what questions to ask, how to listen, and how to ask the right next question based on what they heard. If you were to look at the ratio of listening to speaking, you would see that good counselors listen much more than they talk. The same is true of good evangelists.
I have a friend who is constantly sought out by others, someone people just flat-out love being around. I asked her, bluntly, “What is your trick? Why do people love being with you and talking to you?” She told me a trick her dad taught her as a child. Her dad told her that whenever she asked a question, that she needed to ask two follow-up questions. She said it was that simple. By listening and asking two follow-up questions she transformed the depth of her relationships, ministry, and evangelism. After listening effectively, people are ready to listen to what you have to say. And you will be able to deliver your message better because of what you have heard.
2. Announce wisely
I have a habit that whenever I get in my car, I type my destination into my phone. Then, I review the various options it provides, whether it’s the fastest way, the way with the least number of turns, or another way that avoids toll roads. This habit is formed so deeply in me that I do this even when I’m heading to places I visit multiple times a week. Mapping tools are so versatile. They are useful if I’m walking, taking the bus, a subway, a ferry, or even an airline flight. While all these alternative paths exist, one thing remains the same: the destination.
Of the three laws I propose, the Four Spiritual Laws fit within the second “law,” which is to announce. The primary limitation of the Four Spiritual Laws is that it is similar to the earliest online mapping websites: only one route is provided. We need not confuse an evangelistic route with a destination. There is only one destination in evangelism: Jesus (John 17:3). Yet the wise evangelist will understand and adjust, through listening and re-listening, the best route to arrive at this destination. Some people need a straightforward gospel presentation similar to the Four Spiritual Laws, but it won’t suit everyone, and we shouldn’t confuse their rejection of one route with their rejection of the destination. There are many days I don’t take the route with the least number of turns.
3. Repeat patiently
Studies show that 99 percent of people don’t pinpoint a one-time evangelistic event as the turning point for the beginning of their faith in Jesus.1 Other studies show that new converts understood their process to take an average of three to four years.2 This shouldn’t surprise us since, for instance, Paul returned repeatedly to local synagogues to preach that Jesus is the Son of God (Acts 14:1; 17:2–3; see also 13:5; 17:10–11, 16–17; 18:1–11, 19–20; 19:8–10).
Excellent evangelists move beyond a one-time gospel presentation. They understand that the typical way the Holy Spirit works in the lives of people is slowly and patiently. To be a better evangelist, be graciously persistent and faithfully patient. Listen, announce, and repeat. Then, repeat again.
What most evangelists actually do
I thank God for the gifted evangelists God uses to work in people’s lives through dynamic one-time conversations, sermons, and events. Yet, this is not the normal activity of evangelists. My work as a full-time evangelist and trainer of evangelists is far less dynamic. Most of the evangelism I do is slow and persistent as I build friendships, listen, re-listen, and share about my own life and faith in a myriad of ways.
You can do this. Evangelism is something every Christian can do because every Christian is deployed by God in the midst of other people who need to hear about Jesus for the first time or the thousandth time. Some might find it helpful to have a Four Spiritual Laws booklet in their glovebox, but if you don’t that is okay too. In your friendships, remember to listen and re-listen, to find ways to announce that Jesus is Lord, and patiently repeat this process year after year.
Other works on evangelism and ministry by Sean McGever
Evangelism: For the Care of Souls (Lexham Ministry Guides)
Regular price: $13.99
Mobile Ed: ED209 Evangelical Conversion (2 hour course)
Regular price: $69.99
Mobile Ed: CH361 Evangelism in the Early Church (2 hour course)
Regular price: $69.99
Mobile Ed: ED281 Communicating to Youth (2.5 hour course)
Regular price: $93.99