My books and churches taught me this:
The key to evangelism is to make lots of non-Christian friends, spend time with them, earn your right to speak and invite them along to church activities, from barbecues to guest services, from Alpha courses to baptisms.
I had problems with this.
1. I'm an introvert!!! I only make a few friends.
2. I'm really busy!!! If I build friendships, I neglect my work, family etc.
3. I want to share the gospel with people. It had a powerful effect on my life. But nobody's shown me how! When I open my mouth, it sounds weak and pathetic or too condemning or 'heavy'.
4. Making friends so that I could share the gospel later feels ‘creepy’ to me. I'm not really being buddies because I want to be with them. I'm just softening 'em up so that after a few hours/weeks/months I can invite them to church! It’s a bit like dating a girl and waiting till you’ve really got them hooked before you tell them you have a criminal record or are tens of thousands in debt or have some shameful habit!!!
Do we see any really solid models of ‘friendship evangelism’ in scripture? There are two passages that are commonly quoted by advocates of friendship evangelism.
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
1 Corinthians 9:19-23
If this is Paul’s manifesto for friendship evangelism, a quick look at what he says just beforehand presents a challenge:
Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
So... Paul’s first priority is to preach the Gospel. He is not spending hours, weeks or months priming people up to ‘earn the right’ to say something.
Secondly, this passage gets used:
We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.
Interesting that Paul again mentions sharing the gospel before he talks about sharing his life. But again, a look at the context is very significant. Look at Paul says just before this.
We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.
‘Nor are we trying to trick you’!!!! I told you I found ‘friendship evangelism’ creepy! I think Paul would have too.
On occasion, the Bible actually tells us not to make friends with certain people:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.
He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.
Do we just not bother with these people? Or do we go with them to pub crawls and nightclubs and trust that we won’t be drawn in to sin?
I’m going to say something that some people won’t like.
In the Bible, there was no such thing as ‘friendship evangelism’ as it is defined today.
The early Christians used what I will call proclamation evangelism. And that is what we are commanded to use!
The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere.
How effective is proclamation evangelism compared with friendship evangelism?
I have no scientific studies, but I would like to quote from a UK evangelist called Korky Davey, who is a big believer in ‘proclamation’ in the streets, in parks and in schools. I recommend his free e-book 'Biblical Patterns of Evangelism'...
Experience in Spain and Portugal shows that it takes about 15-20 years to establish a fellowship of about 25 people when personal evangelism is the only method employed. Bill Wooten, a missionary in Portugal, told me that his reliance on personal evangelism had meant that building a relationship with a Portuguese family to the point where he could share the Gospel with them took about a year. Most of those he got to know ultimately proved not to be interested in the Gospel. The Operation Mobilisation strategy for Italy was for each of their families to evangelise one Italian family each year. On that basis it would take thousands of years to reach the population - yet for some extraordinary reason many of those involved in missions regard friendship evangelism as the only responsible and effective way to do the job. Many of them seem to be hung up on the idea that one needs to earn the right to speak. Fortunately the Apostles did not suffer from these sort of hang-ups and regarded the preaching of the Gospel as their prime function in every town.
He says the following about ‘proclamation’ evangelism...
Around about 800 people passed through our training programme over the last thirty years with the result that we have experience first hand in about 17 countries. In Albania, a very unlikely couple have over the last 15 years established 36 new fellowships across the south of the country with 9,000 converts - mainly through mobilising and training local evangelists. The potential is enormous, pretty well everywhere. Various other teams have successfully got similar ministry patterns going on the streets in Europe.
Vienna, Austria - Better than an Alpha Supper!
Aluche, Spain - Better than a Guest Service!
Conclusion. Don’t spend countless hours ‘befriending’ before you say anything. Learn how to proclaim the gospel early. Real friends are 'upfront' with people!!! Be 'upfront' with the Gospel. Like Jesus, the apostles and the most effective Christians throughout the ages.