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Why Christian Evangelism Is Often Counter-Productive

Updated on June 28, 2011

I had a job once where I had to do cold calls. I would call and try to make a quick introduction before the person on the other end of the phone figured out I was selling something and hung up on me. Oh, how I hated that job! It wasn't so much that I got hung up on repeatedly, but that I felt I deserved to get hung up on. After all, I was interrupting people all day long, offering something they didn't want and hadn't asked for. I find that Christian evangelism is often done in the same manner- abrupt, unsolicited, and bordering on rude.

For example, I was at Target minding my own business and shopping for a beach towel when a lady with a giant, cheesy smile walked up to me and started saying she wanted to invite me to church. I informed her as politely as I could that I came to Target to look at beach towels and not to talk about church. What bothered me wasn't her enthusiasm, but the fact that she knew nothing about me. For all she knows, I was at Target shopping for a beach towel to take on a girls' trip because my pastor husband just cheated on me with the children's ministry director. That wasn't the case, but if it were, the last thing I would want would be an invitation to church!

I feel there are better ways to evangelize than walking up to strangers. America is a church-saturated culture. There is a church on every corner, multiple Christian TV channels, Christian bookstores, Christian colleges, and Christian groups at high schools and secular universities. A person who is curious about Jesus or Christianity has plenty of options to begin learning. Anyone who wants to know about Jesus can easily find answers. People who don't want to know about Jesus will not be impressed by strangers' attempts to prosyletize them. If they wanted to know, they would go looking. If they don't want to know, enthusiastic Christians are probably just going to annoy them.

Walking up to people at Target, handing out tracts, or holding up signs on street corners is more likely to irritate people than to engage them. Christians are already very visible in our culture and quite often in a negative way. Pastors with Bentleys and solid gold toilets, pastors having affairs, pastors getting caught with prostitutes, pastors promising that God will give you a Cadillac if you send money- none of these things promote love, compassion, self-discipline, self-control, selflessness or anything else Christianity is supposed to be about. Many Americans' perception of Christianity is a self-righteous religion of greed and falsehood. When a well meaning Christian tries to evangelize a stranger, he or she has no idea what sort of previous experience or ideas the stranger may have about Christianity. If the stranger has a very negative view of Christianity, little can be done to change that in the space of one conversation. In fact, the Christian just might be reinforcing that negative stereotype.

If stranger evangelism is counter-productive, what are some better alternatives? I'm sure I will catch hell (no pun intended) for saying this, but often I feel the best way to evangelize is not to evangelize at all. Before you call me a bad Christian, let me explain. I believe the best way to share with people about Jesus is to live a life that evidences His power. I'm not talking about power in the sense of miraculous healing or signs and wonders, but the power of self-discipline, humility, patience and kindness. These are things most people have trouble mustering up on their own. It's easy to be self-absorbed, crabby, impatient and difficult. This kind of behavior comes naturally. It takes a lot more effort to put others first, especially when those others are family members who drive us up the wall, husbands who won't pick up their own laundry, wives who spend too much on the credit card or exuberant children who use their new markers on the drywall.

Every day we are given myriad opportunities to do what we believe Jesus would have done or to be grumpy and self-centered. Every choice we make is either a reflection of the power of God to transform our lives or another reason for non-Christians to say that Christians are just as screwed up as everybody else. I'm not saying Christians have to be perfect; that's impossible, no one is perfect. But if there is any truth to Christianity and any truth about redemption through Jesus, then the lives of Christians should be transformed little by little, day by day to be noticeably different than the lives of people who reject Him. We shouldn't have to hold up a sign for people to know we're Christians.

It's sad to me that when many non-Christians think of Christianity they think of giant ampitheater churches with slick, charismatic pastors asking people to give more and more money. Maybe they think of hypocrisy and scandal, particularly sexual scandal because the church seems eaten up with it. I wish community came to mind, families raising children with values counter to self-absorbed consumerism, attending christenings and funerals in support of one another, or volunteers at a soup kitchen. Maybe people would be more open to coming to church if they thought it was a place of support and encouragement instead of a profit-driven corporation.

Americans are inundated with advertisements for products competing for our attention and our money. Until the lives of individual Christians and the church as a whole begin to line up with the values we espouse, evangelism is just one more lousy ad campaign. I regret to say that I believe the message of the Gospel has been lost in the greed and self-aggrandizing of the American church.


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    • Seek-n-Find profile image

      Jenna Ditsch 6 years ago from Illinois

      I agree that the biggest form of "reaching people for Jesus" is the way one lives his/her life. Too many people have a bad taste in their mouth about God because of the experiences they've had with "Christians." I live evangelism as a lifestyle, but I don't evangelize in the way that you described above. I try to be a good ambassador/representation of what God is like. I'm always listening to God and having an ongoing dialogue (prayer without ceasing) with Him about what He is doing. If He highlights somebody to me while I'm out doing whatever, I'll listen and respond with specifically what He shows me to do. Sometimes it's to look a person in the eye and give them a big smile. Sometimes it is to pay for someone's bill in a restaurant and to have their waitress tell them it was a blessing from God. The other day, I felt God wanted me to specifically encourage this one lady. I was in a restaurant and I didn't want to interrupt her meal. So I waited outside the restaurant and when she came out, I just told her that I felt God wanted to encourage her and I asked her if it was OK for me to give her an encouraging word (I got permission first!) She said yes, so I simply told her that she may feel like a rubberband that is being stretched but God says, Don't worry because you won't break." Now--that is not an evangelism marketing line. To many people, that may have no bearing. But I was listening and God made it clear that is what He wanted me to say to her. She burst into tears, gave me a hug, and said that is exactly what she needed to hear. She was a Christian who was going through a stretching time and she was amazed that God so specifically acknowledged that and brought comfort. That is what evangelism is to me. When Jesus gave the great commission, you can see if you look at the original language in the Greek that it does not say to "Go out..." to make disciples but the words actually mean, "As you are going..." :-)

    • Richard Fernandez profile image

      Richard Fernandez 6 years ago from Detroit, MI

      Excellent hub. If you look at Christianity's history, you will see that what has made it such a dominant religion in today's world is its fervor for conversion. From Charlemagne to missionaries all around the world, to walking to people's door steps, It is built into the religion.

      to put it in a Christians words, "the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ." That does not leave a whole lot of wiggle room for other beliefs.

    • juliaeverheart profile image

      juliaeverheart 6 years ago from Kennesaw, GA

      Grace- That is fascinating research!

    • graceomalley profile image

      graceomalley 6 years ago

      Excellent hub. One comment I have is that much of this evangelizing behavior comes from being guilted. christians are often told from the pulpit that if they aren't out there "sharing their faith," they are: cowardly, uncaring, lazy, stuck up, must not really beleive Christianity themselves, and the beat goes on. Personally I think this is why one gets this forced, unnatural behavior around evangelism. People are getting arm twisted into it, and they do it quickly and abruptly because they just want to get it over with and get some relief from the guilt.

      The numbers on how people commit themselves to Christianity tell a very different story. According to George Barna's research, 80% of Christians made that decision before the age of 14. Another 10% make the decision before age 18. That leaves just one in 10 who decide to follow Jesus for life when they are 18 or older. The simple fact is that most either commit to Jesus as children, or they never do. If someone wants to teach christianity to those most likely to make a commitment, sign up for Sunday School or Youth Group.

    • Suzanne Winfield profile image

      Megan Carl - Mane Alternative 6 years ago from Utah

      Nicely delivered thoughts in a well written Hub. Bravo! Voted up.

    • profile image

      mikeq107 6 years ago

      Hi Hattie:0)Yahooooooooooo

    • HattieMattieMae profile image

      HattieMattieMae 6 years ago from Limburg, Netherlands

      Yes I back that up again! I've never evangelized for the reasons stated above. I allow others to follow their own path, and I love Jesus with all my heart, but that was Jesus's job to save people, not mine. That is what he died on the cross for. I don't think God expects me take on the burden of saving the world, but I do believe living the actions, words, and behaviors are more effective than judging others, or wearing a label of being a Christian. :)

    • profile image

      mikeq107 6 years ago

      Hi Juilaeverheart :0)

      But if there is any truth to Christianity and any truth about redemption through Jesus, then the lives of Christians should be transformed little by little, day by day to be noticeably different than the lives of people who reject Him. We shouldn't have to hold up a sign for people to know we're Christians.

      Love it...two thumbs up..

      I have been in this country 24 years and I love Jesus..but the religious people are hard to love...honestly to me it falls under the umbrella of love your enemy :(

      Great hub and written from your heart the way Our saviour wants us to live ...Thank You

      Michael :0)