By Brandon Lemons
This past Sunday, a missionary named Adam spoke during Friedens’ worship services. Due to the sensitivity of their location, I’m being vague to protect their family and ministry. We had a great visit with their family, and it was especially interesting to hear their stories because of the limited information they are able to share in their usual updates.
Adam indicated that in the country where they serve, “proselytizing” is illegal. He said that if he were to go out on a street in their city and distribute “Gospel tracts” (booklets that explain the Gospel and invite a person to turn to Jesus), he could probably do so for a couple of hours; then he’d be loaded onto an airplane, sent back to America, and never allowed to return to that country. Therefore, their method of evangelism must be relational.
One of the things that struck me as Adam was talking is how similar their methods of evangelism are to ours at Friedens. For years, we have talked about how “the Gospel flows best over the bridge of relationships.” When I mentioned this phrase to Adam between services, he liked it so much that he said he may begin using it in his ministry, and he quoted it during his message in the second service! Their ministry is largely based on building meaningful relationships with the people of that country and praying that God will open conversations and hearts to the Gospel.
Applying Relational Evangelism in Our Lives
“Relational evangelism” invests in relationships with those around us – frequently in our natural spheres of influence, such as with neighbors, co-workers, classmates, friendship circles, and acquaintances. In these relationships, we pray regularly for these people, including that they will come to know Jesus. We show genuine care for them in ways that build their dignity and well-being. We also look for opportunities to discuss spiritually-related topics that help them see the greatness of Jesus and everyone’s need for Him.
Unlike missionaries in some parts of the world, we here in America are not restricted to only relational methods of sharing the Gospel. If we choose, we can go to a street corner and preach or distribute literature; we could knock on strangers’ doors and ask if we can talk with them about God; we could run advertisements on TV, Facebook, or the newspaper that point people to Jesus; we could host fancy events that share the Gospel.
There are many ideas for how to share the Gospel, and practically every method of evangelism has had at least some success. Yet I am convinced that most of the time, relational evangelism is the most effective. Even when a church hosts a special evangelistic event, it will typically have the greatest long-term impact in the lives of those who have meaningful relationships with Christians, where spiritual seeds have been sown for weeks, months, or years.
A Story of Effective Relational Evangelism
I could share many stories of people at Friedens investing relationally in those around them. It is happening many times every week! To protect these relationships, though, I’m not going to share details in this online format. Instead, I will share briefly about my own process of turning to Jesus. It was the direct result of a classmate in college named Benji initiating a conversation with me about my spiritual beliefs. This conversation led to Benji and a man named Todd, who worked with a campus ministry, sharing the Gospel with me. If Todd had stopped by my dorm room and asked if I wanted to talk about spiritual beliefs, I would have declined, because I didn’t know him, and talking about spiritual topics wasn’t of great interest to me. But it was Benji who stopped by my dorm room and asked if I would be interested in talking about my spiritual beliefs; I had only known Benji for about six weeks, but it was enough to build a bridge of trust and respect across which the Gospel flowed into my life!
Let me state it clearly: the only reason I was interested in talking about spiritual beliefs was because I liked talking with Benji. It wasn’t the spiritual topics that drew me in, at least at first; it was my relationship with Benji. God then used that relationship to draw me to Christ!
Living as a Missionary
In our culture, it is important that we live with the mentality of a missionary. America is not a predominantly Muslim country like where Adam lives, but for most people in America, God is not truly a priority. Increasing numbers of people all around us view belief in the existence of God as foolish and outdated. An even larger portion of the American population rejects the value of organized religions like Christianity, even if they value spirituality.
In this context, building meaningful relationships is the most effective way to help others come to faith in Christ. In the relationship, we can model what it means to be a Christ-follower; we can answer questions and support them as they wrestle with their spiritual struggles; we can treat them with dignity and care that they may not receive elsewhere. In doing these things, we help break down stereotypes and misconceptions that people have about Christians; we help heal wounds they may have from past experiences with church; and we help establish the credibility of the Gospel in their minds.
The Gospel really does flow best over the bridge of relationships!