December 7, 2011

Street evangelism in six steps

by Jesse Johnson

One of the most challenging evangelistic endeavors is what I call street evangelism. This is the approaching of total strangers for the purpose of explaining the gospel to them. When many people think of evangelism, this is often precisely what they have in mind—and they are intimidated by it.

This kind of evangelism may be intimidating, but it also rewarding. There are people who exist outside of the sphere of Christian influence, and unless they hear the gospel from a stranger, they are likely not going to hear it at all. Many encounters are with people completely outside of the faith, unfamiliar with Christianesse, and ignorant of the basics of the gospel (ie., Jesus died in the place of sinners).

But that is exactly why this kind of evangelism is exhilarating. I never know who I am going to talk to. Is this person a Catholic? An agnostic? A self-righteous sinner, living on moralism? This mystery is exactly what makes cold evangelism compelling and intimidating.Here are a few steps to help you get underway:

T-shirt not necessary

1. Choose a location. The more people the better, because there are more opportunities, and because it is less weird. My favorite place for this kind of evangelism is on college campuses. Students often have free time, and are often open to talking about the gospel. Grace Church has groups that go out to hospitals, outdoor malls, and subway—all places near our church where lots of people congregate. We stay near our church because we often invite people to our church.

2. Start the conversation. This is the hardest part. I’m not a fan of gimmicks, but I go straight for the chase; I usually begin by introducing myself as a pastor from a church in the area. I’ll ask if they are familiar with the Bible, my church, or what it is that Christians believe. I’ll ask if they have even been to my church, or what they think of the gospel. Essentially I’m looking for some bridge to start the conversation.

3. Ask questions. I ask a lot of questions. One of the most helpful books I’ve read on this kind of evangelism is Randy Newman’s Questioning Evangelism, where he makes the simple point the more questions you ask, the more information you get. The better you get to know the person you are talking to, the more skillfully you can explain the gospel to him. I ask tons of why questions: “Why did you take that job?” “Why did you choose that major?” “Why do you think that way about church?” The more I ask, the more they talk, and the more likely they will be to listen when I explain the gospel.

4. Make the jump to the gospel. Unlike relational evangelism (with friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc.) cold evangelism is a one-shot deal. Eventually you have to make the jump to the gospel. I have found that asking if I can explain what the Bible says about an issue helps. “You said you want to help people with your life; can I explain what the Bible says about that?” “You said that church offends you because Christians are hypocrites; can I tell you what the Bible says about that?”

5. Explain the gospel. I take any question they ask—from why do Christians not believe in evolution, to what about the crusades—and answer with the gospel. A short gospel presentation includes who God is (creator and holy), who people are (sinful and in need of a savior), who Jesus is (God in flesh, sinless, substitute for sinners, who rose from the grave), and what we must do in response (turn from sin and believe the gospel in faith).

I look for any opportunity in the conversation to get to the gospel, and when I am there, I move quickly. I can explain those points briefly in one minute, and then circle back to explain each one more if the opportunity is there.

6. End the conversation. After explaining the gospel, I ask if the person has any questions. I ask if I can pray for them, if I can give them a tract that explains more, and if they want to talk more sometime in the future. I invite the person to church, and give him my contact info. Occasionally I have had people contact me months later, wanting to learn more about Jesus.

I don’t think all Christians are called to this kind of evangelism, but I think all Christians should at least try it and see if they are gifted at it. It is amazing to see how the Lord uses these encounters to open doors for the gospel, and to strengthen our own understanding of the basic tenets of what we believe.

How about you? Share a tip or two that you would add, or a question about this kind of evangelism.

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA.
  • Bruce Blakey

    This is exactly how I was saved. I was a college freshman and 2 men just walked up to me and spoke to me on campus. 45 minutes after we started talking I was saved.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      I remember your testimony Burce. Thanks for the comment.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=537618055 Diane Lytle

    We use what I call “Whiteboard Witnessing” at Univ of N AL. Each week we have a different Q to engage students in conversation about the gospel. For example: What Do You Think Happens When You Die? Nothing, Reincarnation, Heaven, Don’t Know Students can “vote” and move on or stop and talk further if they have time. There’s always a follow up Q which gets to the point of the gospel. Since most answer Heaven, we follow up with asking “Everybody?” “How do you know?” or “What does it take to get to heaven?” There are lots of ways to follow up this key question. There’s more about Whiteboard Witnessing on my FB pg under notes.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      That is an interesting idea that I have not tried. Thanks for suggesting it.

  • Zack Skrip

    Thanks for posting this.

    I used to do street evangelism in the “hard” part of Vancouver BC. Typically talking to drug dealers, prostitutes, and the homeless. It was an amazing time to actually “see” people that I usually glossed over.

    When I was doing this, we started the conversation with hot chocolate. We each had a decanter of hot coco with a bunch of cups. Then, the topic of sin would almost inevitably come up. I would then share about sin in my life, and the answer for sin that the Bible presents. I’m not sure how effective I was, but I was blessed with the opportunity to lead one man to Christ, at least he prayed with me. I always looked for him, but I could never find him again.

    Last year I did a short term mission trip to Toronto and we witnessed in an area that was predominately Hindu and Muslim. We started the conversation by offering a copy of the Gospel of John.

    Which tracks do you use? I guess all of my background has been based in having something physical to offer them. I guess the wall in my mind says it would be way-harder to just walk up and start the conversation. But on the plus side, tracts can be expensive, so this removes one more silly excuse to keep from being faithful.

    Over the last year or so I’ve been kicking against the goads and resisting a push to go back and do street evangelism again. Thanks for the reminder and the road map. I’ll be sharing this with other people.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      I don’t often use just one tract. On campuses I might offer someone For Your Joy by Piper. My favorite tract is probably The Story, (viewthestory.com). People at my church really like Are You a Good Person, by LivingWaters.

  • http://profiles.google.com/soon.paper SOON Magazine

    Hi Jesse Johnson

    I’ve just found your blog and notice your emphasis on evangelism. I wonder if you have seen my friend’s page and resources about online evangelism, at
    http://www.internetevangelismday.com

    blessings

    Gweno

  • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

    GBI actually beats Amazon’s price on the Newman book. I fixed the link, but here it is too:
    http://www.gbibooks.com/ISBN/9780825433245

  • Eric Durso

    In the last year I’ve jumped into street evangelism, and I am the better for it. God has used it to help me depend on him, develop a heart for the lost, and overcome some of the fear of man in me. Thanks for this encouraging post. When most people are saying street evangelism is ineffective and outdated, it’s nice to hear a voice affirming it.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Thanks Eric. It is often the case that when someone tries it, they find that they are actually encouraged in everyday evangelism.

  • Jordan Standridge

    What would you call evangelism that happens on a plane or a train where you didn’t necessarily plan to go out for the purpose of sharing the gospel?
    I ask that because I think every Christian is called to evangelize to people who aren’t necessarily in our everyday circle, and every Christian should pray for opportunities to share the gospel with strangers. Do you see a distinction with airplane evangelism and street evangelism?

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Evangelism?

  • Paul

    Some really good pointers and a very worthy topic. I was saying to someone the other day that in the 15 years I’ve been a Christian, no one has ever come up to me to speak about the gospel (stranger to stranger) – outside of Mormons and JW’s. It’s too bad we’re so passive (I live in Canada). Earlier this year I was in the Dominican Republic for a week and I got approached maybe 3-4 times, not to mention the street preachers.

    I think a good approach is to walk up to a small group of people having a conversation… For some reason I find this easier, as there are varying views in a group and it allows for more discussion. The only thing here is you don’t want to give the tract up-front or a few people will just be staring at it for a bit.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Thanks for the suggestion Paul.

  • Jason

    What I like most about your style is it fits your personality. Sometimes it seems people use a “system” and rather than listen or be personable, they just go through the system “to get to the point.” Thanks!!!

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Thanks Jason. And that is one of the points that Newman makes in his book linked above. Evangelism is about people, not programs.

  • Liveongod

    What is your opinion on the “Two Ways To Live” booklet ? And have you seem the Living Water tract “Why Christianity?”.

  • Thomas L

    Street Evangelism was my full time job for a year. I had the most fun ever.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Awesome that you figured out how to get paid for it!

  • tw

    Great post. In a college setting, I’ve found that the fruit of this kind of evangelism is not always in terms of conversions–though praise God when He does save someone, but the fruit often comes in the discipleship opportunities as you train others in evangelism. The fruit is a deeper, clearer understanding of the gospel, less fear of man, greater dependence upon God, and a bigger heart for the lost. All of these things can help you in your evangelism to your friends and family. And as you interact with more non-believers and hear their objections to belief, it challenges you to know the Scriptures better to know how to give a defense for the hope that is in you.

    I like to ask the question, “If you died tonight and God asked you why should I let you into heaven, what would you say?” That often cuts through to the core of the issue, especially for professing believers who aren’t saved.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Good point about discipleship, TW.

  • Jimmy Li

    Thank you for this Jesse!

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