Joe Aldrich asks this question in his book, Lifestyle Evangelism, the classic source for teaching about relational evangelism.
He categorizes personal evangelism into 3 categories:
- Incarnational / Relational
- Apologetic / Intellectual
Numbers 2-5 loosely fall in the bigger category of relational evangelism, though the others can be expressed in the context of existing relationships.
This type of evangelism is what we read a lot about in the book of Acts.
- Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost
- Stephen’s sermon
- Paul’s sermon at the Areopagus in Athens
- Jesus preaching before the crowds
This tradition continues with church preachers, street preachers, crusade preaching, open air preachers, stadium events, street events, etc.
It is often one speaker preaching to a crowd that has gathered somewhere in the public square or in the assembly of the saints on a Sunday.
This form of evangelism often focuses on a clear gospel presentation and the evangelist is unknown to the audience.
However, the majority of Christians will not have this opportunity. (Think of the grandma saint who sits 3rd seat from the left in your church who loves the Lord).
Believers may be able to bring their friends to hear the proclamation, but most will not have the skill or ability to practice this form of personal evangelism.
You may have seen this called “Contact evangelism” or “Cold Call evangelism.”
It is evangelism typically between two strangers, following someone of a scripted conversation that the evangelist has memorized.
I often teach classes about contact evangelism. I have no problem using this style of evangelism, though my nuance on this type of evangelism is to open the door to personal conversation rather than focus on getting the gospel in the message.
It is a form of evangelism that I have put into place in my life.
- My first mission trip to Vienna Austria was doing nothing but contact evangelism on the streets on Vienna (right in the main plaza).
- I’ve taken youth to a local shopping mall and talked with people in food court, and talked with strangers in cafes and on airplanes.
- I’ve interrupted people on their daily tasks to talk about faith, and made plenty of mistakes as well. See this list 6.
We see biblical examples of this in the number of “stranger conversations” we see in the gospels.
Jon Speed notes the following in his book, Evangelism in the New Testament:
- In the Gospels: 86.5% of the 89 encounters he counts are between strangers (14)
- In Acts: 82.6% of the 46 encounters he counts are between strangers (24,25).
Typically, there is no prior relationship between the evangelist and the person.
The conversation is straight to the point, and is sometimes an intrusion into the world of the stranger.
The focus on on the harvest point in the spiritual journey.
As to disadvantages, this form is often disconnected with integration in a local church, so new believers are often abandoned with simple instructions to “read the bible and find a church.” This form of evangelism is hard for many people to do well, as I have read where estimates range from 90-95% of Christians can’t do this style of evangelism well.
Incarnational evangelism recognizes that evangelism is a process of sowing, watering, and reaping.
The seed might be sown by the proclamational method or confrontational method, or by the actions and words of a friend.
One cannot harvest if there has never been a seed. One cannot plant unless the soil has been cultivated.
The incarnational approach to evangelism recognizes all three (not just one).
Paul did not feel guilty if he didn’t get to lead people to faith:
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. (1 Cor 3:6)
Incarnational evangelism, in it’s various subforms (testimonial, relational, friendship, apologetic, servant, lifestyle) has two rails of communication:
- Godly life
- Verbal conversation
We see some evidence of incarnational evangelism in the New Testament. Furthermore we see
- Jesus spent time with the 12 disciples. We can’t pinpoint when the disciples understood their salvation, but we clearly can see when they started following Jesus.
- Jesus regularly spent time having dinner with people: Matthew, Zaccheus, Mary and Martha, a few Pharisees.
- Jesus “came and dwelt among us,” and “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”
As Paul ministered among the Thessalonians, he recalls:
Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. 1 Thess 2:9-12
As to disadvantages, this style of evangelism is slower than the other forms. The urgency of the gospel seems neglected.
A distortion of teaching
Aldrich’s book on Lifestyle Evangelism is the classic source for incarnational evangelism. It was required reading for me in seminary (as were a few books on the other evangelism methods in this post).
One criticism of lifestyle evangelism is that the gospel may never be shared as people rely only on their witness. If taken to an extreme, the lifestyle evangelist can try to hide behind an actions only approach in the vein of that misattributed quote: “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” It’s a “lifestyle only” approach.
Adlrich is clear in his book that the gospel still needs a verbal proclamation. He never teaches “lifestyle only.”
At some point, the person will have to share the words of the gospel. Cultivation can take a person only a limited distance towards the cross.
My own Evangelism Teaching on DVD
I have a DVD set (or digital download) that focuses on a conversational style evangelism that would be effective in:
- casual conversation between friends
- causal conversation between strangers
- a relational style evangelism
- a friendship style evangelism
Read more about the Effective Evangelism Conversations in the store
It will show you how to have good faithsharing conversations no matter what your style.