Fruitless evangelism is frustrating, saddening, and disappointing.
You have invested hours (or years) of time in personal evangelism with your friend or family member by
- Developing authentic relationships with non-believers
- Praying that your friend would know Christ
- Faith sharing conversations over meals and coffee shop conversations
- Answering difficult questions
Your friend or family member may express great interest in the gospel of Jesus Christ, yet they never cross the line of faith and discipleship in their journey to faith.
Yet, they never seem to want or get the faith you share with them.
Years of fruitless evangelism
Some of you probably have encountered this.
I know I have.
There are people in my life that no matter how much I share my faith, they remain apart from Christ.
As an evangelist, that’s hard.
I remember one person with whom I shared my faith with for four years.
Great conversations, but they never ended with a decision to start following Jesus.
Two years and no evangelistic fruit
Apostle Paul shared his faith with the same person for two years and never saw fruit.
At the end of Acts 23, the apostle Paul was sent to Felix, the governor.
Felix had Paul guarded in Herod’s palace (Acts 23: 35) until he had the chance to hear Paul himself (Acts 24).
After the hearing, Felix gave Paul some “freedom and permitted his friends to take care of his needs” (24:23).
Felix had some level of spiritual curiosity. He some working knowledge about the followers of Jesus (Acts 24:22), even if it was only on a political level as the movement of Christianity spread.
Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. (Acts 24:24)
Paul and Felix discussed Jesus and what it means to follow Jesus.
25 As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.”
I can imagine that Felix even experienced the convicting work of the Holy Spirit in some of those conversations.
Even if there were some hidden motives for hearing Paul (like bribery – v. 26), Felix still got to hear of Jesus and the implications of being a disciple of Christ.
These faith sharing conversations went on for the next two years (v.27).
Even though Paul was a prisoner, it is hard not to imagine that a friendship developed, or at least a level of mutual respect between these two men as Paul shared his faith.
We can speculate some of the relationship dynamics that changed over the course of the next two years.
Two years of effort with no visible fruit
I can imagine (and this is sanctified imagination) Paul doing the following evangelism habits that we do today
- Praying for Felix on a regular basis
- Asking God for how to talk with Felix
- Waiting for God to open the heart of Felix to respond
- Frustration when Felix cuts the conversation short when it gets personal
- Rejoicing when questions were answered to the satisfaction of Felix
- Celebrating the apparent progress Felix was making on the journey to faith
Yet Felix was appointed somewhere else and was no longer in Paul’s life.
The end of the road together had come.
Two years, Felix and Paul talked about Christianity, salvation, following Jesus, etc, yet Felix still walked away without having surrendered his life to Christ.
I would imagine author Luke would have reported on Felix’s conversion if it had happened.
How to Persevere when evangelism seems fruitless
Perhaps you are in a similar situation of sharing your faith with someone who seems to have spiritual curiosity, but just won’t surrender.
It feels like all your personal evangelism efforts do not work.
Like Felix, your friend keeps cutting the faith conversation short when it gets personal.
They simply avoid the hard questions of surrender.
What can we do?
1. Don’t give up.
Keep praying for your friend.
Keep spending time with them.
Enjoy life together.
Keep sharing your faith and answering their questions. They are on a spiritual journey.
They are your friend, not your evangelistic project, so keep the relationship authentic.
2. Trust God’s sovereignty.
I’ve heard testimony from people who have come to faith 15 years after I shared with them.
Remember the friend I shared my faith with for nearly 4 years without success?
Fifteen years later, she tells me she became a Christian. Those seeds I planted produced a harvest.
God can keep the story going, even if you are no longer in the picture.
How do I go out into thew community to build the church?
Start with prayer. Walk your community to look for the ministry needs that draw your attention.
Spend time in well-used parks.
Be a regular customer at a coffee shop or sandwich shops and get to know the regulars.
One church I’m coaching has been doing this for the last 5 months. Some of those contacts took baptism a few weeks ago. After the initial friendships, they started making their way to small group, then to the church itself.
It takes time, intentionality, and presence to get connected to people.