Is relational evangelism a biblical method?
Some critics of relational evangelism claim, among other objections, that there is no biblical evidence for a relational evangelism approach.
It doesn’t take long on a google search to find them.
Critics claim that
- The primary New Testament method of evangelism is preaching or proclaiming.
- Jesus and the apostles didn’t befriend first and wait for a gospel sharing moment.
- The urgency of the gospel is lost because relational evangelism takes too much time.
- Paul didn’t bother with building a friendship with anyone before nailing them with the gospel.
- The unregenerate are enemies of God and therefore have no interest in spiritual things, even the reasons for your holy life.
- Relational evangelism makes the effective work of the Spirit of God dependent on something – the context of a relationship.
- Christian believers fail at the great commission because they never get around to sharing the gospel, valuing the friendship over the good news.
- Befriending the world violates the command to be separated world from the world and avoid being unequally yoked. For example, James 4:4 “Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”
Some of these are valid criticisms.
In this post, I want to address the biblical aspect of evangelism through relationships.
Let me re-frame the question in a different way:
Is there New Testament evidence of the gospel spreading through relational networks?
This is a question of context, not method.
Method will focus on the how (teach, preach, share), where as context focuses on the where and when.
Is there NT Evidence of Relational Evangelism?
Relational evangelism is focused on spreading the gospel through relational networks.
That might be through your current friendships.
That might be through intentionally making new friendships if you have been a Christian so long that you have no non-Christian friends.
Relational evangelism assumes that the believer is looking for God-given opportunities to talk about faith in the midst of existing relationships.
Relational evangelism is intentionally positioning oneself in a network of people for opportunity to share the good news.
9 Examples of Relational Evangelism in the New Testament
So let me lift up a few examples of how the gospel spread through personal relationships:
- Andrew brought his brother Peter to Jesus.
- Philip brought his friend Nathanael (John 1:40-51).
- The Samaritan woman told her whole town about her encounter with Jesus (John 4:28-42).
- The exorcised man from the Gerasenes went home and told his friends how much Jesus had done for him (Mark 5:19-20).
- Matthew invited his friends to a dinner party where they could meet Jesus (Matthew 9:10-13).
- Zaccheus invited many of his friends to a dinner party (Luke 19)
- Jesus was accused of eating with sinners and tax collectors (a relational experience).
- Peter spoke to Cornelius, but the whole household got baptized. Corneilus had brought them (Acts 10:24)
- Paul spent nearly two years talking faith with Felix. 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 permit his friends to take care of his needs” (24:23). 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).
Some other New Testament hints of relational networks.
As I skim through the book of Acts, there is a lot of preaching and proclaiming, no doubt. Luke’s focus is on the rapid spread of the gospel. Verbal sharing is a primary methodology.
But evangelism through relationships is hinted at in various places where social networks are in place.
It’s likely assumed, but not explicit, in Acts 2:26-47:
“The believers met together in the Temple every day. They ate together in their homes, happy to share their food withjoyful hearts.They praised God and were liked by all the people. Every day the Lord added those who were being saved to the group of believers.”
Members of the early church were known for their good works, being “highly regarded by the people.” (Acts 5:13). At the same time, they were obeying God’s command to “tell the people the full message of this new life” (verse 20).
After some of the healing stories, there is a phrase similar to:
“News about this spread around the town and people became followers.”
News spread through personal networks. Healings were a triggering event that lead to conversions at some point, though the text is not explicit in how people heard the content, in these cases.
Acts 13:44 shows how people spread the word to others after hearing Paul teach in the synagogue. They invited their friends the following Sabbath.
Acts 17:2 shows Paul going to the synagogue for 3 weeks to reason, debate and explain. Some people needed time, and one can assume that some friendships may have started. Certainly, one can assume that the listeners talked among themselves between weeks about the message, including some who believed already.
As I read Acts, I’m struck at how the gospel spreads from friend to friend, through social networks.
People hear the message and then share it with their friends.
People hear it and invite their friends to hear the next weekends message.
People hear their life change in their friends and after considering it’s impact, want to know more and ask.
Can’t dismiss evangelism through relationships
If Christians withdraw themselves from the world, they will lose their relational connections with people apart from Christ. They will lose an available means to credibly share their faith.
It could be that a healing triggers a spiritual curiosity to hear more (the woman at the well).
It could be that the teaching about Jesus triggers an invitation to a friend to hear more next week (Acts 17).
It could be that God reveals himself that a leader who brings others to hear the message of the good news (Cornelius).
As a follower of Christ, I want to be in the place and time where I can share the good news with people.
Do you need help in Personal Evangelism?
Start here with this MP3 Download on Evangelism Training from the store to help you see where you need to grow.
In this 70 minute MP3 AUDIO recording on personal evangelism you will learn:
- How church invitations are part of evangelism
- How to discover and share your own journey to faith
- What you can say about the gospel message.
- How to personally lead someone to faith in Christ.
It’s a 70 minute audio file that takes just a few minutes to download, but it may help you answer the question:
What can you do in the next 90 days to grow in your evangelism skills?