A mother asked me about using tracts for evangelism.
Tracts may not always be useful in every context, but using tracts for evangelism can be a helpful conversation starter, a great seed planter, and the Holy Spirit can use it much later than the day the person received it.
So at youth group tonight, the teacher gave out tracts for the kids, challenging them to give them out this week.
I have a huge problem with this kind of evangelism, especially among our friends who are so openly hostile to the idea of God, let alone the idea that they need to do something to get right with Him.
I think if my daughter gave these tracts to any of our non-believer friends, their moms would hit the roof.
However, I don’t want to squelch her enthusiasm. I’m really praying about how to respond to this.
Do I let her do whatever, and trust God’s sovereignty?
Do I talk her through my philosophy on lifestyle evangelism and encourage her to hand the tracts to total strangers?
Do I encourage her to learn what’s in the tracts so she can be equipped to start or enter into conversations about salvation?
Using Evangelism tracts
I have used evangelism tracts and seen them produce fruit.
I have used gospel tracts and seen them turn into litter.
I have used gospel centered tracts and seen relationships messed up.
I have used evangelism tracts and seen people move towards faith in Christ.
Because of a tract . . .
A young man in my life came to faith because of someone using tracts for evangelism.
He had overdosed on illegal drugs and fell into a coma.
When he was found, he was hospitalized. When he awoke, he was arrested for possession and distribution, and then thrown in jail for the second time.
While in prison, he faced the shortcomings in his character and felt the tug of the Holy Spirit to seek after God. He took a risk and prayed:
“Lord, if you are real and you love me, on the day I get out, have a person on the street give me one of those tracts that tell me how to follow you and that person only needs to say “Jesus loves you.” I hate tracts and the people who use them because they always condemn me. I don’t need a sermon, Lord, but I need to know you are real.”
On the day of his release, he was walking home after the bus ride when a stranger on the street gave him a tract, said “Jesus loves you,” and continued on their way. No sermon. The stranger was using tracts for evangelism.
This young man surrendered his life to Christ after reading the how to section of the evangelistic tract.
Fitting into the back story
In that man’s story, the witness passing out the tracts likely still has no idea of the fruit that simple action bore.
A ‘chance’ encounter changed a life. The stranger did not know the back story of God’s advance work in this man’s life.
There are times in my life when I wish I had one. For example, I wish I had one in Spanish while talking with my tutor.
In the sovereignty of God, tracts can find their way into hands at the right moment.
The character of the witness
From a human view, the impact of a tract is also connected with the character of the person using it.
When a friendship is involved, your character as a person gives or harms the credibility of the information in the tract.
I have a friend who had been given a tract by a Christian friend. She put it on her bookshelf instead of throwing it away. It sat there for months.
Even when she cleaned the bookshelf, she couldn’t throw it away. Her ongoing friendship with that Christian began to awaken her desire to seek after God. That person’s character helped (on a natural level) to keep that tract from the garbage can.
Eventually, late one night, she decided to read it. It was the right word, in the right moment, all in God’s sovereignty. She surrendered her life to Christ. Years later, she’s married to a pastor and serving with him in a small rural church.
The tone of the tract
Tracts have a certain tone to them. Some are
- Theological broadsides about minor issues like baptism or King James Only Bible.
- Frightful to scare the hell out of you.
- Condemning in tone.
- Poorly written.
If you are wanting to use tracts, find some that are suitable in tone to the message you are wanting to communicate.
The original question above takes a good approach — pray about how to use them.
Tracts are one of many tools to share the gospel, and I’m not sure they are useful certain situations.
Praying about their use allows you to hear God’s voice and find the leading of the Spirit about when and where to use them in your life.
In the case of the original question, the mother and daughter can talk about
- how God can use tracts in His sovereignty,
- how they can pray about using them with their friends, and
- how they can be a tool to learn the gospel.
- the theology in the tract.
- finding the right moment to use them or not.
Tracts are a evangelism tool
Using tracts for evangelism may not be the tool for you.
They may not be the right tool in your relationships. Perhaps you haven’t found the right one that would work in your relational context.
They may be the right tool for you. I can use them to pass them out on a bus (which is done frequently where I live), or at a fair. I use them when I’m in Latin America since I don’t quite have full fluency in Spanish yet.
Join the Conversation
I know some of my readers are using tracts for evangelism. Share your thoughts or reactions in the comments. Help me answer this mom’s question.
Chris, I use tracts in my ministry constantly. I have found to be a very effective evangelism tool. Whenever the Intentional Community Evangelism team works in the inner city, we use tracts. We will make sure that the first thing we do is place a tract in a person’s hand. They may not talk to us, but they will often read the tract. In fact, months after we leave a community, the Evangelism Response Center at NAMB will get calls from people in those areas who read the tract and gave their lives to Christ.
During my regular outreach excursions here in Raleigh, I have had people come to me and ask for my latest tract! Often these are total strangers. I find that people often tuck them in their pocket and read them later. I have seen how tracts have plowed the hard ground and prepared people to hear the message of Christ. I have also seen plenty of them on the ground too. However, the rate of people who read tracts is far greater than the rate of those who throw them away.
In fact, I started my evangelism ministry using Chick Tracts. (For those not familiar, these are cartoon tracts) I would leave them in different places around my workplace and people would come by – five minutes later – and pick them up. I had a lady in the plant ask me for tracts one time.
People don’t think they work because they don’t use them.
Thanks for the post.
I remember Chick tracts, Darrel. Haven’t used any tracts in eons though I have a good library of “Radio Bible Class” booklets which have proved useful as a follow up for conversations.
Would love some sources for good tracts. I don’t like the kind that scare people into the kingdom.
Tracts seem to be useful in a distribution context with strangers. I’ve not encountered yet a use between friends.
@Daryll: Your work in the parks on a regular basis seems to provide a natural context.
@Lindsay: I’ll find some.
Daryll: Any recommendations for Lindsay’s question?
I tend to use a lot of tracts published by our mission board (NAMB) one of the best is Your Life: A New Beginning. I like it because it has a follow-up Bible study in the back that you can use to begin the process of follow-up if you lead someone to Christ. Unfortunately, when NAMB redesigned it, they made the text smaller which makes it hard for some people on the street to read. I also like the old standby Eternal Life tract from NAMB. It is very cost effective for mass distribution. These are available through Lifeway or the NAMB website.
I do like some of the tracts published by Living Waters (Ray Comfort) to use as icebreakers. I especially like the giant $100 bills. They work great with teenagers, gang members and drug dealers.
I have also produced a few tracts myself that are trivia tracts. They focus on a particular holiday like Christmas or New Year. 10 trivia questions of the front and a gospel presentation within the answer key on the back.
Chris – tracts work very well in the public arena anywhere. Also, you know that they work even better in an international context. 10 people might read 1 tract overseas.
Thanks for the input, Chris and Darrell.
Excellent article. I have given Spanish tracts to Spanish-speaking people because I am not fluent in Spanish. Two great sites for ordering the best gospel tracts that I know of are http://www.livingwaters.com and http://www.customtractsource.com/ I have given gospel tracts to complete strangers, to people I’ve met and talked with before, and also to people I have known for a while. I have also mailed out gospel tracts to people. I myself was prepared for the gospel by a black Pentecostal guy who spoke to me for a week outside of our Commercial Art class in college during breaks, and later I accepted Christ through a Chick comic tract that I found laying around.
I have a totally different experience: I became a Christian about 4 years ago (am now a licensed minister) and both my family, friends and I (non Christian) find them terribly offensive. NOT FOR THEIR CONTENT but for the infantile way they present such a rich message. They can insult someone’s intelligence more easily than lead them to the Lord. Sure you might be sowing seed, but more often than not nothing grows. People might blame that on the “soil”….what if your seed is bad?
I think our culture must move away from reducing the gospel message to an “intelligence” test and a fake wallet.
I think you have a valid criticism of some tracts.
Infantile could be a good word, or more like overly simplistic is one that comes to mind. I agree – the description is of the presentation, not content.
I can see it from two sides: An academic analytical thinker might see it too simplistic to answer all the questions they have.
On the other hand, the user could simply rely on it as a formula, instead of a conversation tool.
If the user treats it like a formula, then simplistic is where it stays. If the user treats it like the foundation of a monologue, then it still remains simplistic.
But if it develops into a useful conversation that both sides find helpful, then I think the tract has moved beyond simple and into something more useful.
I have used tracts for many years, even more so now then in earlier years. I hold on to the promise that God gave concerning His Word, that it will never return to Him void, but will accomplish that which He desires. Therefore I use tracts that use His Word almost exclusively. My favorite tract/booklet is the Gospel of John produced by the Pocket Testament League. The first few pages show the “simplistic bridge illustration”, then there is the full Gospel of John followed by a decision page at the end. Although many times I have the opportunity to speak to the person that I have given the tract, there are also many times I do not have that opportunity, nevertheless it’s God’s Word and will accomplish what He desires.
One illustration (I could give many). I was sending my sister tracts in the mail. She abruptly threw them in the kitchen trash container. A mutual friend of ours picked up one out of her trash while they were having a cup of coffee together. After speaking to me about the content of the tract, she became saved and she and her family have been serving the Lord for many years. Also, after finally reading some of the tracts that I kept sending her, and questioning me about their content, my sister also received Jesus as her Savior.
Thanks for dropping in and chiming in on the conversation. Tracts have their place in sharing the Word. Like a brochure they can stay with a person until the timing in right. On the other hand, many wind up tossed away.
I still have mixed feelings about them, but it’s more about the tone, print, quality, message, rather than the idea. I’d rather use the tract as a conversation starter, but I recognize that is a stylistic preference issue.
Does anyone know of a source for statistics on tract effectiveness? The only statistic I’ve seen was a second-hand report of the American Tract Society claiming 52% of Christians worldwide came to faith through gospel-centered documents. Everything else I can find is just anecdotes. That ATS statistic brings more questions for me, though. What are the percentages broken down per country? Among those, were tracts instrumental in their coming to Christ, or was the relationship with a believer more crucial and the tract was just slightly involved? How does that statistic measure up against other forms of evangelism? Questions like that.
To be honest, I’ve personally never been a fan of tracts. I’m much more sold on forming relationships and using personal testimony rather than spending money on handing strangers a piece of paper most of them will throw out or simply laugh at because they are cheesy stereotypical “Christianese” that hold no meaning for anyone without any church background. Churches keep pushing for their use, and I’m trying to figure out if that’s because they are anecdotally effective (meaning they’re not really as effective as people think they are because anecdotes carry far too much weight for many of us believers), or if they are statistically, truly effective.
In my experience (which is, of course, anecdotal), I’ve not seen many truly come to a long-lasting relationship with Christ without having formed a meaningful relationship with a believer willing to share their faith with them. The door-to-door thing and handing tracts out to strangers on the streets? I’ve not seen much come of that at all. But I could be wrong, and that’s what I want to know.
As to statistics, I am not aware of any.
There is always anectdotal evidence of their effectiveness, and anecdotal evidence when they are not effective.
THere are times I wish I had one to leave with a person, and times where I didn’t need one.
They are a tool, but not the only tool.
God uses even our poorest efforts of evangelism. It is by His grace that our efforts can be fruitful. Whether it is through tracts or through verbal communication, it is the Holy Spirit that convicts and saves the soul, not our wisdom or words. So tracts can be used as an evangelism tool, with prayer and reliance on God’s grace for fruitfulness.
Thanks for writing. I’ve had friends who came to faith because the Holy Spirit spoke to them through a tract at the right time. I still use them occasionally, but prefer more conversational style of personal evangelism.
I use tracts as an opener to conversations and a last resort tool if I know the conversation isn’t going to last long enough to give an opportunity to respond to the Gospel but I don’t use them in the main witnessing opportunity itself. In this way I’ve found the right tracts to be hugely beneficial.