Looking for a semester of “cross-cultural” experience, non-Christian college student Kevin Roose transferred to Liberty University. As an undercover unbeliever, Roose’s goal was to understand how Christians think and get a sense of the evangelical culture from a firsthand “insider” perspective.
As part of his cultural experiment, Kevin decided to go on a weeklong outreach adventure over Spring Break with a group of 13 other Liberty students. Their mission? To bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the beer-guzzling, body-baring, sand-loving sinners on Daytona Beach. The team was trained to share the gospel and then unleashed to comb the beach on a spiritual search and rescue mission.
After a solid week of almost constant rejections, the group consoled themselves that they had planted spiritual seeds that would sprout later. Roose concluded that these well-intentioned street evangelists had really not made any converts. Even the few who had ostensibly said “yes” to Jesus were not followed up on or plugged into local churches. In his words,
“The issue of post-salvation behavior is an interesting one. I thought, when Scott was teaching us to evangelize, that we’d be told to do some sort of follow-up with successful converts, if we had any—guide them to a local church, maybe, or at least take their contact information. But there’s no such procedure. If Jason had decided to get saved (he didn’t), Martina would have led him through the Sinner’s Prayer (“Jesus, I am a sinner, come into my heart and be my Lord and Savior” or some variant thereof), she would have let him know he was saved, perhaps given him some Bible verses to read, and they never would have seen each other again. Cold-turkey evangelism provides the shortest, most non-committal conversion offer of any Western religion—which, I suspect, is part of the appeal.” (Source: salon.com).
Clearly he didn’t write his article out of vindictiveness or venom. He seemed to actually like these evangelicals and was exploring why they were willing to go through all the pain and strain of being persecuted without seeing tangible results. His conclusion was that the prospect of saving someone from hell was enough witnessing fuel to keep them going in the face of mockery and disdain.
Before I give my perspective on all this, let me explain that I was born and bred on street evangelism. I did my first cold-turkey evangelism when I was 11 years old. I was terrified and trembling as I shared the gospel. But I was hooked. This was the closest thing I had experienced to extreme sports and I loved it.
The church that reached my entire beer-drinking, body-building, tobacco-chewing family (and that’s just the women!) was a street evangelist training ground. My tough, ripped Uncle Jack was led to Christ when the preacher at this church went to his house, knocked on his door, and started sharing the good news of salvation. That began a domino effect of salvation in my large extended family.
As a result, I was immersed into this pre-evangelical world of fundamentalist Christianity and loved it. Why? Because, now I not only had a real Heavenly Father (I was the product of a one-night stand and never knew my biological father), but I had a purpose: the salvation of souls from hell.
From that first witnessing experience as a fifth grader to my freshman year at Liberty University, hardly a Friday night went by without me and my Christian compadres going “soulwinning” at local malls across Denver.
We would gather together, train the newcomers, and head out to do cold-turkey evangelism. While sharing my faith, I have been hit, spit at, picked up by the throat, pushed down, laughed at, and mocked relentlessly. But these became battle scars for my adolescent soul. I could talk about them and show them off later to my fundie friends. After all, every rejection was worth it if just one person put their faith and trust in Jesus. And unlike Kevin Roose, we were trained to try and get the people we led to Christ plugged into our church, where they too could be trained as street evangelists.
I estimate conservatively that I personally witnessed to 5,000 people from the time I was 11 until I left for college. I was an expert at serving cold-turkey evangelism sandwiches. But to be honest, out of all of the street evangelism I have done, I am only aware of a handful of stories when someone who got saved actually got plugged into a faith community.
So do I think street evangelism works? Yes and no. Yes in the sense that I have seen countless people look me in the eye and say “yes” to Jesus. In my heart of hearts, I know that many of them were sincere. As Romans 10:13 reminds us, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” It makes no preconditions about location or depth of the relationship. If they genuinely believe in Christ, then they truly receive the gift of eternal life. So, yes, I believe street evangelism works when it comes to making converts. But I don’t believe it works well when it comes to making disciples.
Does that mean that I think we shouldn’t do street/mall/park evangelism? No. I just think we should try to do it differently.
To be honest, God has been taking me on a journey of reflection over the last several months and I am trying to figure out where He is leading. You see, my goal is to make as many disciples, not as many converts, as I can before I die. Making converts is merely additional (souls added to the kingdom). But making disciples is exponential (souls multiplied through disciples who make disciples who make more disciples.) And the street and the shopping mall are not the best places for making disciples. Again, we may have opportunities with various strangers and we should make the most of them to wisely and gracefully share the good news. God may be using you to plant a seed, water the seed or reap the harvest with those strangers He brings across your path. But I am more and more convinced that sharing Christ with strangers must be done in a very specific way.