If you find yourself enjoying chips, cookies, and sugary cereal more than you should during the pandemic, you aren't alone. What you may not realize is how many millions of dollars of research in the food science field is aimed at making really bad-for-you-food surprisingly attractive to you.
The perfect soda fizz, the right combination of crunch in a chip, or the meticulous attention given to making french fries crunchy on the outside and smooth on the inside are all products of a lab and resemble little to nothing of the food sources created by God in nature.
If I've just made you hungry for a piece of pizza, crisp crust and gooey top, sorry. But it does illustrate a point: we are drawn to things that we enjoy, which is why a bag of Oreos sounds— and tastes—better than a bowl of kale.
In Part One of this series, I talked about the importance of a mindset of advance, renewing our mission and looking toward gospel outreach and care.
Here, I want to look specifically at ways you might share the gospel in your community. Let's be honest; for a lot of Christians, evangelism is more like kale than comfort food. How can we create momentum for evangelism that will cause believers to engage?
Start Where People Are
We do so by looking at ways that fit our people and their gifts and abilities. In a conversation with Rick Warren some time ago, he observed the biblical truth in John 14:6 that there is only one way to come to the Father, and that is through Jesus. Then he added,
But, there are a lot of ways to Jesus. People come to Christ for different reasons. Some come out of fear. Some come out of questions. Some come out of hunger. Some come out of pain. Some come out of suffering. Some come out of guilt, or worry, or boredom, or bitterness.
Rick's point is a fundamental one in evangelism: start where people are and take them to Jesus. But that doesn't only apply to the unchurched. We also take believers where they are and help them take the gospel to unbelievers. How do we do this?
Take a good look
Begin by looking to God in prayer.
Ask God for wisdom in how best to connect people who love Jesus with people who need Jesus. James reminds us, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting" (James 1:5-6a). We aren't smart enough to lead without God's guidance; thankfully, it is only a prayer away.
Next, look at the people in your church.
Every believer has abilities, gifts, and interests that can be used for their witness. What are some of the more obvious ways people serve well in your church? Is hospitality a common thing? Do you have a number of extraverted, gregarious types? Do you have a number of people talented in music or creativity? Who are the people who serve readily?
Third, look to the fields, as Jesus said (John 4:35).
What are the pressing needs? Who are the groups of people most in need of care? Who are the unbelievers that people in your church already know?
Here are specific ideas for churches to be engaged in evangelism right now.
First, serve through acts of kindness and intentional witness.
- Purchase $5 gift cards from Chick-Fil a, Starbucks, or McDonald's. Add a personal note explaining how you want to simply show them the love of Jesus in this simple, practical way. Include a card with information on your church. Give them to neighbors.
- Become a pen pal to a senior adult in a nursing home or confined at home.
- Use chalk to write encouraging and Jesus-centered messages on the sidewalk: "Jesus loves you," "We are praying for you." Give chalk to neighborhood kids as well.
- Take elderly neighbor's trash cans to and from the curb.
Second, use social media.
- Post on Facebook or Instagram that you will be praying for the next 30 or 60 minutes. Encourage people to send requests publicly or privately. Pray for them and follow up with them later.
- Go through your connections and identify anyone you know or think may be unbelievers. Intentionally, privately reach out to them to ask if you can serve them, pray for them, or take time to speak to them about Jesus.
Third, use your interests for the gospel.
Remember the quote from Total Church: "Ordinary people doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality."
- Hospitality: most Christians aren't drawn to the "evangelism is what I do two hours on Saturday afternoon" approach. But those gifted in hospitality can develop ongoing relationships with the unchurched that open up gospel conversations. This could include hosting a gathering in the driveway with a couple of neighbor families, sitting distanced, but enjoying conversation. It could also mean organizing a block party for when things normalize.
- Using your talents: Do you sing? Serenade your neighbors, in particular those who are most vulnerable.
- Do you love to serve? Offer to mow your neighbor's yard, wash their car, or go pick up groceries for them.
When the church has been the most focused on reaching people, it has also been the most creative.
George Whitefield stepped into the fields to preach the gospel and saw multitudes follow Christ. John Wesley took the idea of Societies in his day to create an organizational approach that became the Methodist movement. People reaching hippies in the Jesus People Movement started coffeehouses as a safe place for marginalized youth to hear the gospel.
Let's be focused on the gospel and use our creativity for Christ.
Some of these ideas come from David Wheeler, Outreach During Covid-19 (Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, 2020). Used with permission.
Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. The Exchange Team contributed to this article.