Is street evangelism a thing of the past?

This past Friday night, my father-in-law and I went to the Bratwurst festival in Bucyrus, Ohio.  This festival is a big deal in our area and people come from all over the place to feast on bratwurst and other summer treats.  Our strategy was simple – talk with as many people as possible, pass out a gospel tract and pamphlets about our church, and help people see that there is hope in a hurting world.  It was not our strategy to just get people to pray the sinner’s prayer or to give them the 4 spiritual laws.  We simply wanted to share Christ with as many people as possible.

With thousands mingling around downtown Bucyrus, it was not hard to find people, and we were fortunate enough to find people who actually wanted to talk to us.  One man said to us, “no one does this anymore.”  He’s not the first.  Over the past three years, I have done street evangelism about ten times and several people have told me they wished more churches still canvassed their neighborhoods.

The question must be asked; is street evangelism or passing out tracts or whatever you want to call it, a thing of the past?  Maybe.  If no one does it anymore, then I guess it is.  But should it be a thing of the past?

One reason that fewer churches do street evangelism could be because we are a highly pragmatic society.  We judge everything on the basis of its ability to produce results.  If it doesn’t work, we drop it and find something that does.  So if churches don’t believe passing out tracks is an effective outreach method, it goes without saying they won’t do it.  The church “gurus” often tell us that just because it worked in the 70’s and 80’s doesn’t mean it will still work today.  The world has changed and we must keep up to date with the times – or so they say.

In one sense, I am willing to go along with a little pragmatism.  Most people would agree it’s unwise to cling to traditions that clearly don’t work.  I certainly don’t believe that we should do everything the same as we did it in 1970.  And so, if people are less willing to trust the stranger who shows up at the door to tell you about Jesus (like the sociologists tell us), then doesn’t it make sense to quit knocking on doors?  And if no one comes to your church after inviting them, then why waste your time canvassing?  These are valid questions and I do think it is necessary to be at least a little pragmatic as we do ministry.

My fear is that we have become “overly” pragmatic.  I will be the first to admit that the street evangelism I have been a part of has not resulted in many people actually coming to our church.  I can think of a few people, but not too many.  That does not mean, however, that I am ready to abandon this method.  I say that because I have had so many opportunities to minister to people.  Last Friday alone offered us the chance to pray with several people, to share Christ with several people, and to give out some gospel literature.  We have no idea how God is going to use the seeds that were planted on Friday.

I often tell my congregation that the best way we can evangelize is to go to the people who are already in our sphere of influence – our friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, etc, etc.  God has already surrounded us with people who don’t know Christ, so it only makes sense to start there.  Build relationships, deepen relationships, serve, love, and do what Jesus told us to do.  This is the most effective way to do evangelism, but I would never suggest that we should limit ourselves to those we already know.  It is for that simple reason that I continue to do street evangelism and pass out tracts and go door to door.

I would hesitate to suggest that everyone should do street evangelism, but I will suggest that you strive to find creative ways to share the gospel.  Ask God to give you opportunities to get the gospel message to people who need to hear it.  Remember, the gospel is power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).  The gospel is the most glorious news in the world!  When you bring forth “good news” people will take note.  So be bold, be creative, and be obedient.

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