What Is Evangelism, Anyway?

Almost half of millennials who say they follow Jesus believe it’s wrong to evangelize. That is, they believe it’s wrong to tell other people who do not follow Jesus about the Jesus they follow.

This is according to a new study released by Barna, Christianity Today reported last week. Barna found that 47% of practicing Christian millennials agreed that “it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.” Not scary or difficult or intimidating.

Wrong.

Compare this to 22% of Gen X, 19% of Boomers, and 20% of Elders. It’s a significant enough of a percent to take note. And it begs, well, lots of questions. Here’s two. First, do these millennials really know the real Jesus? Second, how do these millennials define evangelism, anyway?

Do these millennials really know the real Jesus? We speak the gospel because the Jesus we meet in Scripture spoke. He is, after all, the Word made flesh. 

We don’t have to pit speaking about Jesus against doing loving deeds in the name of Jesus. That’s a false dichotomy. We don’t have to pick. We do both. If any self-proclaimed practicing Christian—myself included—begins to think it’s wrong to share Jesus with someone, then it may well be the case that we do not really know the real Jesus. Or perhaps we simply need some serious recalibration and repentance.

The real Jesus tells his disciples to go proclaim the kingdom with their words (Matt. 10). The real Jesus tells his disciples they will be his witnesses (read: “testifiers”) to the ends of the earth (Acts 1). The real Jesus sends his disciples as he has been sent (and Jesus did his fair share of speaking) (John 21). The real Jesus employs his disciples as ambassadors who represent him to the world and “speak in Christ” (2 Cor. 2). We could go on and on.

Now, what is evangelism, anyway? Many millennials may indeed agree that Jesus speaks good news and sends out his disciples to do the same. But perhaps the way Christians have sometimes (though not always) been taught to evangelize for the past several decades has left a nasty taste in their mouths. It’s hard to know. It makes me wonder: do millennials believe particular methods of evangelism are wrong? The study doesn’t go there.

So let’s ask the question here: what is evangelism, anyway? If evangelism is arming yourself with intellectual ammunition in order to prove someone wrong. You know, really stick it to ’em, for God’s glory, of course. Then, yes, that’s wrong. No Christian should do that. (I’ll be the first to say I have.)

But what if evangelism–sharing Jesus–was just that, sharing Jesus? I often tell our students in Cru, evangelism is not providing information, it’s presenting a Person. Or I’ll say it this way: Evangelism is not a sales pitch, it’s seeking people.

Evangelism is not sharing theological propositions. It is not arguing doctrinal points. It is not debating philosophical positions. It is not forcing people to download information about God.

When you evangelize, you are offering a gift that you have received. It’s offering the person of Jesus to another person in a way that they can understand and embrace. We are presenting God to people, seeking to find those people whom God is drawing to himself. And usually, we’re doing this with friends in the midst of everyday life.

Do you see how this shifts the conversation entirely? When he was on earth, Jesus was on a mission to find people and give himself to them. Nathaniel. Levi. Zacchaeus. The Samaritan woman. Nicodemus. Jairus. The Syrophoenecian woman. When this sinks in, it will radically change our methods to be more like the Master’s.

Barna’s study shows me that there’s work to be done among believers. There’s encouragement to give. There’s repentance needed. There’s modeling and training to begin and continue.

All the while, there’s a dark and lost and broken world in desperate need of redemption. They are waiting.

And all we need to do is share the Redeemer we have with them. That is evangelism.


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