Does Relationship Evangelism Miss the Point?
Do we only love non-Christians because we want them to become one of us?
Through the years, it has been proven that the majority of faithful followers of Jesus were led to the Lord by a friend, family member, co-worker or neighbor. In fact, the statistics on this are staggeringly high, in some cases over 90 percent.
While stranger evangelism can be effective at times and conversion experiences that depend upon mass events or multimedia presentations can be effective at the point of decision, relationships influence people the most when they are a considering whether or not they want to follow Jesus.
The logical conclusion then is to train Christians in relationship evangelism.
In contrast to things like door-to-door witnessing, handing out tracts or organizing evangelistic rallies, the most effective evangelism strategy is relational. This is demonstrated by a book I read years ago titled Making Friends for Christ.
I’ve led seminars where I trained small group leaders to use a poster where group members would make a list of friends and neighbors for whom they could pray. I’ve befriended neighbors, restaurant owners and co-workers with the intent of exposing them to the Gospel. If we want to see people embark upon a journey with Christ, then Christians must develop relationships with non-Christians.
In my first book, I wrote about a strategy for relationship evangelism. It included five steps:
- Target one.
- Pray together with your group.
- Work on the relationship.
- Do fun things.
I wrote: “Every group member is told to target one person. That small group member will spend time praying for this person, seeking God as to how to minister to her. The small group will pray together for all of the people that have been targeted. Each member will work on the relationship with the nonbeliever, and then the group will plan fun things that the nonbelievers would be willing to do.”
These fun things are often called “Matthew Parties” because Jesus began his relationship with Matthew by going to a party that included religious outcasts. The goal is to create a nonreligious environment where Christians can naturally rub shoulders with those who don’t know Jesus.
Over the years, I’ve grown suspicious of this approach. Something about it did not feel right.
I began to ask, What kind of relationship are we actually demonstrating to non-Christians, the kind that only loves them because we want them to become one of us?
However, I had not really thought though my intuitions until I read The Relational Pastor by Andrew Root. There are many, many great things I’d like to say about this book. Here, I want to focus on a couple of quotes: