Does Relationship Evangelism Miss the Point?

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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.
  • 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:

Scott Boren M. Scott Boren is a Teaching Pastor at Woodland Hills Church in Saint Paul, MN and consultant who partners with The Missional Network (www.themissionalnetwork.com). He has written and co-written eight books, including Introducing the Missional Church, Missional Small Groups and MissioRelate. He share life with his bride, Shawna, and their four children, all under the age of eight. He can be reached at his website: www.mscottboren.com.

More from Scott Boren or visit Scott at http://www.mscottboren.com

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  • Joe Rhoads

    I’m glad that you are able to make friends with no real goal of sharing the gospel with them. If the gospel, gets shared, in an organic way. Great! Make sure you love them without expectation. Yeah, if you’re not intentional about actually sharing the gospel and wanting them to be a Christian, to be saved from theirs sin, they’ll die and go to hell, but, hey, you’ve made a friend!

    • Brivolbn7q!

      Joe,
      That’s not what I read, but it does seem to be a very cynical outlook on a point that I felt was valid.

      I understood the author as saying that we need to check our motives – are we loving people because God loves them? Or are we loving them because we want to change them?

      If your goal in loving or befriending some one is something other than the fact that you recognize an inherent worth in them because they were made in the image of God, then are you really loving them?

      I understood the author as not attacking ‘sharing the Gospel and wanting them to be saved from their sins,’ but rather as checking whether we truly love them, or whether we are simply seeking to convert someone.

      If we love them as God would love them, then not only will we be better friends, we also will inevitably share the Gospel with them, because a real, Godly love will see their need and respond in such a way that meets that need.

      The article to me simply asked, ‘what’s our focus?’

      • Joe Rhoads

        How does God love the lost? “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” God loves the lost with the gospel. His purpose in loving the lost is to save them and bring them into relationship with Himself and the church. Sharing the gospel is an act of love towards a lost person. I love them so much, I don’t want them to go to hell. Their greatest need is not my friendship, but forgiveness of sin.
        Now having said this, I canceled my email subscription to this e-newsletter. So, everyone out there who hates my insistence on checking every opinion and every thought and every method with the immutable Word of God, you are free of me. This is my last post.

        • amos8

          J.R., I hear you, I know your frustrations.

          I, too, often feel like one of few who insist on being a Berean, on warning of falsehoods, of challenging questionable or dubious assertions. I,too, am often grieved by the articles/authors that are put out here on this site–and the goal of this site. I, too, have wondered, from time to time, if it is worth it … we all must count the costs. If you leave, you will be missed. I have appreciated your standing up for the truth.

        • Brivolbn7q!

          I wasn’t trying to insult you, and I have no issue with people checking every thought and every method against the immutable Word of God. I apologize if I said otherwise. I simply said that I didn’t agree with your take on the article.

          I agree whole-heartedly that God loves the lost with the Gospel. I agree whole-heartedly that sharing the Gospel is an act of love towards a person – in fact, it is the greatest act of love. But what I felt the author was bringing out was the problem in our culture of loving people only so that we can share the Gospel with them (in other words, only loving people based on what they can do for us, i.e. – give us an outlet to be ‘good’ Christians), instead of loving them because God made them in His image, and then sharing the Gospel with them because we love them for that reason.

          Joe, I apologize if something that I said caused you to think that I was attacking you or that I wouldn’t value your input – but your response was not worded in a “I am checking what you have to say against Scripture” type of way, it was written in a sarcastic and mildly disrespectful way.

          Dialogue is a good thing, but civility is key.

  • Nathaniel

    I can agree with this article, however, basically this allows me to just be friends with people and I don’t have to worry about doing any evangelism. Since big event evangelism doesn’t really work, and you are not a fan of relational evangelism I am going to abandon evangelism and the commission to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.
    Man, this is a huge weight off my shoulder. I just bought tickets to three concerts and I’m going shopping for a boat this weekend where just my family and I are going to use since we’ll have no need of inviting anyone to use it with us now.

  • amos8

    “Missional” or “being missional” could be one of the most harmful notions to ever come into the church.

    (if we go by the more popular, emergent definition … one that despises and wants to replace “missionary”)

    The author attempts to cite statistics as proof of his assertions, but what about Scripture?

    We are all for “making relationships” and “loving our neighbor,” –that is great — but what did the Apostles do? How did they “evangelize”? How did the church grow?

    How many people came to Jesus (in a real, lasting way, as opposed to how things are measured today and in many of these stats) as “strangers” to the disciples, and how many had a long relationship?

    Of course, we can and should do both, but the implication of this article, and most “missional” definitions is to put down or minimize or discourage “preaching” or “stranger evangelism” … all while this was the main approach in Scripture! I’m sure many are well-intended, but let’s not fall for the latest fad or put statistics over Scripture … and then try to justify it.

    I get the “make sure your motive is truly to love” — and I wholeheartedly agree — but let’s love according to the truth, not follow the latest trend.

  • Rob Boyland

    Relationship draws people in. Dissension, especially among fellow believers, drives people away. Build relationships in order to develop genuine trust so that you will be able to communicate the love of Jesus.
    If those of us who call ourselves Christ-followers would focus more on loving the lost that God has directed into our path (which requires relationship) more people would be in love with Jesus. Instead, lost people see our petty bickering and behavior and have no intention of being a part of that.
    If your main reason for commenting on any of the posts is to refute what the author has said, check your own motives and decide if that behavior is drawing anyone to Jesus…if not, it is simply pride and arrogance!

    • amos8

      I would be careful in what you call “dissension.” People, and “especially among fellow believers,” can and should dialogue, discuss, and even argue over what is biblical (e.g. Acts 15). “Iron sharpening iron.”

      I have noticed a tendency, when there is disagreement about an article, for people to jump in and declare “You’re just being divisive … Look at all the Pharisees here … Brothers and Sisters, we should not fight, let’s just get along … Let’s just unify and drop our differences … Arguing about truth is not loving … ”

      Could it be that people who disagree, who voice concerns, who challenge the author’s assertions are not acting in “pride and arrogance!”?

      Could it be that the Bible teaches that it those who teach error and undermine God’s Word are the ones who are guilty of “dissension” and division (Rom 16:17; 1 Kgs 18)?

      Could it be that there are many false teachings IN the church (that often go unchecked … and so harm and deceive many)? [2 Pet 2:1-2]

      Could it be that those who are concerned or alarmed HAVE checked their motives … and do so out of love and faithfulness? [Jas 5:19-20; Jude 23]

      Could it be that their behavior, at a minimum, prevents people from being misled, from being deceived, from harming others, from perpetuating and further teaching said error … and, therefore, opening possibilities to accurately love and “drawing” people to Jesus?

      Could it be that, at a minimum, these people are being faithful to God’s Word?

      Could it be that they are being loving–if not supremely loving (Phil 1:9-11; Acts 17:11; 20:28-31; Matt 7:15-23; Jas 5:19-20; etc)–in discerning error AND warning others?

      Could it be that–in this age of error and political correctness and pseudo/phony unity–that fewer people are willing to discern and speak out? [Especially when they are often met with responses … like yours (which was perhaps well-intended, but misguided).

      Could it be that what you are challenging is–even though it is often attacked and mocked–actually absolutely essential?

      I don’t doubt your motives, and I appreciate your challenge, but please reconsider in the light of Scripture and the current age.

      In order to “love the lost” we need to accurately know in what ways they are lost (often due to so many false teachings!) but, most importantly, to precisely know the right ways. Yet those who discuss or argue these notions get blamed rather than appreciated (which is to be expected, yet it is still sad and counter-productive to your stated goal.)

      • Rob Boyland

        Disrespectful behavior breeds dissension and drives people away from the message of Christ. Respectful comments challenge and question…disrespectful comments are sarcastic and make a fool out of the authors, and those making the comments..
        When the world sees how believers mock one-another because of what they deem to be wrong motive or even heresy it drives them away, it does not draw them in.
        The goal is to win people to His love and grace, not to argue among ourselves in a disrespectful manner which just breeds more harm than good. We can disagree and seek to understand one-another without throwing out rude comments and putting others down. That behavior just goes to show how deep the world’s behavior has infiltrated the congregation members. We can communicate and even disagree better than that!

        • amos8

          Again, be careful with declaring “dissension” and over emphasizing behavior–and condemning (directly or subtly) those who speak out against error or offer challenges to assertions put forth. Your concerns are real and more than valid, and I’m glad you are concerned about them. But your first comment was directed solely toward–and even judged–supposed dissenters rather than the errors or concerns themselves. This is a common pattern in the church.

          From the way you wrote your declarations it was as if those who are to blame are those who disagree with the author(s). You even went so far as to judge-if not condemn–their motives (at least through implying what their motives were).

          Furthermore, you glossed over all the major reasons why we should speak up, “dissent,” warn, etc. It would be great to all get along, to never get angry or frustrated or over-react in our haste and disgust for _______. But we are human, we have sinful natures, our hearts are deceitful above all things, we tend to fall for falsehood and act sinfully, and the church has too many wolves and too many people buying into falsehood. So, yes, let’s be concerned about tone and attitude, but just as concerned about truth and error coming from those inside the church.

          As a friend of mine once said about himself: “It is like there is a bridge out on the freeway and I’m on the side of the freeway frantically yelling and trying to get the attention of those about to drive off the bridge to their peril. Yet the response I get is criticism for not doing this in a civilized, gentle manner, or not seeking unity among the brethren. It’s like an attitude of, ‘If you don’t warn me nicely and in a perfectly calm demeanor then I won’t listen to your dire warning.”

          Also, you said, “The goal is to win people to His love and grace, not to argue among ourselves in a disrespectful manner which just breeds more harm than good.”

          That is a high and wonderful goal, but it is not “The” goal. We have little to no control over “winning” people to this or that. We do have control (through God’s power and grace alone) to be loving and faithful to Him, His Word, and His principles so that we please and glorify Him. And we entrust the outcome to Him. (I’m not saying you don’t know this, but, to be clear, this is “the” goal). We all want people to come to know Him and His love. But this must be done according to the truth. And when someone is preaching/teaching something less than the truth then it is both loving to God and others to seek to expose (Eph 5:11) and correct that error (Ti 1:9).

  • John D

    As is not unusual with imperfect people, we have drawn lines over the “points” made in this article and begun to pick each other apart over where we all stand.

    May I suggest that there’s an elephant in the room that no one has addressed?

    Christ does not need salesmen.

    When someone is radically transformed by Christ and the working of HIs Holy Spirit, that person is profoundly different than the world around him/her. The Jesus in them becomes attractional to the point that people do not have to be coerced into listening to the “sales pitch.” Rather, they are drawn to the love and mercy that is so freely displayed. When someone is truly living the Gospel, the ARE the sales pitch.

    Of course, there is opposition to this. The enemy has his operatives just as Jesus does and world Christianity is built on the faith of martyrs who have stood fast in the face of that opposition. But in our particular context, wouldn’t you agree that if we all just LIVED what we say we believe, there would be little need for this discussion or the article that gave rise to it?

  • Guy

    Dude! John! You took the words right out of my mouth. In this whole article the one idea that failed to present itself was a transformed life in the Holy Spirit brought about by a born again experience in the living Christ that is the Light risen in the human heart for such a time as God appointed to show the world a different way. Transformed lives transform lives. Programs and style come and go and just like them the results are very seldom long lasting.