Initial Contact or Relational Evangelism—or Both?
How quickly should we encourage an unbeliever to make a faith response to trust Jesus as Savior? In our initial evangelistic contact with this person? Or, should we wait until we have had multiple opportunities to explain truths related to the gospel?
The Good Soil Evangelism and Discipleship Scale can help us answer these questions in a way that we can be relatively confident that we are planting God’s Word in “good soil.”
Initial Contact Evangelism
As the name suggests, in this approach to evangelism:
- We establish initial contact with an unbeliever through an unexpected or a planned encounter.
- We share the gospel in its entirety with a challenge for the person to make a faith response to receive Jesus Christ as Savior.
- Then, we may or may not make subsequent attempts to stay in contact with the person to follow up on this initial contact.
Initial contact evangelism views evangelism as a single point-in-time event, rather than a process. It assumes that the unbeliever has enough gospel knowledge to make a bona fide heart-changing faith response based on our initial presentation of the gospel, which is usually a brief presentation.
In its worst form, initial contact evangelism consists of reading a few verses to the unbeliever and urging him or her to “pray the sinner’s prayer.” But, there are other, better ways of and appropriate times for presenting the gospel in an initial contact.
After we have established an initial contact with an unbeliever, if we choose the relational approach to evangelism…
- We develop a genuine caring friendship through reoccurring contacts.
- In those reoccurring contacts, we sow gospel seeds by appropriately introducing and discussing spiritual issues.
- And, as we continue the process of sharing the gospel, we are constantly assessing our friend’s level of gospel understanding, as well as his or her gospel receptivity.
Then, when our friend clearly understands the gospel (Matthew 13:23) and
is willing to sincerely embrace Jesus as Savior (Mark 4:20), we encourage him or her to trust Jesus—and Him alone—as Savior.
Relational evangelism views evangelism as a process, not just a single point-in-time event. Although a “relational evangelist” recognizes that becoming born again happens in one climactic moment, he or she also understands that unbelievers need to clearly understand the gospel to make a faith response that is meaningful and life-changing. And making the gospel clearly understandable to people who are initially gospel-illiterate takes time.
Which is best – Initial Contact or Relational Evangelism?
When used appropriately and well, both types of evangelism have their place. And both have their strengths and weaknesses.
Initial contact evangelism done poorly has produced many empty professions of faith. Many (millions perhaps) of unbelievers have been encouraged (or even coerced!) into praying a “sinner’s prayer” they were not ready to pray. But even though they did not clearly understand the gospel they were urged to embrace and their hearts were not sincerely receptive, they were told they would go to heaven when they die if they would just pray this prayer. Think about this--Evangelism done poorly is worse than no evangelism at all!
For unbelievers who already have a reasonably good understanding of the gospel and their hearts are open to embracing it, one initial evangelistic contact may be all they need to make a genuine faith response. And in crisis situations, such as conversations with people facing the impending reality of death, we have no other option but to share the gospel as well as we can and persuade them to place their faith in Jesus then and there. So, there are situations in which initial contact evangelism is good and necessary.
But in ordinary situations, for people who have little knowledge of the gospel and/or are not very receptive to the gospel, relational evangelism is important, maybe even essential. It may take some time, perhaps even a lot of time, for them to clearly understand and sincerely embrace God’s provision for their salvation. But as personal evangelists we need to resist the temptation to move too slowly in presenting the gospel to them or to be too reticent in urging them to make the faith response they need to make. Sometimes as our relationship with an unbeliever deepens, we can become too fearful of offending our friend.
In addition to the benefits of more clarity in gospel understanding and greater receptivity to the gospel, relational evangelism also makes post-salvation follow up discipleship more natural and more likely to happen. When an unbeliever comes to saving faith in Jesus Christ through the guidance and influence of a caring friend, he or she will usually be open to continuing that friendship through a process of discipleship.
The Good Soil Evangelism and Discipleship Scale is a helpful tool in guiding us to know how much time an unbeliever needs to make a good soil faith response.
Previous articles in this series:
- Three Greek Verbs Define Good Soil
- Assessing Unbeliever’s Gospel Understanding
- Assessing Gospel Receptivity
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