My hope is that I do not scare anyone away from reading this article by my using the “E” word right off the bat. We react to the word because evangelism has a way of pulling us out of our comfortable Christianity, in which we are focused on our need, toward a more challenging and often less comfortable Christianity focused on someone else’s need, which is their need for a saving and healing relationship with God and God’s family.
The term Relational Evangelism refers to coming alongside someone in life, discovering their needs, and meeting those needs as the Lord directs. Of course, the greatest need any non-Christian has is not going to be met through friendship with you, but through friendship with God. Relational Evangelism is therefore making a friend, being a friend, and bringing your friend to Christ. (This will sound familiar to all those who have been involved in a Cursillo 3-Day Weekend.). Relational Evangelism requires unconditional, sacrificial love and the spiritual gift of perseverance (ie. giving it time and sticking with it).
What we often settle for in meeting Jesus’ mandate to “Go into the world and make disciples” (Matthew 28) is Passive Evangelism. Displaying a church sign or running a church website are forms of Passive Evangelism. This newsletter is Passive Evangelism. These are necessary, but relationships, personal witness and personal invitations to “Come and See” are how The Lord really grows His church. This is particularly true in our time and in our culture where we seem to be a people in search of meaningful and lasting relationships.
What this means to us here at Holy Trinity is that there is no substitute for building relationships. Even those who come to us on Sunday morning through our Passive Evangelism efforts (our website, for instance) will typically come back only if the relational component is added during their first visit. This is why the ministry of our greeters and ushers is crucial. Ushers are the first among us to have the opportunity to make a new friend. We should all seek out the stranger among us and make the stranger a friend.
Nancy and I were in Virginia Beach one Sunday morning and found an Anglican Church. We were greeted in the parking lot and the door was held open for us. A friendly lady took the time to find out all about us and introduce us to others. After the service we had multiple conversations with people genuinely interested in us. We never had the chance to feel like strangers. It was this relational component that we remember, not the liturgy, not the music, not the sermon. That is what would have drawn us back if we lived in that area.
Relational Evangelism also involves intentionality in building relationships with folk in the community around us. As a pastor, I can become consumed by relationships inside the congregation such that I miss my call to build relationships outside the congregation. I try to be intentional about not letting that happen, and I have a prayer list of un-churched people the Lord has placed in my path. These are friends I want to introduce to Christ and to my church family. Who has the Lord placed on your list?