by Charles Snyder
In my short article about Relationship Evangelism I got two responses. One encouraged me to keep writing. The other follows.
“Charles, you’ve written on what is the “in-thing” in churches today. It has its place, but Jesus said preach the gospel to every creature, He doesn’t mention friendship. You quote Acts as a basis for your view, but let’s not forget we read there in ch 7 how Stephen gave a message that told the truth and “cut them to the quick” – and they stoned him to death. We must tell the whole truth, hell and all, no matter what the reaction. Also, while we’re “making friends” forming a “relationship” the person can be hit by a truck.”
Yes there are a lot of churches that are doing some form of Relationship Evangelism. But non that are taking it to the extremes I am suggesting the Lord wants us to go, and do.
Yes Jesus said “preach the Gospel to every creature”, but He did not say open the doors of your building and preach to every creature who darkens the door.
Yes Stephen was stoned to death for preaching the Gospel. But he was not preaching in a church building. He was out where the people were. He was doing the work God gave him to do. We fear to go outside the doors of our comfortable churches and meet the people face to face.
As an example, our church threw a block party for the community. In my estimation this was a good thing as far as it went. Those who attended enjoyed a lot of fun things, food, and they heard the Gospel. They had to register when they came. All that was great. But no one went to their home afterward to find out if they had needs. If they were members of another church. If they were seeking the Lord. Nothing.
Luke 14:23 NIV
Jesus says “Then the master told his servant, ‘go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house well be full.
Throughout the Gospels Jesus set the example. He went out into the streets and homes of the people. Yes He went into the synagogue, on the Sabbath, But the rest of the time He was out meeting the needs of the people.
My idea is perhaps a radical, or extreme form of Relationship Evangelism. It is to form teams who will go out into the roads and country lanes and meet the people where they live. To write down what they find. (church members, obviously lost, hurting, needs, etc.) The purpose of the first visit is to make the initial contact. If the Lord leads and the door is open yes at that time you should lead them to Christ. But the primary reason for the call is to establish a relationship. To break the ice so to speak. To begin to show that you care. On the first visit you are planting a seed.
After that first visit, if there is no immediate need the church could meet, perhaps a month later go back to follow up to build a positive relationship. You would pray for the Lords leading as you went. If there was an imediate need, and the church could meet it, it should be done as soon as possible. Otherwise the exact length of time is not what is important. What is important is that you go back time and time again to see if they have a need the church could pray for or meet directly. The follow us is when you are watering the seed or tender plant.
Teams could be husband and wife or two men for the initial contact. If they find a single mother of a widow or just a woman living alone, the follow-up call could be made by, preferably, a team of two women, or a husband and wife.
If it is a family, the follow-up could be made by a husband and wife.
In most churches there are those who are good at fixing things, carpenters, handymen, mechanics, etc. Say you go to a home and find a widow with a broken or rotted board. A team of handymen or carpenters could go to the home and replace the damage. Say a single mother has car problems and no money to fix it. A mechanic in the Church could go with a partner to the home and fix the car. Or tow it to his shop to fix it, no charge. Many just need someone to talk to. That conversation can be directed around to the subject of salvation.
But you first have to get in the door. People are more and more reluctant to open the door and let strangers in. You have to build relationships first. In order to get in the door to talk to them.
Jesus went about meeting the peoples needs. He walked up and down the roads and country lanes meeting the needs of the people, and talking to them about the things of God. What compelled them to come to Him was that he met their needs. He healed the sick. As a carpenter I am sure he did a little of that from time to time.
We will never know in this life all that Christ did. We see a small fraction of what Christ Jesus did in the Gospels. We see a small fraction of what the Church did throughout the rest of the New Testament.
There are six other days of the week. During those six days Christ was out walking the roads, looking for needs he could meet.
Then there are those who attend the church regularly. In many churches they never receive a visit in their home. When they stop coming no one visits them to see what is wrong.
In most churches only a small few do most of the work. Many will never volunteer, no matter how much you beg from the pulpit. But what if someone visited them on a regular basis. Say you scheduled a visit for members at least every six months or better yet every quarter. Just to touch base and see how they are doing, or if they had a need the Church could help with.
Don’t you think that may encourage them. If we really got to know the people and asked them they would likely get involved too. Say you had four men and two women who said they would help start the ministry of relationship evangelism. Once that core group got comfortable with the ministry they could each invite others to help at specific times. They could go with them until they are at a point where they are willing to do the same.
There are some who would just go out and make the first contact. Say on a specific street a church member lived. One of the team members could team up with that member to visit those on his or her street, who are un-churched. It makes sense that at least one member of the follow-up team be someone who has been there before.
The point is that what ever the interval, we need to visit the people where they live. When people come to church they don’t have time to spill their guts, so the speak, about the challenges in their lives. They are not likely to do it too much on a first visit. But if we keep coming back, showing them that we care, eventually the Spirit will work in their lives and cause them to respond.
If they don’t come to us, and we don’t go to them, we have not done our duty of going out into the roads and country lanes to bring them in.
Thousands of church members each year, fall by the wayside, because no concerned member bothered to visit and water that tender plant that was growing in the church, but the cares of this life pulled them away, because they did not think the church really cared for them, or their needs.
Jesus told Peter to feed His Sheep. Feeding the sheep is not just preaching the gospel. That is an important part of it. But it is important that we go to the sheep, on a regular basis and check on them.
A real shepherd will not turn the sheep into the pasture, and leave them there for a year, then go out to sheer their wool. No he will check them to make sure they have food and water. He will make sure they are not being abused by wolves or other animals that could harm them.
A gardener will not plant his seed and come back at the end of the season to harvest his crop. If he did that he may not be able to find the crop. No, he will cultivate, he will water, he will prune where needed, throughout the year. He will work to keep the wild animals away. He will remove damaging insects.
In the same way we should not win the lost, then leave them to their own devices. Surely the world will lead many astray. The cares of this life are many. They can get in the way of spiritual growth.
Discipleship is not just about winning the lost. It is about showing the people that they are not just a number. It is showing the people that you care. That your church cares.
We get so busy doing the work of the church. We get comfortable. We grease the squeaky wheel. But leave all else to their own devices. Those who actually ask for help are only a fraction of those who really need help of some kind or another.
Yes, my brother, we need to preach the gospel. But first we have to get inside the door. If we don’t get in the door we cannot preach. If we hit them over the head with the Gospel on the first visit, rather than depending on the leading of the Spirit, we may not be allowed back in.
We must show the people we care first, like Jesus did. Then they will be asking for the reason, why we care. Then the Spirit will have free reign to work through us.
Yes, someone we visit could get hit by a truck and die before they can receive Christ. It is our job to go, It is God’s job to save. If we go in our own strength, and pound them with the gospel we may get some honest conversions. We will have few who will repeat what we have done.
If we go out in love depending on the leading of Christ, we may talk to a person seven times or more before they actually accept Christ. But if we then invite them to go with us to visit others and show the love of Christ to their neighbors, they are more likely to do it.
We are not responsible if we go and they don’t accept Christ the first time. We are responsible to go and to keep on going, until Jesus comes again.