Historically, two of the most common approaches to gospel outreach across a wide variety of Bible-believing evangelical churches have been door-to-door calling and street evangelism – sometimes alongside open-air preaching.
This has brought churches into contact with people from many different backgrounds and ethnicities, rich and poor, religious and non-religious, asylum seekers, and those with broken lives, to name just a few.
More recently, these tried-and-tested methods which have been used to bring people to Christ over many years, seem (among some of our churches), to have fallen out of favour and are being replaced by what is now termed friendship evangelism.
Not either/or, but both
I write not to discourage friendship evangelism, but to plead that we retain door-to-door and street evangelism as vital parts of outreach.
I also do not wish to make a case for an either/or approach, but for both/and. I say this because I hear instances of churches largely abandoning door-to-door calling and street evangelism and putting all their effort into friendship evangelism.
Although friendship evangelism is being re-branded and becoming increasingly popular, it should be acknowledged to be nothing new: Christians from the early church onwards have pursued a friendship at the same time as pursuing a soul for Christ.
One of my concerns is that some who favour friendship evangelism can refer to door-to-door calling and street evangelism with the unflattering phrase ‘cold contact evangelism’. If anything, this calls to mind those generally unwelcome and persistent travelling salespeople!
Would it not be preferable to scrap this negative description altogether and replace it with the much more positive and accurate ‘first contact evangelism’?
First contact evangelism
Even friendship evangelism begins with a ‘first contact’: a new neighbour, work colleague, parent at the school gate, or someone at the supermarket checkout.
These are people we come into contact with naturally, but what about those we never meet in this way – how can we hope to develop a friendship with some of them without that first contact which door-to-door and street evangelism can give us?
Some of us have found that, at times, first contact is made in this way and has led to an opportunity for friendship evangelism.
There are those who say that door-to-door calling and street evangelism are no longer effective, but many of us who are regularly involved in these forms of outreach are pleased to have found that this is not the case.
While we cannot claim that great numbers are being converted, we can give examples of people contacted in this way, not only coming to meetings, but in some cases coming to Christ!
Was not Jesus himself involved in first contact evangelism when he spoke to Nicodemus, the woman at the well, the rich young ruler, and Zacchaeus? In none of these instances is there any record that he had further personal contact with them, or had opportunity to develop a friendship – yet who would doubt the validity or effectiveness of these encounters?
Where are the evangelicals?
Another objection raised to more traditional outreach methods is that Jehovah’s Witnesses have ruined door-to-door calling for us.
Does it have to be so? Surely not, if we do it well, and with a gracious and winsome spirit. Some of us have found that even with a first contact on the doors, or in the street, people have opened up to us and shared their troubles.
Is it not sobering, searching, and sad that, whereas door-to-door calling was for decades synonymous with evangelicalism, it is now the case that if someone unexpected is at the door, it is likely to be Jehovah’s Witnesses?
When walking through a town or city centre, we find the JWs almost invariably present, even if not proactively engaging passers-by.
This was almost unknown a few years ago, but more recently (and presumably due to policy changes from their authority, the Governing Body), JWs have now added street outreach to their well-established door-to-door calling.
It should both grieve and challenge us to ask, ‘Where are the evangelicals?’ Have we retreated in our efforts and abandoned thousands of people to these false, gospel-denying cults? Should we not, as gospel people, have a presence on our high streets and around the doors?
I am not suggesting that this is for everyone. It is certainly not my intention to shame anybody into this work. But surely, any moderately-sized evangelical church can muster a small team of three or four people to go out regularly, around the doors and onto the streets, backed by their church’s full support, keen interest, and fervent prayers!
Advantages and disadvantages
Once again, let me stress that it is definitely not my intention to discourage friendship evangelism and promote door-to-door calling and street evangelism as more valid or effective means of outreach.
It is not a case of either/or, but both/and. No doubt there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Friendship evangelism does, by nature, require us to spend extended periods of time with someone, patiently building trust and a relationship and watchful for an opportunity to share the gospel.
Door-to-door and street evangelism have the advantage of undelayed reference to the gospel in our words.
Some of us have found that when a team is regularly at the same location, people have been spoken to more than once and that, from time to time, to our surprise and delight, they come looking for us!