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Evangelism in the New Testament: What is Contact Evangelism? Pt. 1

 

“Only God omniscient can accurately appraise the results of evangelism. Only He can count converts.”

R.B. Kuiper

My wife and I went out one night to a bar district in Dallas, Texas, to have some good chicken wings and afterward do some evangelism. Truthfully, we went out to do evangelism and while we were there, we had wings. Growing up in Buffalo, New York, I am a bit of a critic of what makes a good wing. There are not many good ones south of East Aurora, New York.

After we polished off the last wing, we walked around the bar district, and I ran into a bouncer named Michael. Like any good bouncer, Michael was big and bald. Intimidating. I got past my initial fear with a gospel tract and spoke with him about his religious background. He had one, and that was enough to talk about his own assessment of his standing with God. We went through some of the Ten Commandments, and I did something I do not usually do. I focused on the Fifth Commandment: “Honor your father and your mother” (Ex. 20:12).

This really bothered Michael. He did not believe he was honoring his father and mother with his work as a bouncer. They taught him about the Bible and took him to church, but he had left the faith. We talked about false conversion as Jesus taught (Matt. 7:21-23).

As we spoke, on a cool autumn night in North Texas, he began to sweat. He was not sweating figuratively. This was sweat pouring out from the top of his head and running down his face. I told him that breaking one commandment was the same as breaking all of them, that God is holy, and that God demands obedience. I told him about justification by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone (2 Cor. 5:21). I spoke of His death and resurrection and urged him to repent of his sins and trust in Jesus.  I left him with a business card and my wife and I prayed for his salvation.

About three weeks later, Michael called me to tell me that he could not stop thinking about our conversation. He had repented, come to Christ, and went back to church. He quit his job as a bouncer. 

Does “cold contact” street evangelism work? It just did. 

Friendship vs. Contact Evangelism

The type of evangelism we are discussing is direct witnessing with strangers, sometimes called “confrontational evangelism.” Many people consider anything “confrontational” in a negative sense, but the dictionary definition of the term is to simply have a conversation where we speak to the lost directly about their eternity, helping them to see their sin so they understand their need for a Savior. I prefer the term “contact evangelism,” which Will Metzger uses in his book Tell the Truth. This kind of evangelism is seldom confrontational in the typical sense of the word, despite claims to the contrary.

One of the most serious objections to contact evangelism is the claim that all evangelism must take place within the context of longstanding relationships. Christians often hear that strangers “do not care how much you know until they know how much you care” and are taught that we must “earn the right” to speak to the lost about Christ. A whole body of literature arose within evangelical Christianity in the 1980s that fleshed out this concept with books and seminars promoting “friendship evangelism” or “lifestyle evangelism.” I am familiar with these works, having read many of them during my days as a pastor and Bible college student in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In these books, the main argument against evangelism among strangers has to do with the “fruit” of such a method. In other words, if this kind of evangelism is “effective,” then where are the results? Someone has said that when critics of contact evangelism mention the effectiveness factor, what they really mean is “It does not fill up my church.”

Such “effectiveness” has little to do with biblical evangelism and much to do with modern church growth strategies. Filling the church building is not necessarily indicative of true success. False teachers fill their churches every Sunday, tickling the ears of false converts. Religions like Islam have large followings in many parts of the world. Are they “successful” in the eyes of God? Cults are sometimes very successful in reaching the unaffiliated, and they seem to work harder at reaching their neighbors than we do. Are they “successful” before God?

If “effectiveness” is a major factor in evaluating evangelistic strategy, then we are in danger of falling into the same traps that the seeker-sensitive movement fell into long ago. The question is not first and foremost, “Is it effective in filling our churches?” The question is, “Is it Biblical?”

Effectiveness Defined

This is not to say that the question of effectiveness is totally irrelevant. But we must determine what we mean by “effective.” True effectiveness can be measured, at least in part, by the following standards:

  • Was the true gospel proclaimed?
  • Was the true gospel understood?
  • Was Christ glorified?
  • Was the attitude of the Christian godly as he communicated the gospel (2 Tim. 2:24-26; 1 Cor. 13)?

Biblically speaking, if these were present, then the witnessing experience was effective. Our immediate results may not be indicative of true fruit (Matt. 13:1-23). However, it is not our job to make converts; our job is to faithfully proclaim the Biblical gospel (Rom. 10:14-18) and our sovereign Lord will see to the results. The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts of sin (John 16:8-11) and the Father is the one who draws the lost to the Savior (John 6:44).

It is impossible for us to know the fruits of our evangelism with complete certainty; the Lord will evaluate that for Himself on the Day of Judgment (Matt. 7:13-27). As pastor and theologian, Rienk Kuiper wrote: “Only God omniscient can accurately appraise the results of evangelism. Only He can count converts.” If we move away from these precepts, we may unwittingly fall headlong into pragmatism even while we attempt to rightly evaluate evangelistic methodology.

Despite the commitment of Reformed churches to reject pragmatism in worship, this commitment is not equally held in evangelism. Much of the missional movement of recent years in churches that are Reformed in their soteriology is a product of this pragmatism which seeks to make evangelism more comfortable to middle-class Americans. It is a lot easier to run a soup kitchen, teach English as a second language, and fight child trafficking than to evangelize biblically and regularly.

It is time for us to reaffirm contact evangelism as the primary biblical model of evangelism in the New Testament.

For further reading
The Reformed Evangelist: The Man, The Myth & The Message by Al Baker and Ryan Denton
Out of the Comfort Zone by Ray Comfort
God-Centred Evangelism by R.B. Kuiper
Tell the Truth: The Whole Gospel Wholly by Grace Communicated Truthfully Lovingly by Will Metzger
Jon Speed

Jon Speed

Jon Speed is married to Kim and they have five children and two grandchildren. He is the Pastor of Missions and Evangelism at By the Word Baptist Church in Azle, TX. Speed is the author of Evangelism in the New Testament and co-produced Babies Are Murdered Here (2014) and Babies Are STILL Murdered Here (2019). He planted Christ is King Baptist Church in Syracuse, NY (2011-2019) and is a co-founder of Loor.tv.

February 14, 2024

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