For most of us, evangelism doesn’t happen on its own. We hope for opportunities to spontaneously speak about Jesus with unbelievers, but if we wait for complete spontaneity, it may never happen. We also fear being overly scripted or goal-oriented in our relationships with non-Christians.
Yet surely we can find middle ground between waiting passively for evangelism to happen and forcing the gospel into every conversation. Toward that end, Joshua Ryan Butler and Thomas Terry discussed some things to prioritize in order to increase our opportunities for evangelism.
Butler recommends practicing hospitality—something church families can do together—and prayer. He learned the priority of prayer in evangelism from an older man who was always having conversations about Jesus with people around him. The man’s secret was that each week he prayed God would bring him people to speak with, to make him attentive to the opportunities, and give him words to say. And God answered.
Terry urges us not to underestimate the power of intentional engagement. Whether it’s his barber or the barista at his favorite coffee spot, Terry tries to build a relationship over the course of small interactions to the point where he has a relational foundation to share the gospel. In his context of Portland, people aren’t ready to hear about Jesus in the first interaction. “They just won’t hear you,” he says, “they won’t listen to you, and in many cases, they don’t even really know who Jesus is.”
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The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Joshua Ryan Butler: Well, one angle I’ve been thinking through this recently has been just the lines of hospitality, extending the hospitality of God is sort of a phrase we’ve been using at our church and a lot of that, you know, I think a lot of people today are lonely, are isolated. We’re way more connected than ever before online and those kinds of things but often we’re more isolated. And the power of actually creating a space and welcoming people into it.
So, an example of that, a buddy of mine, John Crawford, had this idea and he and I have just been . . . we’re implementing it this month actually, has been taking all of our community groups, we have all these community groups that meet during the week and basically taking a week off, so to speak. So, the week before, we’re prepping everyone on kind of hospitality and how to do this. But then taking a week off where actually, instead of gathering as a community that week, individuals and families within the group are all intentionally praying over and inviting someone that they know over to their home for a meal, or if they don’t have a good home, even if they’re going out to coffee or whatever.
And we’ve tried to equip them with some intentional questions they can ask. And not putting people on the spot, but actually truly get to know more about people’s lives and what they believe and what they think with the goal of hospitality. And I think one of the things that we’ve found I think people are hungry to be known and to actually have a space to share some of their story and their outlook on the world and we want to bathe that in prayer. And so, the week before going into it and the week after taking time to pray for those conversations, to pray for the people, to share together when we regather as a community with what took place there and just see how God might move.
You know, I think we often underestimate the power of prayer. But when I first became a Christian, I remember talking to this friend of mine. He’s an older gentleman and he just seemed to always be having conversations to people about Jesus and he was talking about, he would say, “Oh, yeah. I just had this great conversation with someone.” And I asked him. I was, like, “How do you do that? Like, how do you evangelism, you know?” And he looked at me kind of strange and he’s, like, “I just pray. I ask God every week. I pray, ‘God, would you bring me the right person to speak to. Would you make me attentive to where I can recognize the time? Would you give me the words to say?’ And God responded to those prayers.”
And so, those themes of, like, hospitality and prayer I think can be some helpful inroads for us with evangelism today.
Thomas Terry: Yeah. That’s good. I mean, in the same way, when you talk about evangelism and hospitality, I think those are great opportunities to engage with culture. I also think intentional investment and what I mean by that is being intentional with going to the same barber, spending concentrated time with the same barber, sitting in the barber’s chair every three weeks and just kind of talking about life and that’s somewhat hospitality.
Butler: More like every three months for me, but yeah.
Terry: Well, you don’t know what that looks like. But at the end of the day, you’ll find that when you are engaging intentionally with the same people, or maybe it’s a barista, they begin to open up, they begin to talk to you a lot more. They don’t feel like the conversation is abrasive. I’m not challenging their worldview right out of the gate.
It’s much more of a relational dynamic that happens over the course of three, four months where you’re able to, one, talk about things that they resonate with, significance, beauty, creativity, the transcendence, all these things, or work, vocation, things that are more neutral in terms of the playing field. But then out of those things, just being intentional about how you get to Jesus.
And so, that would only happen by virtue of spending intentional, concentrated time with people to make those connections. I mean, I think of a barista that I go to, a barista, a coffee shop every week, every Sunday I frequent this one coffee shop and we talk about hip hop. This barista talks to me about hip hop and we’ve had meaningful conversations that surrounded hip hop artists and hip hop lyrics but we’ve gotten to Jesus and we’ve talked about significance and justice and truth and morality and lifestyle all because I was intentional about going to this coffee shop every single Sunday and having meaningful conversations with the barista.
So, it’s very much like hospitality but also very intentional with my time and where I invest it and with whom I invest it.
Butler: That’s good. I think related to that, one idea for me has just been the significance of the power of one, you know, just the power of one that often I think we hear evangelism we think we’ve got to preach to the masses or whatever, and you know, I’m not saying that’s bad. But I think we can underestimate the significance and power of one person. Often the best evangelists I think are people who are new to the faith. We think you’ve got to have all the equipment and all the training or whatever, but we see this in the story of the woman at the well where Jesus encounters this one woman, invests in her, there’s intentionality in his conversation with her.
He speaks into her life in a profound way. She encounters Christ and she runs into her village, into her town saying, “Come see this person who knows everything about me,” like, and her encounter with Jesus, she’s able to actually do more evangelistically coming off the heels of that encounter with Christ than maybe the disciples as a whole maybe could have done in that town or that area.
And so, I think sometimes we can get maybe intimidated by the bigness of the vision but there’s just the power of that one barista, that one barber, you mentioned, yeah, the barber. I love my barber. We have a long relationship and he’s, even though I only see him every three months or so, but he’s awesome. We’ve had great conversations about faith and even when stuff . . . he had some hard stuff come up in his life and I was so honored to be one of the people he called to, like, come be with him in that and on.
But yeah, the power of one, what God can do through that one person when they do come to . . .
Terry: Yeah. When you spend time with one person, inevitably, what you’re going to find is that something in their life is broken and there’s a simple way to get to Jesus because Jesus is the one thing that can make what is broken in their life right. And so, having that one conversation with that one person at the right time prayerfully engaging with them is a really effective way to do evangelism, especially in a context like Portland.
People are just not trying to hear you if you come out of the gate swinging about Jesus. They just won’t hear you, they won’t listen to you, and in many cases, they don’t even really know who Jesus is. So, you have to have this relational dynamic established before you can even get to Jesus.