How is the Gospel Best Presented?
If our Christ-given task is to make disciples, we also need to examine how we present the gospel. Do most of the long-lasting decisions that lead to people becoming committed followers of Jesus come from five-to-15-minute concept-centered presentations of the gospel, or do they come from some other longer, relationship-based sharing of the gospel? Oscar Thompson, author of Concentric Circles, and Jim Petersen, author of Evangelism as a Lifestyle make convincing arguments for relationship-based, or friendship-based evangelism. Our own experience also led us to the same conclusion.
Near the beginning of our ministry in university student evangelism and disciplemaking in Mexico, we planned a 3-year on-campus evangelistic thrust. During the first year, we trained our Christian students in how to strengthen their own walk with Christ, in how to share their personal testimony, in how to present the gospel in a concise, visual format (the Bridge Illustration), how to use evangelistic Bible studies with friends and family and how to work with new believers to help them begin to grow spiritually.
During the second year, every two months we had a large on-campus evangelistic presentation by Christian scientists from NASA, or recognized professional people, or Mexican Christian educators. After each conference, we offered an opportunity for people to accept Christ or to talk with the conference speaker or our trained students about their questions concerning the Christian faith. We kept records of who accepted Christ, their contact information, in which school within the university they were studying, etc. We began working immediately with those who made decisions to give their life to Christ, helping them to begin to grow as new Christians.
The third year was dedicated to finishing the follow-up of the new believers and an evaluation of the results of the 3-year evangelistic project. The results of that evaluation totally surprised us and set the pattern for almost all our future evangelism not only among university students but also with adults.
We discovered that only 12% of all the professions of faith came as a result of those six on-campus, large-group conferences. The other 78% were either friends, fellow students, or family members of our Christian students whom we had trained in how to share the gospel. But the most telling statistics that came from analyzing the data were the following two facts: 1) we were unable to locate any but two or three of the 12% who “accepted Christ” in the on-campus conferences. (Almost all of them had given us fake contact information. The two or three who gave us correct information always had some excuse for not talking to us.) 2) Of the 78% who were friends, fellow students, or family members of our trained students, almost 100% were growing in their faith and were attending some Christian church. Evangelism among people with whom we have a relationship is much more successful at producing disciples than “cold-turkey” evangelism with people we do not know. Doing “cold-turkey” evangelism is useful because it can give Christians good experience in sharing the gospel but is not the best way to make disciples.
As a result of these results, we developed a multi-pronged evangelism training for university students that involved helping them develop a strong relationship with Christ in their own lives, helping them understand what the gospel is, teaching them how to share the gospel in a brief format both verbally and using the “Bridge Illustration”, helping them develop their personal testimonies and how to vary that testimony depending on the person to whom they were talking, teaching them how to cultivate relationships with non-Christians, and teaching them how to use evangelistic Bible studies with friends and families.
This is the second article in a series on “Communicating the Gospel Cross-Culturally” by Lloyd Mann, D.Min.
Lloyd Mann has a BA in teaching languages in secondary schools (Spanish and English), an M.Div in theology and a D.Min with a focus in missions mobilization. He served as a missionary in Latin America for 39 years and is the author of two books and multiple articles and materials for use in university student ministry. With his wife, Wilma, he translated many more materials and books into Spanish and some into English.
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