The phrase friendship evangelism has become popular recently, but the concept is not new. It worked in the 1950s for a Christian businessman who picked up a hitchhiker named Bob. Bob had been reared in the slums of Chicago. He had been in constant trouble with the law. He was shivering with cold when he got into the car, but soon warmed up and started spilling out the story of his life to this friendly stranger who talked about God and Jesus. As the businessman listened, he became convinced that he and his wife needed to do something for this young man. He pulled over to a pay phone, called his wife, and asked her to get the spare room ready for a visitor.
They took Bob into their home. The wife of the public-school superintendent tutored him in reading. The businessman’s father gave Bob a job in his factory. And a young friend of the family drove Bob to Chicago to meet a parole requirement. In time, Bob became a believer. And he has been instrumental in reaching his former friends for Christ. Their lives have been transformed—spiritually, morally, and materially. And it all began when one man and a few other Christians befriended Bob.
Friendship evangelism is simply reaching people for Christ by being a friend to them. It’s a very effective way of getting out the good news. It reaches people who would refuse to accept a tract handed to them or sent through the mail. It reaches people who would be offended by a direct personal evangelism approach. It reaches people who are so turned off by organized Christianity that they would never attend a religious service or watch one on TV.
Another good thing about friendship evangelism is that almost every Christian can get involved with it. We can make friends of unsaved neighbors. We can get a friendship going with non-Christian work partners, even unsaved relatives and acquaintances with whom we’ve had little contact for years. This isn’t hard to do. The world is full of lonely people. Many will react warmly to someone who reaches out to them. And you don’t even have to worry about how you’re going to handle the witnessing part of this effort. That will come naturally.
One shy couple recently made this discovery. They started a friendship with an unsaved couple in their neighborhood but did not get around to saying much about their faith. Then, out of the blue, the wife said, “Ron and I know that you go to church every Sunday. We can tell that your religion is important to you and has done a lot for you. We’d like to go with you next Sunday. Would you mind?” Would they mind?! We all know the answer. (By the way, the neighbors are no longer unsaved or without a church home.)
In friendship evangelism, as in so many other endeavors, your effectiveness will be determined by what you are, what you do, and what you say.
WHAT WE ARE
The old saying, “What you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear a word you say,” expresses a truth very relevant to friendship evangelism. What we are must make an impact on our non-Christian friends before we can expect to be effective in winning them to the Savior. People must be able to see that we are for real.
Make no mistake about it. If we have true faith, it should show. When we placed our trust in Christ, we were born spiritually (Jn. 3:6) and became temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). We have God working in us with the same power He exercised when He raised Jesus from the grave (Eph. 1:15-23). We are in the process of being changed into the very likeness of Jesus Christ. We have been equipped to make visible to our friends and acquaintances the presently invisible Savior (2 Cor. 3:18–4:6). As we read the Scriptures, pray, and obey, the Holy Spirit keeps changing us and giving us the joy of salvation. In most Christians, all of this will show.
Flashing a toothy smile, punctuating your sentences with “Praise the Lord,” or putting yourself under a list of external rules won’t show spiritual reality. To have it, you must walk with the Lord. The Holy Spirit fills those who do with Christian character (Eph. 5:15-21). People will find you to be a person they can trust. They will see in you the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). They will respect you. Some may have mixed feelings about you—half-hating you for making them feel guilty without saying a word and yet half-admiring you. But deep down they’ll respect you. And they may be very open to the idea of being your friend.
WHAT WE DO
The second essential element for the Christian who wants to be successful in friendship evangelism is active goodness—doing good things with unselfish motives. Paul encouraged us, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all” (Gal. 6:10). As Christians, we should be quick to give a kind smile, to speak an encouraging word, to help with a loving deed. Mow the lawn or shovel snow for an elderly neighbor. Offer transportation to someone who can’t drive but needs to go to the doctor or get some groceries. Look for opportunities to show kindness to a single mother.
Kind actions open doors to new friendships and maintain those recently begun. They will come naturally to a truly Spirit- filled person. They are not artificial gimmicks to make converts to our faith. One boy learned this important lesson from his dad. He couldn’t see any sense in shoveling the walk for the elderly couple next door. He knew they had resisted his father’s repeated efforts to lead them to Christ. So he objected. His father wisely replied, “Bob, you’re not doing this for them just to win them to the Savior. I’m asking you to do it just because it’s the Christian thing to do.”
That’s it! It’s the “Christian thing to do.” It is one of the ways we live out the life of Christ. It is a seed-sowing activity. We sow good deeds, and God makes the seeds grow and produces the harvest.
WHAT WE SAY
Our speech plays a vital role in friendship evangelism. We can scare a person off if we jump in too soon with a strong appeal to accept Christ. We can confuse people if we get involved in a lengthy explanation of difficult Bible doctrines too quickly. We can make them angry if we are too blunt in telling them about the errors of a religious group they may be involved in. We must be like Paul who said that he would be all things to all men that he might save some (1 Cor. 9:22).
Value Statements. This is a good place to start. We must be careful not to sound preachy, but we can say things that show what we really value in life. The unsaved person will soon pick up some important points: that we don’t measure success by wealth, that we are more concerned about being honest than rich, that we are more pleased with our children’s good character than their high grades, that we place more emphasis on the eternal than the temporal.
Personal Testimony. As friendship develops and we start sharing how we feel about things, we will have opportunities to relate some of our personal experiences with the Lord. We can tell how He lifted our burden of guilt, how He gave us peace in a time of trial, how He answered our prayers, how He changed our attitude toward someone who wronged us.
At this point, your new friends may begin to avoid you. If the friendship ends, let it be their decision. Often, however, our friends will pick up on our experiences with the Lord and will show an interest in learning more.
Bible Study. If they want to know more, this is the time to get them into a simple, evangelistic, and life-related Bible study. You might decide to use a good booklet or book as a guide, but don’t make it a substitute for the Bible.
As you lead them in this study, be honest. If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it and promise to ask someone who may know. Then follow up and come back with the answer. A good evangelistic Bible study provides an excellent basis for a solid salvation decision.
It’s good to keep in mind the fact that most people come to Christ through a process. Those who respond meaningfully to a word from an earnest stranger on a plane or through some other casual encounter have usually been prepared by previous contacts and events.
T. T. Shields, a well-known minister in Canada, used to say that it takes 9 months to produce a healthy baby and that forcing birth too quickly produces nothing more than a stillbirth.