When not to sell Jesus

If you die tonight do you know where you spend eternity?

Not really a conversation opener is it?

Unfortunately I’ve seen too many Church outreach initiatives that rely on canvassing neighborhoods with the goal of asking this exact question. I don’t think it’s effective and it’s time that Evangelical churches give the boot to the hard sell.

Our approach needs a make over here’s why.

We live in a Do-Not-Call Culture

Any unexpected knock at my door generates an immediate response of “Who is that and why are they bothering me?” and I don’t think I’m alone. This face-to-face equivalent of a cold call immediately puts most people in a defensive position that doesn’t lend itself to a warm introduction.

While our intentions are good we haven’t earned the right to be standing there. That right is only earned when you selflessly serve someone or they’ve previously expressed interest. In the absence of these prerequisites you are a nuisance not an evangelist.

Let’s concentrate on meeting people on more neutral ground.

Hard selling isn’t helping

We’ve all been there. That time when you are walking into the mall and someone sticks a track in our hand and begins asking us about our spiritual condition. I’m very comfortable and open with my faith and even I find that off-putting.

That moment is when we confuse the introduction with closing the deal.

Don’t sell me something when I haven’t even bought the first something. Don’t sell when I haven’t really even come into your shop. Don’t sell me the bigger picture when I haven’t even bought the handshake. –Chris Brogan

Chris was using this as a lesson in social media marketing but the principle is universal. At our Church it is expressed as “Earn the right to be heard”. If I can meet a physical need then I might create an opportunity to meet a spiritual need. What Churches need to be creating are these opportunities to introduce ourselves.

What do these opportunities look like? (warning out of the box thinking may be required)

  1. Feed them and they will come – Set up a grill in a neighborhood or housing project and start handing out free hamburgers and hot dogs. Our church is in it’s 2nd year of our Grill Ministry and that plume of smoke is one of our most effective outreach methods. We are simply trying to say Hi, here’s a hamburger. We’ve got Frisbees and bracelets for kids and if you are interested we have Bibles and information about our church. The doors that we have seen God open have been tremendous.
  2. Dog Parks – Set up at a local dog park on a Saturday morning and hand out bottles of water and dog treats or toys. Just be there, be kind, be open. Be nice to their dog and you’ve earned a lot of good will.
  3. Cold Water – This time of year cold water goes a long way. Getting some water bottles printed with your info and setup on Bike Trails & Parking Lots. Heck this is almost Biblical
  4. Rake Leaves, Mow Yards, Paint Schools, setup Food Pantries, run Soup Kitchens, collect blankets, change the oil in cars… etc…

The opportunities are endless but they all require the same plan.

  • Be Kind, Be Helpful
  • Don’t be focused on closing the deal

A few of you will find this thinking heretical because the focus isn’t solely on sharing the gospel. What I’ve found is that if you make yourself helpful and available God will provide many experiences for you to share the Gospel of Christ in all of these situations. The key is being sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s prompting and really listening with loving ears when you find someone hurting or searching.

Meet people where they are. Physically, Emotionally, & Spiritually.

Finding our identity in Love

The final element of this introduction approach is understanding who you are so you can actually make an introduction.

What is your Church about? Why does it exist? What makes it different?

The last question is the real deal maker or breaker. What sets your Church apart from the world? What sets your Church apart from quasi-charitable socialization opportunity?

Love.

“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” – John 13:34-35

Did you catch that? The way that all men will know you are a servant of a living God is by demonstrating love. Your Love-in-action is the only thing that sets you apart.

That is your introduction. “Hi I’m Church ABC and here is how we love others”.

TakeAway

The Gospel of Christ and making disciples is still our only mission but we’ve forgotten how to simply say Hi. Let’s earn the right to be heard.

From the Book of James-

“If people say they have faith, but do nothing, their faith is worth nothing. Can faith like that save them? A brother or sister in Christ might need clothes or food. If you say to that person, “God be with you! I hope you stay warm and get plenty to eat,” but you do not give what that person needs, your words are worth nothing. In the same way, faith by itself—that does nothing—is dead.” – James 2:14-17

  • “Faith without works is dead” is one of my favorite verses. Great post! Makes me proud to be a member of my church. Our bar-b-que is next week and we feed the hungry through a partnership with soul food restaurant Mama Deans. That monthly event is today.

  • Good stuff. I could not agree more bro. I love how we sometimes setup camp and just wait on them to come to us. (sarcasm)

  • I REALLY like this. It's similar to the approach that makes up the core of YoungLife, which I've been involved with: earn the right to be heard. Be a friend, first and foremost. Build relationships and trust. Also: I'd love a dog park for Jesus.

  • That is awesome. I love that idea.

  • I couldn't have said it better. If they don't come to us we decide to go beat people over the head with the gospel and then we wonder why we aren't growing.

  • Exactly. Without spending the time to be a friend then I'm just a strange salesman.

    I'm a dog person so I'm biased but I'm trying to put this together.

  • TheIdiot

    Love the article Keith, and I think you are dead on – with the exception of one important thing: Contextualization. It is a big word that simply means do what is effective in your area. Everything you said is dead on in terms of the culture of a city, but in a country setting it might be rude not to be knocking on doors. As a matter of fact, it is quite expected at times.

    You also took my life motto as well – “Earn the right to be heard.”

  • Kimberly

    Let's think about the mission field…overseas or not…from what I understand, missionaries don't just rush in and bombard people with the eternity question, telling them they are doomed to hell. They form relationships, meet needs, and then share the gospel…and all that is through love, meeting them and their needs right where they are. If we view every place as the mission field, whether it's the most remote village in Africa, the streets of any American city, or Central Baptist's own backyard, then the same principle applies…form relationships, meet needs, and then share the gospel…all in love. The Great Commission tells us to make disciples of all nations, but never mentions scaring people into something they aren't sure of, but if they know we are followers of Christ by our love for our fellow humans, we are guaranteed to get much farther in our efforts to make Christ known.

  • Love this, Keith! As our church team is about to leave again for Africa, I'm reminded that I learned quite a bit about this last year during our trip. Many of us have been programmed to “close the deal,” because this might be their “last chance.” But honestly, we had to learn not to push and to just share. And it didn't hurt that we were offering free dental and medical care at the same time.

    One example: We were in the most remote village of our trip, trekking through pineapple fields to small mud hut villages. We spoke to one woman who was not ready to make a decision, saying she would have to talk to her son, who was the leader of their village. We were disappointed but felt led not to push. Later, we found out that her son, a voodoo witch-doctor type that we had spoken with, was radically saved, and by tradition the entire village would be brought to Christ. Including his mom.

    How's that for out of the box?

  • Valley

    Nice post, Keith.

  • arkstfan

    Keith one of the best door-to-door outreaches I have ever heard of was from a church that had a really active prayer ministry. People gathered one week night and prayed over every prayer request known to the church.

    They came up with the idea of praying for the city but they weren't sure what to pray. They then came up with the idea that they would pray for a few specific streets around the church each week. A week to ten days before praying for a street they would drop off cards at every house on the upcoming street that said “We will be praying for your street on X date. If you have any specific things you would like us to pray for put it on this card and mail it back, or email aaa@bbb.com or call xxx-xxxxx”

    No one knocked on a door, they just left the cards in people's doors.

    Was it a major growth builder? No. But every week they received prayer requests. They learned more about the needs of those people living in the shadow of the building. Some people started coming because someone cared. The church began shaping ministries to meet identified needs within a half mile or so of the church.

    They are still a smallish church but the community now turns to them in time of need.

  • I love this!
    And this is exactly what we are doing at our church with the Arkansas Dream Center (ardreamcenter.tv if anyone is interested). Set up in the poorest area of Little Rock near Arkansas Baptist, we form relationships with the families living in the area. We provide free dinner. Yard service. Birthday parties for kids who would not otherwise get anything. ANYTHING to help these families. Our love of God is displayed through our actions. When you are a light to those in need, they automatically see Jesus in you. And I love that.

  • Thank you very much Niguel