Evangelism, Naturally

“For Kevin Harney, outreach without evangelism is ‘giving a cup of cold water, but not giving it in Jesus’ name.'”

Lupe Ortiz was unaccustomed to poverty when she first arrived at the Clothes Closet run by Shoreline Community Church in Monterey, California. As Ortiz found the clothing she needed, she also found friendship with the Shoreline women who volunteered at the Closet. They talked with her and offered to pray for her needs.

Soon Ortiz was volunteering at the Closet herself, working alongside these women, and it did not take long for her to accept an invitation to church, where she decided to become a Christian. Shoreline’s senior pastor Kevin Harney remembers praying with Ortiz that day, and he also recalls, a few months later, the church praying for the Clothes Closet ministry and—to Harney’s surprise—its new director, Lupe Ortiz. “I had tears in my eyes,” he says. “I was thinking, ‘Lord, this is it! This is what we do.’”

Indeed, the 50-plus outreach ministries at Shoreline prove that outreach is the heart and soul of the church. Churches all over the world commit themselves to doing outreach, but sometimes, in their social care and community-elevating efforts—from Trunk or Treat at Halloween to food pantries to backpack drives for school children—the gospel is left out.

At Shoreline, Harney says, they made a commitment: “We’re not doing any outreach or social care events unless we are on some level bringing the gospel.” He explains, “The time is too short and the work is too important to leave it out.”

Facing Fears About Evangelism

For Harney, outreach without evangelism is “giving a cup of cold water, but not giving it in Jesus’ name.” As the author of the books Organic Outreach for Ordinary People, Organic Outreach for Families, and Organic Outreach for Churches, the pastor has put a lot of thought into why some churches don’t necessarily include the gospel in their efforts while others can’t imagine leaving it out.

Harney himself grew up in an unchurched home, with no faith at all—“I didn’t know Christmas and Easter were religious holidays,” he says. But when he became a Christian, he wanted everyone to know about Jesus. “It didn’t take long for me to realize that not everyone wanted to know Jesus,” he says, “and not all Christians were excited about sharing their faith.”

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Harney realizes evangelism became “scary” for people, and names fear as the first reason churches rein in evangelistic impulses. “There’s a deep level of fear around sharing the gospel because people perceive it as an offensive, attacking, in-your-face thing,” he explains. “But I help people see that outreach should be what churches and families do as a natural outgrowth of their lives in Christ.”

In his three books, Harney attempts to demystify outreach and evangelism. “None of my books have a program,” he says. “It’s a whole philosophy and a mindset.”

The “Organic” Difference

Although many churches offer ministries like Shoreline’s food pantry, clothes closet or homeless outreach, what sets the church apart from less evangelistic churches is this organic outreach mindset. Harney cites training, intentionality and prayer as three major components of weaving an evangelistic mindset into the fabric of a church.

Twice a year at Shoreline, church members participate in training so that all leaders and church members know how to “present the message of Christ in a way that is understandable, winsome and warm,” according to Harney. Further, participants in the training events learn how to share their testimonies and pray with people.

“If someone came up to a believer and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re a Christian, and I want to become a Christian—can you help me?’ their answer shouldn’t be, ‘Let me call my pastor,’ or ‘Come to my church on Sunday,” says Harney. “It should be something like: ‘Let me share with you a simple story about Jesus and how you can have a relationship with him.’”

The Winsome Way

A major focus in Harney’s Organic Outreach books and the Organic Outreach Conference he leads every year is the idea of sharing the love of Christ in a “winsome” way.

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“That means it’s nonforced,” he explains. “It’s looking into the eyes of another human being and having a sense of who they are and what their story is and what their journey is.”

Harney points to the back-to-back stories in John 3 and 4 of Jesus’ interactions with the scholarly Nicodemus and then the “outsider” Samaritan woman at the well. He observes how Jesus interacts with Nicodemus in a very rabbinical way, but then later talks with the Samaritan woman and it’s “a whole different conversation.”

“Sometimes we want to crank out a memorized script, but you can’t quote The Four Spiritual Laws in the face of someone’s complex life story,” says Harney. “Jesus talked with that woman, but he also listened. There’s no one way to share the gospel.”

“To me, winsome evangelism is prayerful, thoughtful, Spirit-led wisdom,” he says. “It’s not a memorized or prescribed thing.”

Harney categorizes outreach efforts on a four-level intensity scale. While some ministries at Shoreline are considered “Level Four” intensity—with a plan to proclaim the gospel and follow it up with an opportunity to respond—many others are at a Level Two or One intensity, which are often social care ministries led by volunteers trained to look for natural openings to talk about God and share the message of Jesus.

“We’re not coercing or manipulating,” says Harney. People who come to the food pantry or clothes closet don’t have to listen to a spiel about Jesus before receiving what they came for. “But our volunteers are trained,” he adds, “and they are not only praying for but expecting to have those types of God-centered conversations.”