Evangelism in the 21st century is spelled apologetics. We live in an increasingly skeptical culture. A lot of people have spiritual sticking points—questions or objections that are holding them back. That’s where apologetics can help clear the brush out so they can make progress toward the cross.
If apologetics is done appropriately and well, it is effective across all generations. One exciting trend I am seeing is spiritual discovery groups, which are especially appealing to millennials and Generation Z. In these groups, non-Christians outnumber Christians. They feel safe and heard. When we experimented with these groups in Chicago, we had 1,100 nonbelievers. We tracked them over a period of years—80 percent came to faith.
It’s not the 1960s when you could machine gun people with a bunch of facts. Conversational apologetics respects the fact the person is on a journey, validates them as being valuable to God and asks more questions than gives answers.
The pastor sets the high watermark of how evangelistic the church will be. People—including the church staff—take their cues from the pastor. We can teach through our sermons and our lives.
You can mentor someone in evangelism by your example. When I was on staff at a church, the senior pastor came in all excited. Every morning he stopped to get a muffin at a local bakery and had gotten to know the owner. This particular day, he had invited the man to Easter services, and the owner had said yes. Beyond just the benefit of this guy coming to church, that encouraged me to think, What am I doing? Whom am I reaching out to?
The number of pastors who have a lot of extra time to go out and build relationships with unchurched people is zero. No pastor has extra time. So I encourage them to invite unchurched people into things they already are doing. You’re going to watch the big game on Sunday afternoon? Invite an unchurched person to watch with you. You haven’t added one minute to your schedule—and who knows what kind of relational progress will be made or what conversations might take place.
We can all build relationships by patronizing the same businesses over and over again. My wife and I eat out at small restaurants a lot. We go back to the same ones time after time after time to build relationships with the waitstaff, cooks, owners. We know Dennis and Gina and Matilda and Sarah. They are like our kids. When we’re there, they sit down and talk to us and share their lives.
Evangelism should be part of discipleship. When we live on the evangelistic edge, it raises our whole spiritual life: Our prayer life becomes more intense; our worship becomes more authentic; our Bible study takes on a new dimension; our dependence on God is at its greatest. If Bob Churchgoer sits in a pew for 20 years and his heart does not grow larger for his unchurched friends, this can’t be an acceptable outcome.