It’s been said that most people are introduced to Christianity through a friend, and this was, in fact, how I eventually came to visit a church. I had a friend named Bill who invited me for many years before my wife and I finally took him up on the offer. As I was training students at a recent evangelism camp, we talked about the fear that many of us have related to sharing our faith with strangers. If most people are introduced to Christianity through a friend, shouldn’t we focus our efforts on reaching our friends rather than people we don’t know? This approach to evangelism is sometimes called “friendship evangelism,” and it sure sounds like it would be a lot less intimidating than approaching strangers with the message of Salvation.
But there is an important fallacy underlying the concept of friendship evangelism. The reason friendship evangelism is statistically dominant is simply because we, as Christians, are so uncomfortable sharing our faith with strangers. We have created this statistical reality. We typically only share our faith with people we know, so it’s shouldn’t surprise us that these are the people who come to know something about our faith! But does it have to be this way, and more importantly, is this approach consistent with what the New Testament teaches?
In order to answer this question, we needn’t go further than the words of Jesus. During His earthly ministry, Jesus commissioned seventy-two of His followers to travel from town to town, announcing, “The Kingdom of God has come near” (Luke 10:9). Were these disciples told to engage only people they already knew? Hardly. In fact, Jesus warned these budding evangelists that they would be in unknown, often dangerous territory; He told the group they would be “lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3). Later, after the Resurrection, Jesus commissioned His apostles with a more sweeping directive: “You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). It’s clear that the expansive geographic parameters described by Jesus would require the apostles to move quickly beyond the limits of their friends and acquaintances.
And that’s exactly what the apostles proceeded to do. Paul repeatedly entered unfamiliar synagogues to announce the Good News to Jews who were strangers to Paul (i.e. Acts 13:13-42 and Acts 18:4-5), and he frequently evangelized “on the streets” from town to town to Jewish and Gentile groups he did not know (i.e. Acts 13:44-52 and Acts 17:16-21). In fact, there are very few examples of friendship evangelism on the pages of Scripture.
I gently reminded the students that they needed to see strict friendship evangelism for what it truly is: a natural, fallen, human response to the fear of discomfort and worldly judgment. Most of us are more concerned with how we will be perceived (and the discomfort we might feel) than our godly responsibility to share the Gospel. Jesus has a message for us: Get over it. Get comfortable with discomfort. The more we talk about Jesus and reflect His nature and mission, the more likely the world will hate us (John 15:18-16:14). The more we stand up for the truth, the more likely the world will put us in a tough spot (Matthew 10:17-23). And the more we are ostracized by the fallen world around us, the more joy we ought to feel to have been given the opportunity to stand up for something more than our own immediate personal comfort (Luke 6:22-23).