Evangelism and the local church (2) cold contact

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In part one, I said that my approach to evangelism is:

“We live in an area and get to know people and we go and knock on some doors.”

You will also have picked up through the article that I envisage this happening in the context of being part of the local church.  Now, whilst people might ask “is that it?” and “but where’s the silver bullet” I don’t think they have too much with the first part of the sentence. We’ve heard enough over the past 30 years about incarnational mission and friendship evangelism for that to all sound obvious. However, I do get some kickback against the “go and knock on some doors” bit.   That seems a bit intrusive and a bit old fashioned. 

So, I thought I’d explain a little about why we need cold-contact evangelism and how I go about it.  The reason why is that we live in a country that whilst it has some Christian cultural heritage is definitely not Christian today.  This means that actual Christians make up a very small percentage of the population. The result is that very few people in our neighbourhoods are likely to have Christian friends.  So, if we rely on friendship evangelism then we are not going to reach many people. In effect, we have to proactively go out and find new friends. We can do that partly by joining gyms, sports teams, book clubs and so on.  However, in my experience, there comes a time when we have to go and knock on some doors – or the equivalent and meet new people.  I say “or the equivalent” because alongside door to door visiting I’ve also sought to be visible on our local high-street meeting people there.

The “how” follows from the why.  First of all, think about the objective. Our aim is not so much to attempt to get a conversion on first meeting. Rather, it is to start to connect with people. One  evangelist explained it helpfully this way once. 

When someone sees a washing machine advert, they don’t immediately rush out to buy the product. That’s not the aim of the advert. Rather, the aim is so that it becomes logged in their mind. When their current machine breaks and they go to buy a new one, they are aware of the particular brand.  In the same way, a lot of our initial contact with people does not provoke an immediate response but it helps them to know that we are there for the day when they are in need.

Secondly, we want to be as normal as possible.  This means that we try not to do things that are weird.  Now, this might be controversial in some quarters but one of the weirdest things we do whenever we go door to door is we go in pairs.  I think this is partly as a result of a rather literalistic and legalistic interpretation of Jesus sending the disciples out in pairs.  I think that teaming up is good but if you don’t want to look like a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness and you don’t want to intimidate the old lady who lives on her own at number 42 don’t turn up mob-handed at her door on a dark winter’s night.[1]

My habit would be to head out in day light hours, preferable during the warmer months (March through to October is usually fine).  I’d take with me a newsletter from the church and/or some invites to any special events we might have going on.  The newsletter would include a short article (1-2 sides A5) and information about weekly activities.  When I knock on a door I introduce myself by name and explain that I’m from the local church. I’d then offer them the newsletter and explain it is the church newsletter and that I’m bringing it round to each house. I might add that it is nice to try and deliver such things in person.  At that point you get a feel for whether the person is willing to talk a bit more. Most are not but nor are they generally hostile. They do appreciate contact providing it isn’t pushy. If they seem open to conversation I might ask them if they know/what they know about the church. They may well then say that an older relative once went there or that they attended a club as a child.  I might then show them some of the activities that are happening and ask if they would be interested.  Sometimes the conversation goes no further but sometimes this is when they either express an interest or an objection. If they are open to further conversation, we are at this stage able to talk a little about their circumstances and the Gospel.

I mentioned at the start that I also take a similar approach when present on the High Street. I know that some people still favour street preaching though I’m not sure about how well this works but that may vary from place to place. What I’ve found helpful is to take a few Gospels or copies of a little booklet with me.  I don’t take too many at a time because the aim isn’t mass distribution.  Additionally, I prefer Gospels or substantial booklets (e.g. Two Ways to live). These are much less likely to be thrown away and more likely to be read.  I’ve also used given away copies of The Jesus Film as it is available in multiple languages.

When I approach people I explain that the booklet is a free gift from the local church and I offer it to them.  Some say “no thank you” whilst others happily take it.  As with door to door visiting, if they accept the gift, this may lead to a conversation. You have to read the situation and in most cases they will simply take the booklet and head off (so make sure you include contact details in the back of the booklet).    If they are open to conversation I might then quickly explain that the booklet is part of the Bible and talks about the life of Jesus. I can follow that up with a question such as

“Do you have a Bible -and have you read any of it?”

Or

“What do you know about the life of Jesus?”

This potentially leads to a little more conversation about who Jesus is.  

All of this is slow work and we may not see immediately of this is slow work and we may not see immediate results. And yet, I believe it is worth it.  It means that people have met believers and often that they’ve been given access to God’s Word. Those are both good things. 


[1] I would do the pairing up by having two people working close by, one might cover one side of the street and the other the opposite side, or you can start at opposite ends and meet in the middle.