Seven terrible evangelism ideas... and a few that might work better
Evangelism is a bit like dancing at a wedding. You know you ought to do it; maybe you even want to do it. But deep down you're worried you'll do it wrong, that people will laugh, and that awkward videos of your failure will end up on YouTube. Alright, maybe that's stretching it a bit – but the fact remains that evangelism can sometimes feel awkward and difficult, and so instead of getting up to dance, we often end up spending the evening locked in the corner talking to Uncle Ken about his Koi carp collection. And no-one wants that.
Because simply talking to our friends (or strangers) about our Christian faith can feel socially difficult, many of us develop new strategies for outreach which we hope will do the job of evangelism for us, without all the awkwardness and, you know, conversation about Jesus. They have one thing in common – they're terrible, and they probably won't work. So I've compiled a list of some of the best bad evangelism ideas I've ever come across... and then added some suggestions for how, with a bit of bravery, they might just be improved...
1. Evangelistic pub quiz team names
I came across this one while at university. I'm sure it seemed like an earnest idea at the time when four enthusiastic members of the Christian Union jotted down 'Jesus died for your sins and loves you' as their team name at the Hogshead's weekly quiz. I presume they expected that between rounds, inquisitive seekers and lost souls would drift across to their table and ask for an opportunity to pray the sinner's prayer. What they didn't factor in was the sarcastic quiz-master, who turned out to be a somewhat embittered man. As each round passed, that team name was transformed into an increasingly offensive series of slurs about them and their faith. The team left after about half an hour, but that didn't stop the host from announcing their zero score in each round with the line – "looks like Jesus really has died."
A slightly better idea... Go to the pub. Make friends with people. Talk to them about your faith as you would any other important part of your life. Quiz optional.
2. Christian graffiti
Some people love graffiti. They see it as street art, and believe that urban landscapes are one great canvas, just waiting to be brightened by these undoubtedly talented artistes. These people are rarely, however, the ones who own or live in the buildings which get decorated; for the most part they're either graffiti artists themselves, or Guardian readers trying desperately to still seem edgy in their late 30s. Research suggests that the presence of graffiti increases the likelihood of crime in that area, so for the people who have to live around it, it's probably not all that much fun. Christian graffiti artists trying to bring 'light' into dark areas are inescapably adding to the problem – just because you've added 'John 3:16' to your giant squiggly inscrutable word doesn't mean you've redeemed it – or the neighbourhood. Evangelism? Evandalism more like. Hey, I just thought of that.
A slightly better idea... Get involved in urban community projects which clean up and mend vandalised areas, and build relationships with the people you serve alongside.
3. Those car fish sticker things
At the risk of alienating half of the drivers in the Spring Harvest car park... While they might function as an encouraging 'nod' to other Christians, I remain unconvinced that putting an ancient 'Ichthys' symbol on the boot of your Ford Mondeo is going to lead people to suddenly discover Jesus on the inside lane of the M25. More likely, those people will see the moment you cut someone up and nearly cause a 14-car pile up, and you can be absolutely sure they'll notice that little fish then. The same goes for Christian bumper stickers – more popular in the US than here in the UK – which presumably become really, really awkward when you're exchanging insurance details with the driver who just bumped into you because he was struggling to read what it said.
A slightly better idea... Use your car to help people. Offer lifts. Car-share. And talk about your faith when you do. Just make sure you drive carefully.
4. Evangelistic Wi-Fi network name
This is a very modern phenomena – naming your Wi-Fi network, Bluetooth device or other discoverable technology 'JesusLovesYou' or similar. This is one of those ideas which probably feels like a bold evangelistic step at the time, but melts under the spotlight of gentle analysis. Firstly, no-one knows who the network belongs to (so if it did somehow prompt a road-to-Damascus moment in one of your neighbours, they wouldn't know who to talk to). And second, the only time you ever look at those network names is when you're desperately trying to get online and can't. At which point, 'JesusLovesYou' is just going to look like a taunt.
A slightly better idea... Set up a free Wi-Fi network, and call it 'JesusLovesFreeWiFi'.
5. Christian clothing
It's not bad per se. As I was reminded after doing a recent round-up of so-bad-they're-good Christian T-shirt slogans, sometimes the wearing of Christian-themed clothing demonstrates a moment of bravery and 'going public' about faith – especially among young people. But as an evangelistic tool, it's just misguided. If anyone has ever come to faith because they met someone in the street wearing a 'Carpenter from Nazareth seeks joiners' T-shirt, I would like to meet them. The problem with this sort of approach is that it tricks us into thinking we're somehow fulfilling Jesus' commission to "go and make disciples of all nations" by buying and putting on some cheesy merch.
A slightly better idea... Dress well, and so slay the rumour that Christians have the fashion sense of a Teletubby. Then actually talk to your friends about your life, interests and faith.
6. Puppet-based street drama
7. Evangelistic photo-bombing
This is a real thing. You walk around tourist areas, with a poster-sized Bible reference (almost inescapably John 3:16) stashed in your bag. When you see someone about to take a photograph, you leap up behind them – Benedict Cumberbatch style – and unleash the verse into the middle of a memory they'll cherish forever. This probably worked a lot better before digital photography allowed you infinite attempts to get the shot where you're not blinking and there isn't a weird guy with a Bible verse behind you. A more subdued version of this is found at televised events, such as sport, concerts and WWE.
A slightly better idea... Go on holiday with people. Go to sporting events. Be normal, make friends and talk about every aspect of your life. Your faith is naturally part of that.
You'll note that I've not included street preachers in my list, or people who hand out gospel tracts. Though it's not my style, I have huge admiration for people who are gutsy enough to practice proclamation evangelism in that way (although there are definitely some ways not to do that too). I'm sure I've missed out a whole range of awful evangelism tactics though – so please do tweet them to me. Sharing faith is a vital part of the Christian life. If only we weren't quite so awkward about it.
Martin Saunders is a Contributing Editor for Christian Today and an author, screenwriter and the Deputy CEO of Youthscape. You can follow him on Twitter: @martinsaunders