Redefining Success in Evangelism

Lessons From My Time Evangelizing

For three years, I traveled around the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex with an evangelist. His goal was to train local churches with evangelists who could sustain the ministry long after we had departed for the weekend. During this season, I learned to redefine what ‘successful evangelism’ looks like. One method he employed in training churches was to ask, by show of hands, ‘how many of you believed the Gospel the first time you heard it?’ Almost no hands would ever go up. Next, he would ask, ‘how many of you believed the Gospel and repented of your sins the second time you heard the Gospel?’ Again, hardly any hands were raised. This process would continue until the evangelist clarified that ‘conversion’ was not the sole objective of evangelism. Our role was to plant the seed; someone else would water it, and God would cause the growth.

Liberating Believers from the Pressure of ‘Closing the Deal’

Redefining evangelism in this way liberates believers from the pressure of thinking, ‘if you don’t close the deal, if you don’t pray the sinner’s prayer, then your evangelism was unsuccessful.’ In fact, I have found in evangelism among friends that you can make incremental ‘victories’ in your gospel proclamation. When training churches in evangelism, I often use the woman at the well as an illustration.

Incremental Steps of Evangelism

In John 4:9, the Samaritan woman recognizes that Jesus is a ‘Jewish man.’ By verse 19, she realizes that Jesus is a prophet, but by verse 26, she recognizes Jesus as the Messiah. These are incremental steps. It’s a win if you can convince someone that Jesus was a historical Jewish man who actually existed. With a bit of Googling and research, you can find more evidence that Jesus was a historical figure than historians have for Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon. However, the ultimate goal isn’t just to prove Jesus existed; it’s to lead people to realize that he is the Messiah, God incarnate in the flesh, come to die for our sins. Yet, if you plant the seed that Jesus existed, it’s a seed that can change people’s worldview.

If, a few weeks later, an opportunity arises where you can explain that eleven historical men gave their lives in martyrdom for a man they believed was the Messiah, you have another ‘victory.’ People don’t die for a lie they concocted; they die for what they believe in. If these men were witnesses to the death, burial, and resurrection of this historical man, then he is not just a man; he is the Son of Man and the Son of God.

And if, by God’s grace, you get this far, you might have the opportunity to ‘seal the deal.’ Listen, beloved, we are not called to control outcomes; we are called to proclaim the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and to declare to both Jew and Greek to repent of their sins and believe in this man who has power over life and death. Whether you lead multitudes to salvation, or simply plant seeds for the