This is the first article in a multi-part series about ways to effectively engage in evangelism in small communities.
Southern California is a great place for street evangelism and open-air preaching. Take where I live—Los Angeles County. The population of Los Angeles County is over 11 million. That’s more than three times the population of Oregon. Couple that with the many tourist locations in the greater Los Angeles area, and weather conditions that facilitate outdoor evangelism opportunities more than three hundred days out of the year; you have an almost perfect environment for street evangelism and open-air preaching.
However, not everyone lives in a place like Southern California. I know many evangelists, seasoned and beginners, who live in Small Town, USA. They have no Hollywood Boulevards, or Santa Monica Third Street Promenades, or Surf City USA’s (Huntington Beach). They don’t have local events that draw upward of tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of people. They may have just one major intersection in their community, with the next town more than an hour’s drive away.
The community in which I live, in Los Angeles County, has a population of close to 250,000 people. Believe it or not, I face many of the same evangelism issues as those living in much smaller communities. Although the population of my community is relatively high, there are very few places (places that can be deemed “public” in the traditional sense) where people gather.
The City of Santa Clarita incorporated just fourteen years ago. It is what’s known as a “planned community.” In other words, while there are several beautiful parks in the city and surrounding communities cover more than 300 square miles, most of the places where people gather are privately owned and developed, but open to the public. This means these locations often have rules and regulations governing free speech (i.e., tract distribution and open-air preaching). So, I’ve had to get creative in order to bring the gospel to my community.
Think Quality, Not Quantity
It is very easy to get caught up in counting gospel tracts, conversations, and the number of times one open-air preaches. It is likewise easy to get caught up in comparing one’s own evangelism efforts with the efforts of those who either have large public platforms or live in larger communities. Unfortunately, the result of doing so tends to make evangelism more about numbers than souls—more about quantity of opportunities over quality of opportunities.
If you live in a small town with limited evangelism opportunities, worry not about how many tracts you distribute or how many people you engage in conversation. Make every opportunity count for the glory of God. And thank God for every opportunity He gives you to further His gospel and to reach the lost with His good news.
Malls and Shopping Centers
Malls and shopping centers are excellent places to evangelize the lost. Granted, doing evangelism in these locations is not without challenges—hyper-vigilant security guards, to name one. Most malls have rules regulating the distribution of written material (i.e. gospel tracts); but there is one thing they cannot regulate—private conversations between consenting people.
One way to initiate conversations with people, without using a gospel tract as a segue, is to start a friendly conversation with someone regarding a current event (at the time this article was written, the disaster in Japan and the rising tension in the Middle East were at the forefront in the daily news). When such catastrophes are in the news, it is common for people to consider their own mortality in light of current events. A simple question asked at an appropriate point in the conversation (“What do you think will happen to you when you die?”) makes for an easy transition from the natural to the spiritual.
Another way to initiate conversations with strangers in malls and shopping centers is with a “survey” approach. Simply approach someone, with a friendly smile on your face, and say, “Hello. I don’t want to sell you anything (this usually disarms the person who is wondering why a stranger is contacting them). I’m doing a bit of an impromptu survey and I’m talking to people about their spiritual beliefs. Do you have any spiritual beliefs?”
This is more of a direct approach, but one that is effective. People are often willing to talk about their favorite subject—themselves. And most people these days would identify or classify themselves as “spiritual.”
While this next suggestion isn’t for everyone, I have found a way to open-air preach inside malls, stores, coffee shops, and the like. All you need is a cell phone and a friend who is willing to give you a call.
These days, everyone has either a cell phone up to their ear or a Bluetooth device inside their ear. Whether people will admit it or not, they want people to hear what they are talking about on the phone; otherwise they wouldn’t talk so loud. And, whether people will admit it or not, the people around the person talking loudly on the cell phone are eavesdropping. So, I take advantage of the human frailties to proclaim the gospel in places where I would likely and immediately be asked to leave if I climbed atop a milk crate and started preaching.
When you are in the mall, say in the area of the food court where a lot of people gather, have a Christian friend give you a call. Make sure the ringer on your phone is loud, so that it will catch the attention of the people closest to you.
When the phone rings…..
“Hello? Oh hey, John! Thanks for calling me. Would it be all right if I shared the gospel with you?”
And then proclaim the Law and the Gospel to your friend on the phone, doing it loud enough for the eavesdroppers to get an ear full. No one is going to kick you out of a mall, or some other place where open-air preaching would be prohibited, for talking on a cell phone.
Inevitably, when you get off the phone there will be people standing nearby who heard the conversation—people who will glance the other way when you look at them because they don’t want you to know what you already know: that they were listening to the conversation. Give them a smile and say, “I was just sharing the gospel with a friend. Do you have any spiritual beliefs?” And away you go!
Give these simple ideas a try. And stay tuned for more tips for sharing the gospel in a small town.