One of the great misnomers of friendship evangelism is the idea that it is more difficult to witness to strangers than it is to people with whom you have a developed and committed relationship. Yet most Christians, when asked who are the most difficult people to reach in their sphere of influence, will say that is friends and family. There are several reasons for this.
- Family and friends are those who know us the best. So, many Christians refrain from spiritual conversation with them because they fear being labeled as hypocrites.
- Family and friends are more comfortable giving Christians a sharp retort or an angry response.
- Christians are fearful of the repercussions they may face as a result of sharing the gospel with family and friends. Unlike with a stranger who the Christian may see only once in his lifetime, a family member and friend are seen frequently. If a gospel conversation goes bad, the tension created in the ongoing relationship could become very uncomfortable.
- Christians are fearful of doing anything to jeopardize the friendship or relationship they worked so hard to cultivate. Sadly, this mindset brings to light an inescapable truth. Many who believe they are engaged in “friendship evangelism” care about their friendships and relationships more than they care for the eternal soul of their friend or family members.
By and large, American Evangelicalism is responsible for the mess that is “friendship evangelism.” Well-meaning pastors, putting the traditions of men over and above the clear teaching of Scripture, have led Christians to believe that which is unbiblical such as, “You must develop a relationship with people in order to earn the ‘right’ to share the gospel with them.” Or, “People will not care about what you have to say until they know you care.” Or, “Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” Or, “You shouldn’t shove the gospel down people’s throats.” We aren't saying that we can't be friends with those we witness to, or that we should never spend time getting to know them to more effectively preach the gospel. But, it is wrong to say that friendship evangelism earns you the "right" to preach the gospel. That right belongs to you as a believer already. It is up to you to be wise when and how you present it.
Unsaved family and friends need to hear the gospel. And Christians want to see their unsaved family and friends receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But Christians' indifference, which is manifested by their refusal to share the gospel, is in conflict with their love and concern for those same people.
When some Christians say, “I’m not sure what to say to so-and-so,” what they might be saying is, “I’m afraid to say anything at all.” If a person is born-again, then he knows the gospel of Jesus Christ. But this does not mean that every Christian automatically can perfectly and succinctly articulate the gospel of Jesus Christ. A person can be saved and know the gospel, but also be, unsure and make mistakes when sharing. This lack of ability is often a result of either the Christian’s newness of faith, the laziness in Bible study and prayer, or that he is sitting under weak preaching and teaching.
So how should the Christian witness to his friends and family members?
From this point forward, since I am speaking to Christians who want to share their faith, I will assume that you already have a basic understanding of “Biblical Evangelism” -- biblical principles and doctrines, which govern the content and presentation of the law and gospel. If this is not the case, then you should first read “What Is Biblical Evangelism?”
The keys to witnessing to friends and family members are as follows:
Remember to Whom You are Speaking
Sometimes Christians get so caught up in one particular methodology, even if that methodology is solidly biblical, that they can sound robotic or even scripted, especially in the minds and ears of people who know them best. This is not mean that following a set of biblical principles and presenting the gospel using a similar pattern each time is synonymous with being an evangelistic, scripted robot. Sadly, many Christians who make such accusations against other Christians never open their mouths to proclaim the gospel. So, in order to appease their own guilt for not being obedient to the biblical call to share, they go out of their way to discourage those who do.
When sharing the gospel with a friend or family member, it is important to remember that the person in front of you is not a stranger. Therefore, do not talk to him like one. If you are going to ask question of the person -- questions regarding his violation of God’s law -- do so in such a way as not to come across as a cold interrogator. In other words, don't leave your friend or family member feeling like you don’t know him, when in fact you know him well. Carry on the conversation with the same tone, comfort, and ease as you would in any other conversation with that person. Granted, the subject matter couldn’t be more serious -- the eternal state of the soul; but engage your friends and family in a normal conversational style.
Good open-air preachers and street evangelists know that even a stranger whom they meet in a brief moment of time can discern if the evangelist is blowing smoke. If this is true with strangers (and it is), then it is even more so with the people who know you best -- your friends and family members.
Never beat around the bush. If your relationship is a good one, then it is based, in large part, on the level of honesty within the relationship. Be straightforward, yet sensitive and respectful, when initiating the conversation. “John, I want to talk to you about spiritual things.” “Sue, I’m concerned for your soul.” “Bill, can I share my faith in Christ with you?”
Never Sacrifice Content for the Sake of the Conversation
Everything you would say to a stranger on the street regarding the law and the gospel, you should say to a friend or family member. Granted, you may not say it the same way; but you should say it nonetheless. The content of your message (the law and the gospel) should be the same with each lost person, regardless of your relationship. Remember, the power of your evangelistic effort is not in your personality, your affability, your friendliness, etc. The power of your evangelistic effort is in the message itself, the content of that message, the gospel.
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek, (Romans 1:16).
Take Note: Your evangelistic conversations with friends and family members should include the discussion of sin and its eternal consequences (judgment, wrath, hell), along with the deity of Christ, His humanity and sinlessness, the cross, Christ’s sacrifice, justification by faith, the resurrection, repentance, and faith. Whatever you would say to strangers regarding their need to repent and believe the gospel, you should also say to your friends and family members.
Remember Your Place
A critical mistake many Christians make when sharing the gospel with family members, in particular, is that they forget their place in the family structure. This is especially true when trying to share the gospel with the older generations.
Parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents do not like to be schooled by those who are young then they. They grew up in a day and age when one’s spiritual convictions were deeply personal. Emotions were kept private. Religion and politics were often avoided. So, asking grandma at the Thanksgiving table if she ever told a lie might not be the best approach.
I have found that using a testimonial approach often works. In other words, instead of placing grandma on the spot by asking her questions about herself, share your story with grandma. This means that you communicate the law and the gospel to her by using yourself as an example.
Explain how you learned what sin was, how you came to a knowledge of your sin, and how that made you an enemy of God. Instead of telling her she would spend eternity in hell, explain to her how you came to the realization that the just punishment for your sins against God is eternity in hell. And then continue through the presentation of the gospel.
Conclude with your testimony of how you answered God’s call on your heart to repent and believe the gospel and how God saved you by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.
Remember, your older relatives (like grandma) are smart people with lots of life experience. By sharing your testimony, the law, and the gospel you will not embarrass them. You will show an appropriate level of respect without compromising the message.
You Must be Willing to Sacrifice the Relationship for the Soul of Your Friend or Family Member
Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple,” (Luke 14:26-27).
Jesus is not saying that Christians should actually hate hate their family members. He is saying that the Christian’s earthly relationships should appear as hatred when compared to his overwhelming love and commitment to Him. So great should be the Christian’s love for Jesus, that every other relationship falls to a distant second in importance.
You must be willing to sacrifice everything, lose everything, forfeit everything in this life for the furtherance of the gospel of Jesus Christ. You must be willing to bear your cross in order to live by the two greatest commandments of loving God and loving people (Matthew 22:37-40). This is a sacrificial love (John 15:13). Whatever you are unwilling to give up in obedience to and love for Jesus Christ (even relationships) is an idol. And idolatry is a sin against God.
To refuse to share the gospel with a friend or family member because you are afraid it might cost you the relationship is to love yourself more than you love them. In so doing, you are making your relationships of greater importance than their relationship with Jesus Christ.
Witnessing to friends and family members is not easy; but it is absolutely necessary. Swallow your fears and love them more than you love yourself. Be wise in your presentation. Pray in preperation and wait for the right opportunity to speak to them. Then, present the law and the gospel with humility, honesty, respect, patience, kindness, and love. Trust the Sovereign Lord in your efforts.