Friendship Evangelism – Is It Biblical?

Posted on May 10, 2011


What should be the basis of our evangelistic efforts?  Should Scripture be our guide or should we depend upon what we perceive to be the best methods according to cultural perception?  Should we be confrontational or relational?  How did Jesus and His disciples evangelize the lost?  Do we have to develop friendships with people before sharing the Gospel?  Or can we share the Gospel with any stranger?


In the following article from December 2009, Tony Miano addresses these questions and more in his article titled, Why Friendship Evangelism Is Neither Friendship Nor Evangelism.  I hope you take the time to read this compassionate yet truthful article explaining why friendship evangelism is not Scriptural.

I also added a video from Tony below his article, which I encourage you to watch to see how this biblical approach brings conviction to the heart in order for grace to cover sin.

Why Friendship Evangelism Is Neither Friendship Nor Evangelism

Not long ago, I received the following message from a friend on Facebook. While it is a topic I’ve tackled many times in the past, I thought the way my friend honestly asked her question accurately expressed how many Christians feel about sharing the gospel with their friends. Her words also helped to reaffirm what I have believed for a very long time. “Friendship Evangelism” (as it is most commonly taught and practiced by Christians) is neither friendship nor evangelism.

With my friend’s permission, I would like to share her note with you; and then I will answer her question.

I have made a lifetime of friends, and up until about 6 years ago, I was a partier and not walking with the Lord. Since become a Christian, I have made myself known to all, but not gone out of my way to share the gospel. I know my friends “think” they know what the Bible says and I also know that they don’t want me to preach or share. I have hoped that Facebook would encourage them to ask me, but they don’t.

I watch like a voyeur, their lives on FaceBook and I hate it. I see them post pictures of nights on the town, glazed eyes, draped over a different guy in each shot. Today I read as they talked about spending money frivolously and obnoxiously. I see so much “selfism” and today it really started to hurt.

I keep thinking that, by example, they might want to know more or ask…instead I see them avoid my page and my comments. They never address anything I say regarding our Savior, God, or the written word, and only comment on the “regular” things I post.

Most of my “friends” from the past, I still DO care about their salvation. I’m certain that my approach will mean the end of life-long friendships. Should I just keep exposing the Lord to them? Our Christmas cards and small other things are about all the contact we really have. Should I just go for broke and risk turning them off completely? I know it would mean the end of friendships in most cases.

Part of me knows that losing these friendships shouldn’t matter. I’m more concerned that is I can keep the door open, they might …might…someday come to repentance. I want the door to remain open.

I need some advice. I’m pretty sure your going to tell me to go for it…but I thought you might have a perspective or a way that I should use as an approach . . .

[P.S.] I’m thinking of how to approach evangelizing them. I know the approach that Ray uses, letting them convict themselves through the 10 Commandments (which really works) and you too have mastered it. I have also been told tho have them read the word themselves because the word has power. As a chicken, I was hoping to be “non-confrontational” and send it in a letter. A letter of love, and a pouring out of my heart for them. But that leaves them with the ability to not answer, or reply. I know that God would use me MUCH better if I had the nerve to deliver my (HIS) message in person. I want to engage their minds. I’ve never been a “chicken.” I don’t want to fail God. I want my (HIS) words to pierce. So…praying and waiting for His inspiration and His way to lead me, and maybe your words will help push me into the world. I’m NOT ashamed of Him, I’m afraid of them, so to speak. I know if He is with me, who can be against me? Why…do I struggle? Oh, the flesh.

Before I answer my friend’s questions, it is important that I preface my commentary with a few clarifying remarks. First, my commentary is not a critique of my friend–of neither her love for Christ nor her love for people. I do not question her salvation or the genuineness of her desire for her friends to be saved. My commentary is, however, a pointed critique of what I believe is a profoundly effective tool of Satan–“Friendship” or “Relationship” evangelism.

I believe many Christians practice “Friendship Evangelism” with sincerity. But sadly it is a sincerity most often born out of ignorance–an ignorance of the Word of God in general and evangelism in particular. At the same time, I feel no such obligation to charity toward authors, pastors, teachers, speakers, and movement leaders who propagate this spiritual fraud upon followers of Christ–both true and false converts. Theirs will be a stricter judgment (James 3:1).

Now, let me take a moment to answer a couple of baseless objections to my position before I even articulate my position. I do this in advance of making my case because I know for some Christians “Friendship Evangelism” is treated like a sacred cow, an essential evangelism tradition. I use the word “tradition” since there is no biblical support for this methodology and philosophy for ministry. And it’s traditions like this one that are evidence of the sad reality that evangelicalism, especially the American variety, has yet to completely break free of Rome.

Allow me to make it very clear that Christian evangelists are called by the Word of God to be both friendly and relational. “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). To be opposed to “Friendship Evangelism,” as it is most commonly practiced, is not to be opposed to friendship or relationships. But a godly and biblical Christian will put God and friends before and above friendships. More on this later.

Secondly, a common objection to an argument against “Friendship Evangelism” is, “There are many ways to share the gospel and friendship evangelism is one of them.” Not so. There is only one way to communicate the gospel, which can take but a few forms–the Bible’s way. Any methodology that is extra-biblical (meaning: the Bible neither commands nor condemns the activity), the method should be approached and applied with extra care and caution. The spurious fruit and the measurable harm done by “Friendship Evangelism” is evidence the American Church has thrown caution to the wind and has operated carelessly when applying this extra-biblical, faux-evangelistic methodology.

With the above in mind, I will now address my friend’s questions and concerns.

My friend wrote:

“I have made myself known to all, but not gone out of my way to share the gospel.”

In a sentence my friend summed up one of the great deficiencies of “Friendship Evangelism.” With fewer than 5% of all professing Christians sharing the gospel with a single person in a year’s time, it’s pretty obvious that most Christians practicing “Friendship Evangelism” are part of that indefensible number. Why? Because in “Friendship Evangelism” the Christian spends far more time making themselves known to their friends than making Christ known to their friends.

Many Christians who practice “Friendship Evangelism” have been led to believe that it is evangelistic to live a perceptible Christian life in front of unbelievers or to say to openly admit to unbelievers that they are Christians. There is nothing remarkable about such an admission, especially in America. The majority of the American population will indicate on surveys and censuses that they are Christians. Many Christians will answer the “What religion are you” question with “I’m a Christian” for no other reason than they are not Jewish, Muslim, or Atheist. To check the Christian box is the default position or most Americans. But many are no more Christian than the Jew, Muslim, or Atheist.

Part of the evidence that “Friendship Evangelism” is not evangelistic is the practice makes the Christian known but it all-too-often fails to make Christ known.

My friend wrote:

“They [her friends] don’t want me to preach or share.”

Modern evangelicalism has wrongly placed an unregenerate sinner’s felt needs over their very real need of salvation. This is not to say that we shouldn’t address a person’s felt needs. In doing so, one can often discover that the root of a particular felt need is sin; which then presents the opportunity to share the Law and the gospel with that person. However, where evangelicalism has woefully dropped the ball is in the practice of trying to meet felt needs and stopping there, as if to address felt needs is the same as evangelism.

More to the point regarding my friend’s assertion: of course the unregenerate doesn’t want their Christian friends to proclaim the gospel to them. Why? They hate Jesus. They love their sin and they hate God. Cockroaches don’t run to the center of the floor and square dance when you turn on the kitchen light. They flee to the dark regions underneath the cabinets and appliances. They hate the light. And so does the unregenerate sinner. Their love for the darkness of their sin is so great that any holy light brought to bear in their lives is not only uncomfortable and unpleasant. It’s detestable.

Sadly, modern evangelicalism has responded to this reality by doing everything it can to engage lost sinners in their culture and according to their felt needs without ever bothering to flip the light switch of the gospel. Evangelicalism has allowed how lost people feel about “the light” determine whether or not it shines the light. Frankly, it doesn’t matter what the lost person wants. What matters is what they need. And what they need is salvation by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. What they need, whether they feel it or not, is to to repent and believe the gospel.

My friend wrote:

“I keep thinking that, by example, they might want to know more or ask…instead I see them avoid my page and my comments.”

Part of the evidence that “Friendship Evangelism” is not evangelistic is the practice of “Assisi-ism.”

Francis of Assisi is far-too-often quoted as saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” There are two problems with this quote: 1) it is unbiblical; and 2) Assisi never said it. Catholic scholars have methodically and exhaustively searched the extant writings of Assisi and cannot attribute the quote to him. These days, this is common knowledge. Yet Christians continue refer to the mythical quote and worse, apply it in their lives. The quote also has a modern-day translation. It goes something like this. “Live your life in such a way that people ask you why.”

While it is true that our good works, when performed for the glory of God alone, can cause lost people to glorify God (Matthew 5:16); that is not to say by living a Christian life in front of lost people that they are going to see Jesus in you. Why? The reason is simple enough. Unregenerate sinners are spiritually blind.

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14).

The gospel is a spoken message–meaning it is communicated in verbal and/or written formats.

“How then will they call on him of whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17).

With 150,000 people dying every day, and the vast majority of them facing God’s judgment (Matthew 7:13-14), it amounts to depraved indifference to wait for the lost people around us to see something special in us and ask what’s different about us. We are commanded by God’s Word to go (Matthew 28:18-20) and preach (Mark 16:15) the gospel to as many people as we can, whenever we can, as often as we can. Time is far too short to wait for spiritually blind people to see Jesus in Christians who are still clothed in sinful human flesh.

My friend wrote:

“I’m certain that my approach will mean the end of life-long friendships.”

The tragic result of “Friendship Evangelism,” as it is most often practiced by Christians, is that friendships often become more important than the soul of friends. Christians have been wrongly convinced that they must take time (often lots of time) to cultivate relationships with people so that, someday, they may gain the lost person’s permission, to “earn the right” to share the gospel with them. So the Christian invests time, energy, and resources sincerely trying to establish loving and caring relationships with people. Is it wrong to do that? No. But the all-too-often tragic result of the practice is that if the Christian every gets the courage or desire to share the gospel with their lost friend, they won’t. Why? The reason: the Christian doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardize the relationship they’ve worked so hard to build. So, again, the friendship becomes more important than the soul of the friend.

Upon closer inspection, this is really selfish behavior. Does the Christian believe that they are so valuable that their lost friend can’t live without them? Or is it that the Christian derives so much pleasure out of the relationship, from what their lost friend does for them that they don’t want to ruin a “good thing?”

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). If Christians truly love their lost friends they will give up everything, even their very lives, certainly their relationships, so that those same lost friends might have eternal life. Or do Christians really want their friends to be with them more than they want them to be with Jesus?

My friend wrote:

“Part of me knows that losing these friendships shouldn’t matter. I’m more concerned that is I can keep the door open, they might …might…someday come to repentance. I want the door to remain open.”

No Christian can close a door God wants open. No Christian can open a door God wants shut. God is sovereign. And He doesn’t need our help. The gospel alone is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). God, by His grace, chooses to use His children to communicate that life-saving gospel to a lost and dying world. No one goes to heaven because we’ve made friends with them. And no one goes to hell because we’ve failed to establish relationships with people.

In closing, let me reiterate that Christians should be friendly with people. We should speak the truth in love. Evangelism isn’t a game. It’s not a sport. It is what God has called every follower of Christ to do. Evangelism is a lifestyle–not that the way we live our life is evangelism; but rather our verbal proclamation of the gospel should permeate every aspect of our life and impact every relationship we have.

My friend understands all of this. She knows what she must do. She acknowledged as much toward the end of her note. And I hope I’ve answered her questions, and maybe some of yours, too.

 

Posted in: Evangelism