Evangelism that reaches the unchurched in a postmodern society is built on relationships. Relational is a word that means relationship, a partnership, to share a common life, a connection, association, or involvement between people such as the case was in the early church (Acts 2:44–47). The connection that people of all nations make with one another is in Christ (Gal 3:26–29). Believers share a common life called Christianity and enjoy the blessings of a spiritual relationship with God and one another. I ran a survey among thirty-eight congregations and one-thousand members of churches that gave the result stating 91% desired a relationship with someone other than a family member. Relationships are important in outreach evangelism to save the lost and keep the saved. The greatest need among the church is a revival of relationships. This will give us a renewed people! Evangelism is personal teaching the lost the message of salvation when the relationship is secured.
Congregations in the past have used three main approaches to developing interest in the world for evangelism. First, controversy is the approach that includes such things as debate and answering controversial questions. While not many people are sharing their faith in today’s churches, some of those who are doing so do it by confronting lost people. This is more of the old hard sell approach that worked reasonably well in the 1940s and 1950s, when many lost people attended a church (Aubrey Malphurs, Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century, 125). Second, confrontation is a presentation of the gospel to the lost who attended the worship assemblies as far back as the Restoration Movement. This approach seeks a Bible study directly on the scene without much knowledge of the prospect for conversion to Christ. Three, the relational approach is highly recommended which seeks to build a strong relationship with lost people. It seeks to build relationships with the never churched then evangelize with personal teaching. It also has a holding power to keep the converted saved. Christians can successfully share their faith in Christ in today’s churches by confronting people with the gospel after a relationship has been established.
God connects all people spiritually by the blood of Christ (Acts 17:26; Rom 5:8-10; Rev 1:5). It is an emotional (love) bridge or connection between people as friends (John 13:34–35). The bridge from our heart to the lost person is relationship or a connection of hearts. A healthy relationship with people is one of the most significant ingredients in successful and spontaneous church growth.
Strong relationships among Christians on the inside of the church and with unbelievers on the outside of the assembly accomplish the mission Jesus intended for the church, that is, making disciples (Matt 28:19). Everett Ferguson builds a strong case that building relationships with one another in the church maintains an important witness to those outside of the assembly by saying, “If the worship of the church reflects salvation as a response to God, and if the work of the church reflects salvation as a mission to outsiders, then the life in the church and the church’s fellowship express salvation principally in the relations of Christians with one another” (Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today, 349).
Relationships with one another in the local church are manifested in the “sharing of a common life together . . . in the sense of community and brotherly communion” (Ferguson, Church of Christ, 371). The first church had common needs both physically and spiritually that was aforementioned above. This early congregation or community of Christ was benevolent in providing for one another’s needs by a “common property” (Acts 4:32). These early saints had a “common salvation” as they were instructed to “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3). The crowning virtue of these early Christians was their “love feasts” that produced community and communion shared in Christ (Jude 12). Therefore, “There is a common life in Christ; fellowship does include association with fellow Christians” (Ferguson, Church of Christ, 371). The best actions expressed by the first Christians, as well as today, are associations built upon a true loving relationship. The result is saving the lost and keeping the saved.
A Great Commission vision is biblical (Matt 28:18–20). A strong servant-leadership starting with the pastors is effective in caring for the laity (Acts 6:1-7; 1 Cor. 11:1–3). A well-equipped/trained and mobilized membership is Christ focused in all areas of ministry (1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:11–16). The laity is brought into the church with an attitude of involvement. A culturally relevant ministry is serving ministries that involve all the laity (1 Pet. 4:11f). An inspiring, uplifting, holistic and praising worship motivates the laity to serve God after the worship assembly is completed (Acts 2:14–47). Meeting the needs of community people without being controversial all the time is necessary to build an evangelistic relationship (Acts 2:47; 5:42; 20:20). A robust network of small group fellowship and service keeps the laity saved (Acts 2:42-47; 10:24, 33). It must be community centered ministries, not programs. How can we build relationships that connect people, not only in the assembly, but among the people of the community? The following ten biblical principles will keep you from taking advantage of people and seek to build strong relationships:
- The golden rule: “treat people the same way you want them to treat you” (Matt 7:12).
- In order to build a healthy personal relationship, show people that you really care (Matt 9:18-38).
- Live with people through the good times and the bad times of their lives (Rom 12:15; 1 Cor 12:18–26). The closest relationships with people are built during the bad times. Many strong relationships are also built during times of rejoicing such as the birth of a child, a wedding, and a business success.
- We build personal relationships with people with unconditional commitment, especially to help heal their many problems. This is the time that they need your unconditional love (1 Cor 13:1–8). Love works every time!
- Personal evangelists will seek to really know people with whom they are working in matters of salvation (John 10:24–30). They will know the prospect’s family, goals, abilities, spiritual needs, and dreams in live (1 Thess 5:12–15).
- The personal evangelists will always put lost people and their needs before themselves like Jesus (Phil 2:1–5).
- A good relationship is always built upon friendships (John 15:12–17). There are many people inside and outside of the church that long for one true friend. Will you be one?
- It is also helpful to look for things to praise people (Heb 10:24). Praise and encouragement are two very strong stimuli that work!
- Personal teaching includes a message that God cares for people (1 Pet 5:7).
- Relationships are built upon trust beginning with trusting God and then one another (Ps 56:4; Heb 13: 6).
In summary, the old adage “that people care less what you know until they know how much you truly care for them” is very much needed today in the community, the church, the family, and world at large. There are times when controversy and confrontation may be needed, but it will be accepted when it follows a true and loving relationship. People will allow you to approach them concerning their salvation when they know it is non-threatening. The key words in evangelism today are relationship, connection, and trust, especially among twenty-first century young people. How are you approaching people? Can it stand a good revision? The relationship that you build today may be the only opportunity that person has to receive eternal life in Christ.
Effective evangelism in our contemporary community will be most successful through relational teaching. Believers that are equipped and actively involved in evangelism will bring a new life in personal teaching outreach and permanent church growth. We are called to take the initiative to build strong relationships and proclaim the gospel of Christ to lost people in all nations. Evangelism is intentional and essential practice for the whole people of God in the whole world (Matt 13:38). The goal is making disciples of Christ in right relationship to God and one another.