Guerrilla Evangelism

Thursday tends to be a busy day for me at work – I talk to lots of people and end up wanting some time to myself. So at lunch I often take a break by going to the library to browse, read, etc (yes, I’m a nerd). I’ve done this a number of times. But my experience today was definitely a first.

I was in the Dietrich Bonhoeffer biography section, browsing through various books, when someone came and stood next to me. It was one of those awkward moments when you don’t know if you should turn and look or just ignore – you know what I mean? Well, I decided to turn and look. When I did the person was just standing there looking at me. I could tell he was slightly nervous and I didn’t know what to think about it. Before I could ask him if there was something I could help him with, he asked me a question. He said, “Can I talk to you about God?” I must admit, I was completely thrown off guard and didn’t know how to respond. My first response was, “No, I’m actually busy at the moment.” When I said this he just kind of stood there in silence. This made me wonder if maybe he was asking me to talk to him about God. I didn’t want to turn him down if that was the case, so I asked him, “Was there something in particular you wanted to talk about?” He had a hard time answering this question but eventually responded with, “Well, I just wanted to tell you about Jesus.” Still quite uncertain how to respond, I ended up telling him I wasn’t exactly wanting someone to tell me about Jesus. He didn’t say much in response but a minute later I heard him asking the same question to someone else. Isn’t that bizarre? I’ve seen this around campus before, but never in the middle of the library!

So, what do you think about this kind of guerrilla evangelism? Is there a place for it in Christianity? Is it a good thing?

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10 Responses

  1. I don’t know if I’d call it guerrilla evangelism. It’s just the model that churches have taught for years – and he was probably nervous because he’d heard that if he didn’t evangelise he wasn’t a good Christian… so he was trying to pluck up the courage to speak to someone he doesn’t know, hoping that you wouldn’t turn out to be a serial killer – or worse yet, someone who would challenge him to prove his belief…

    There is a fear element there – and duty – wanting to be a good Christian and share his faith, but afraid that he’ll be knocked out of his depth or ridiculed… the traditional methods don’t teach you how to respond to criticism. Most people are so afraid that to see that the young guy was actually *trying* is a great encouragement.

    My take on evangelism is more relational based – or prophetic, if I’m prompted by a nudge from the Holy Spirit. I just *can’t* do the door to door thing – the ‘traditional’ method of evangelism. But if I have built up a relationship with someone, I may be able to see where a conversation with God can be relevant to where they are at. The other way it works with me is if God gives me a word of knowledge for someone….then I still have to overcome the fleshly fear of rejection that wants to rise in my stomach, but I have done this enough times to trust God :)

    And I see results – God’s heart is communicated to another individual. He may decide to follow Jesus, he may not. But I have done what God had said: be a witness. And that makes it much easier for me.

  2. bajanpoet – I wonder if this is really the traditional method like you mention. Or if perhaps the relational method is more a traditional method. And actually, in many, many periods (if not most) periods of the history of Christianity, there was no such thing as evangelism (preaching/sharing in order to gain converts). I think this evangelism thing is mainly a product of the past 500 years,and particularly the past 200 years.

  3. this is no laughing matter, but it certainly made me laugh!! i just had the best mental image of this situation.

    i have lots of thoughts, but…im pretty sure we are on the same page.

    i will say i had a really great conversation with an atheist friend of mine the other day about god and i was not nervous or awkward at all. in fact, i was super excited to talk about my faith. and she didnt even think i was being weird or obtrusive…BECAUSE SHE IS MY FRIEND..not a stranger in the library.

  4. ADAM! i thought i put you in my blog reader, but realized i hadn’t read anything from you in a while…good to see you’ve been posting this whole time without me reading, lol! :)

    I kind of agree with bajanpoet, but I want to classify it as the traditional method we teach. I think Adam you’re saying that the traditional method, the real method that has worked and works in the church has been relational driven; but we teach evangelism like everything else in the programmatic-type church..as a program.

    thus, it’s no longer fluid, organic, and in relationship, but something you set out to accomplish with a bullet list…romans road anyone?

    I also think this guerrilla type evangelism is based in a certain understanding of salvation and how it works…thus in the end they are trying to transpose certain beliefs, once you agree to that bullet list, you are saved. maybe that’s where we can start to deflate this crap-shoot evangelism, by deconstructing this crap-shoot kind of faith and salvation.

    I had a similar question about the use of evangelism tools here…
    http://joebumblog.blogspot.com/2008/03/evangelism-tools.html

  5. Wow the same thing happened to myself and a local minister at Cameron park today. Two guys just came up at wanted to talk to us about Jesus.

    My take on this kind of evangelism is that it seems to resemble a door to door salesman trying to sell a product. I do see that the persons doing this kind of evangelism may have pure and genuine motives but does anyone like a door to door salesman?

    So if for some reason I were led to do some kind guerrilla evangelism I would not ask someone if I were to talk to them about Jesus. I don’t think that would be all that effective, I think a better thing to do would be to see the need of a person and see if in someway I would be able to help them.

  6. Negative ranting coming, so far warning: I cringe when this happens for a couple of reasons. Reason 1 is that I have been that random guy, and now that the I’m the target instead of the “evangelist” I realize how those other people felt so many years ago. Reason 2 is because I HATE IT! It completely turns me off, and makes me want to start screaming their Bible verses back at them, and make them realize that I have more of the darn book memorized than they do- and often a clearer understanding theologically of what it means. I can promise you, to all non-Christians not actually already seeking something, this comes across as extremely arrogant, violently judgemental, and a complete irritation. He doesn’t know anything about your spriritual state, and quite frankly as a complete stranger it is none of his business. But one of these days he’ll come across some one who is lost, and seeking something, and it will validate all the effort for him, despite the fact that he successfully turned more people further away from his goal than anything else.

    Ok, rant over.

  7. Yeah Adam – I like how JoeBum put it – the ‘traditional’ method we teach…. I agree .. the ‘real’ traditional method is relational…

    I was saying that what the church (small c) teaches as the traditional method definitely has a me vs them feel to it – we have the truth, they are the enemy – and we need to get them over to our side quick before they shoot holes in our arguments and get us onto their side!

    As a programme, it doesn’t have any heart… I need to fill my quota to say that I’ve evangelized.

  8. In 1996, I was serving as a summer missionary at a mission in inner city New Orleans. We worked with the local children and teens, and various youth groups from across the country would come in on a week-to-week basis and lead the programs. One particular week, we had a team from Georgia come through, including about 4 college students our same age.
    Three of the guys were committed to “Street Evangelism,” and set out each night for the Quarter to descend upon wayward souls and convert them. One night, I decided to tag along just to see what they were up too.
    Now, mind you, we’re 4 white guys with backpacks walking around the French Quarter at like 10:00 at night. Scary enough on its own.
    I was doubtful.
    I admit it. But they were fearless.
    Any and every person they met, they handed a bottle of water, and asked about their lives and relationships with/did they know Jesus. Mostly, they targeted the large homeless population. Before long, I was right alongside them, asking and praying within the filth of Bourbon Street (not the people, but the trash itself, for clarification and decency sake).
    Now I’m a firm believer in the “relational” method of evangelism. More now than ever.
    But for that one particular evening–I felt 10 feet tall and bulletproof, with a definite mission and calling to prophetically preach and witness to all in range. It’d be easy to say that was the work of the Spirit, or even easier to say I was caught up in the charisma of the fellow evangelists, but whatever it was, it was real and authentic, and I felt as if I were moving along the Great Commission road as I was supposed to.
    Fast forward to 2007, St. Louis, MO. Working with a group from the mission of the Journey church, several youth and college students did some walking around the neighborhood, informally surveying the residents about the state of their neighborhood. Not evangelizing, but forming connections based on common foundations–concern for the neighborhood.
    Very meaningful to me, yet was it the same context? Not so sure. The church was looking for ways to become more intentional and involved in healing the community it is a part of. Sounds biblical to me.

    Sorry this is a long post, but it brought out a lot of thoughts–related and unrelated.

  9. I’m reading a great book right now about the “relational” method. Andrew Root’s Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry. In it, Root contends that “traditional” relational ministry views building a relationship as a means to the end of conversion. He goes on to argue that the relationship is the end in itself. This is based on Bonhoeffer’s understanding of incarnation and ministry.

  10. Adam–

    I will concede that this “guerrilla” evangelism is situational; surely there is the occasional instance where someone, a random person, is needing to hear about Jesus and perhaps God might lead someone to approach that person.

    But doing it as a rule- making a decision to approach random people who, at this point in time have expressed no desire for your brand of evangelism nay, ANY evangelism…I have seen it fail over and over again. When I (and Geoff and a number of others who have seem to become disenchanted with the “anti Jesus” aspect of churches over the years) were attending Grace Community Church, there was a trip planned to South Padre Island. The plan was to perform “skits” that enticed people to inquire what we were doing and therefore open a door for evangelism.

    Well, guess what? Most of your average tipsy spring-breakers in Padre could give a noodle on a cracker what a bunch of “church kids” are doing on the beach. Mid-trip, the plan was changed to this brand of guerrilla ministry. What transpired was an utter fiasco- most of the kids had no formal “training” for such a pursuit; many of the younger girls would just simper and giggle at the prospect of approaching a cute guy! and would never utter word one about Jesus.

    The trip ended up being what everyone else’s trip was that week- spring break at the beach. People tanned, built sand castles (a last desperate attempt by a parent volunteer chaperon included urging everyone to build sand churches! Build sand churches! THEN they will come and ask us about Jesus!!!) and flirting with strangers and youth group members alike.

    I can’t be the only one who came home sunburned and one hundred percent disillusioned.

    The reason why I think ministry exercises like this fail (usually on a grand, miserable scale) is because people don’t want to HEAR more empty words about Jesus. People want to SEE us clothing and feeding the fatherless and widow. They want to see US housing the orphans. They want to see our marriages succeed and our children well-fed, dressed, and behaved. Only after seeing that we do indeed have something that seems to give us an “edge” in living life do people possibly want to hear what it is that gives us that edge.

    The only times I think that the only times when this type of “unsolicited” evangelism has much of a chance to actually reach someone are times when people are particularly vulnerable to the abuses life heaps upon them- loss of a loved one (especially premature loss of a loved one, such as when you lost Zach and we lost Molly- a time when all of us even as avowed Christians were blindly groping for anything that might lift us out of the depths of our despair) going through physical/sexual abuse or violence, or being betrayed by a trusted confidant. During these times, one might not be aware of the fact that they are seeking something else, something different, thus providing generous ministry opportunities.
    I have to clarify though- I believe even these opportunities are fraught with potential for mistakes on the part of the minister…only if someone is TRULY committed to sharing the love of a God who daily lifts them up and satisfies them might this evangelism succeed. Someone who is looking for the proverbial notches on the belt (“I saved fifteen people this month, pastor!!!”) — the people who typically vocalize how “they” led someone to Christ rather than the spirit of Christ led someone to Christ– will meet with hostility, confusion, and resentment for trying to ‘press’ their own agenda.

    Sorry for the lengthy response…now I am off to “downward mobility” so I can talk too much over there…

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