In my years as a professing Christian, I have been exposed to hundreds of different ways of preaching the gospel, and the one thing that they all have in common is the focus on efficiency. We have all seen examples of mass-market evangelism: tracts about the end of the world, New Testaments plus Psalms and Proverbs, mega church preachers and advertisements with pithy slogans proclaiming the gospel. While these tools are certainly not bad in and of themselves, I think they are often used in a way that renders them ineffective.
I always feel slightly offended when a stranger approaches me on the street and hands me a tract. It is as if they are assuming that I am a lost soul who does not know God. They are completely forgoing the concept of forming actual relationships with people before delivering their message. They want to save as many souls as possible, so they compact the message in a “one size fits all” way, give it out to people in about ten seconds and then expect lives to be changed. Sure, some people will receive these things and think about them. I am definitely not denying the possibility of God using tracts to reach someone, but it seems that spreading the gospel works better when you actually take the time to get to know the other person.
As much as the gospel applies to all people, it is still a very personal thing to accept and live by. It cannot have any effect if its meaning has no impact on a person’s life. The gospel has been compacted and rehashed so many times that many people know how it goes without considering its significance. This is why sharing the gospel in the context of a previously established relationship is so important. Which is more significant: a stranger handing you a piece of paper reiterating a story you have heard a thousand times before, or a friend bringing up a relevant passage? That friend knows you and your life situation, so there is a sense of security in knowing that they are not talking about the Bible in order to judge you.
In the past, I have been able to have some great conversations with non-Christians about the gospel, because my established friendship with them allowed the conversations to happen naturally. In those cases, I listened to their perspective and did my best to understand where they were spiritually before saying anything.
The key terms here are “relationship” and “conversation.” Christians should make the effort to get to know the people they preach to instead of merely handing them pieces of paper without even asking their names. We do not need to worry about how quickly or how many people convert. The timing is in God’s hands. All we can and should do is live in community with one another and let the gospel conversations happen naturally.