The phrase ‘walk-up evangelism’ stirs up, in most Christians, feelings of dread. But, as Ben Pfahlert points out, at the heart of all evangelism lies extremely good news.
What do you think of when you hear the words ‘walk-up evangelism’ (WUE)? The high-pitched whine of a dentist’s drill? Let me tell you what I think of: I think of a 16-stone Turkish body builder outside King George V Hospital in December 2000.
My first daughter Isabella had been born three days earlier, and I was going into the hospital to visit her and my wife. It was an exciting day because they were coming home. As I entered the foyer, I was confronted by a Turkish body builder (well, at least, he looked like one!). I’d never met him before, but upon seeing me, a smile beamed from his face as he announced, “’Allo, I am a Dad! I am have a baby—a beautiful girl. Take sweet! Take sweet!” He was laughing and joyful, and he thrust a basket full of beautifully wrapped Turkish delights, chocolates and dates toward me. “Take, take, celebrate!” he said.
It was a surreal moment, standing there with a complete stranger from a different culture, celebrating the wonderful news that he’d become a dad. We chatted, we chewed, we laughed, we dealt with the language barrier as best we could, and he slapped me on the back. Then someone else entered the foyer and he shared his news with them.
The reason I think of that Turkish body builder when I think of walk-up evangelism is because, at heart, WUE (and, in fact, any evangelism) is ‘good news’. As we investigate this topic further, it’s important to remember this.
What, why and why not
But first, what is WUE? WUE is walking up to a stranger and sharing the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. WUE is often referred to as ‘cold turkey evangelism’, ‘contact evangelism’, ‘gospel roaming’, ‘Library lawn-ing’ (if there is a library and a lawn), and so on. WUE assumes that the Christian initiating the discussion has no existing relationship with the person they approach. WUE may happen in parks, city squares, beaches, university campuses, shopping strips, night clubs, pubs, church fetes, church gatherings, school reunions, at Christmas carols in the park, door-to-door in the suburbs, and so on.
But why would you do it? Why is it good? It is a great privilege to engage in WUE because:
- The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news. Why not spread it around?
- 19 million Australians have not yet passed over from death to life (John 5:24). I don’t know the figures for the US and UK, but I’m sure they’re higher. Don’t you want to help them avoid an eternity of agony in the fires of hell?
- God the Father commands his disciples to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19).
- The preaching of the gospel gives Jesus Christ great honour and glory.
- It trains us for all the opportunities that arise every week at church, school pick-ups, family BBQs, and so on.
- It is a sobering reminder that your average Joe Bloggs knows nothing about Jesus.
- Doing WUE is like swimming in Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay in May: it is a buzz, and you walk away feeling alive.
- It equips and enables us to obey 1 Peter 3:15 “[I]n your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”. 1 Peter 3:15 is the Christian equivalent of the military motto: “By land, by sea, by air, any time, anywhere”.
Why, then, don’t some people do WUE? Here are some of the reasons they give:
- “It does more damage than good”: I am appalled at the number of Christians who speak negatively about WUE. They say things like “It’s unloving”, “It’s ramming propositions down people’s throats” and “It’s Bible bashing”. But these are false caricatures. In all the years I have been doing it, I have seen only two or three of these inappropriate evangelists.
- “It just doesn’t work”: We need to measure success the way the Bible measures success. Verses like 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 teach us that spreading the Word is like crop dusting a wheat paddock with herbicide. Our job is to spray the herbicide we have inside of us. Now, the herbicide will be like death to the parasites living on the wheat, but it will smell wonderful to the wheat that is saved from destruction. We are asked to proclaim, not convert. We are radio broadcasters, not telemarketers.
- “I’m no good at it. I haven’t got the right personality. I wouldn’t know what to say!”: Congratulations, you’re absolutely normal! Everyone feels like that. Do what everyone else does, and train by taking a course where you’re eased into the process. The Two Ways to Live course does training beautifully. I’ve taught Two Ways to Live to heaps of people—the shy, the extroverted, the intellectually advanced and the simple Bible-believing Christian. WUE is like riding a bike: anyone can do it with the help of a loving coach.
- “I’m scared—scared of the unknown, scared of being embarrassed, scared I won’t know what to say…”: This is the Number 1 reason why people don’t do WUE: fear. But fear is good: humans do some of their best work when they’re afraid. Almost every walk-up evangelist I know experiences fear beforehand. Don’t worry; in most western countries, WUE is a very safe activity.
Now that we’ve dealt with the what, the why and the why not, let me share with you the how—how I go about WUE, step by step.
1. Woo a friend
The first thing to do is find a friend. WUE is best done in pairs. I usually go out with another bloke1 and only ever approach lone males2 because once there’s more than three people, the conversation has about as much direction as our rabbit Flo escaping her enclosure.
Personally, I prefer to go out alone because, when I’m alone, I converse more creatively and freely. I feel like I can concentrate on my new acquaintance rather than on my new acquaintance and my partner. But I go out in pairs because it nips in the bud many potential problems. I go out in pairs basically because of the doctrine of sin: the third person stops ungodliness on my part (e.g. sarcastic/ competitive/unwholesome talk) and provides accountability (e.g. if you’re door knocking and you get invited in, you can proceed without finding yourself open to accusation).
2. Work out your goal
Secondly, you need a plan. What is it that you hope will happen as a result of talking to your new acquaintance? Let’s say you and a friend go out WUE-ing, and your aim is to communicate the gospel with pictures using Two Ways to Live, but your partner wants to invite the new acquaintance to examine the flaws in The Da Vinci Code. Things are going to get pretty confused! As they say, “Assumptions are the mother of all stuff-ups”, so save everyone some confusion by working out and articulating your goal beforehand. Here are some common goals:
- To find out what people think of Jesus Christ.
- To invite people to listen to a four-minute pictorial explanation of Christianity (e.g. Two Ways to Live). This works best in an environment where there are tables.
- To invite people to a one-off event (e.g. an Easter Sunday gathering, a kids’ holiday club, a debate on campus, a free marriage enrichment seminar).
- To invite people to a regular event (e.g. Bible study group, city workers’ public meeting, a local Christian gathering).
- To give people a copy of Mark’s Gospel if they express some interest in finding out about Jesus.
- To give anyone interested an obligation-free copy of a particular resource (e.g. The Christ Files by John Dickson).
- To share with people the reasons why Christianity is, in one sense, very unfair.
- To ask people a question relating to current affairs (e.g. “Do you think our city’s taxpayers should foot the bill for the Catholic World Youth Day? Why/why not?”)
Now let me give you a word of warning: of the eight common WUE goals listed above, some of them are actually WUI (walk-up invitation) goals, not WUE goals. WUI is different to WUE. Sometimes people think WUI leads seamlessly into WUE. I reckon WUE can lead to WUI, but very rarely does WUI lead to WUE. That’s why I usually have the first two points as my WUE goals.
Your goal will also determine the tools and resources you take with you. There’s no use having the second goal and forgetting to take pen and paper!
3. Team tactics
Different people have different views about team tactics. Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that WUE works best if one member of the team is the designated talker and the other speaks when spoken to. The other rides shotgun, and does the important work of praying. This allows the designated talker to give direction and order to the conversation, to go on tangents or to slow the conversation down by allowing some contemplative silence.
4. Listen to God speak about evangelism: read the Bible
Once you’ve got a partner and a goal, and you’ve worked out tactics, spend three minutes reading the Bible together. It’s always good to be reminded of what God has to say about the proclamation of his word.
I always read two passages prior to WUE. 2 Timothy 4:1-5 reminds me that Jesus could hit the final siren today, and that God the Father wants the word preached;3 verse 2 reminds me to “Just do it”—“preach the word; be ready in season and out of season”. In other words, there’s never a right time. From 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, I take heart from the fact that Paul, a bloke commissioned by Jesus himself, felt fear before proclaiming Christ. I read this passage and then do a bit of self-talk: I ask myself, “Benny, are you afraid?”, and I answer, “Yes!” Then I respond, “Congratulations, son, you’re absolutely normal. Now get stuck into it!”
5. Ask God to help you with the evangelism: pray
Finally, pray. Spend three minutes asking God the Father to work in people by his Spirit so that they will be receptive to hearing about his Son. Ask him to work in you by his Spirit so that you will behave like his Son—that you would be wise, joyful and thankful, that you would speak to others the way you desire them to speak to you, that you would be loving, quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger (Jas 1:19). Have an attitude to people that reflects God’s attitude to us. I often think of Martin Luther’s sentiment that “gospel proclamation … [is] … one beggar telling another beggar where to find food”. We speak because we love.
Praying to God the Father is the most important part of WUE. Don’t avoid doing it. God packs the outreach punch. God puts the roids in your roaming. That’s Paul’s whole point in 1 Corinthians 3:6: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth”.
After doing the prep work, how do you actually go about WUE?
1. Approach someone
I look for a bloke sitting by himself who doesn’t look busy or preoccupied. Don’t get sucked into Saul-ism—assessing someone’s spirituality by their outward appearance (1 Sam 16:6-7); there is no such thing as a person who ‘looks more likely’ to hear the gospel.
Think hard about where you stand in relation to your new acquaintance. Where you stand is important. It may seem obvious, but don’t stand in the sun so that your listener squints at you. I always try to position myself so that I stand in between the new acquaintance and my partner. Another thing I do when talking to Aussie blokes is stand at an angle to them. I almost stand next to them, looking out and away from them—a bit like blokes do when they’re watching a football game. I turn my head to look at them while pointing my body in the same direction that they are. This may not be appropriate in some cultures, but I reckon most Australian-born men feel more comfortable talking when they’re walking, driving or fishing. They find face-to-face conversations really threatening, so generally I never face them. So if a bystander was watching me do WUE, they’d see three blokes standing in an arc, facing roughly the same direction.
2. First words
You’ve prepared, you’ve approached and now it’s time to speak. It is often nerve-racking, so remember to speak slowly. When the adrenalin is running, our first words can sometimes sound like a track from Chipmunk Punk. Speak slowly, deliberately and simply, using good eye contact.
Your first words need to be a genuine question. It is extremely important that you do not inadvertently manipulate people into having a conversation. I usually say something like this:
Hi, my name is Ben and this is Mike. We are Christians from [insert church/ ministry here]. We’ve been walking around today asking people who they think Jesus is. Would you be interested in a friendly conversation about him?
This opening gambit has several advantages: it gives people an ‘out’ (if they don’t want a conversation, they can say so) and it starts with Jesus. Most people are interested in Jesus: he’s tangible, he’s historical and he’s fascinating.
3. The course of the conversation
A conversation can go anywhere. So instead of prescribing how the conversation ought to go, I thought I’d describe one so you can see the flow. In the following dialogue, Mike is my partner and John is the bloke we’ve approached.
Ben: Hi, my name is Ben and this is Mike. We are members of the RMIT University Christian Union. We’ve been walking around today asking people who they think Jesus is. Would you be interested in a friendly conversation about him?
John: Umm, I’ve got a class in 10 minutes, but I suppose so. I’m not doing anything.
Ben: Oh great! What are you studying?
John: Photography. I have go to a lab next class.
Ben: Is that like a darkroom-type lab?
Ben: Sounds interesting. I’m glad you can chat. Do you mind if I ask you your name?
John: My name is John.
Ben: Oh, cool. Hi John! [They shake hands.] I’m Ben and this is Mike. Tell me, John, what do you think of Jesus? Any thoughts?
John: Well, I think Jesus existed. Some people argue with that, but I don’t. And I suppose I’ve always respected him, or seen him as a person worthy of respect. He’s certainly a good guy …
Ben: John, where did you first hear about Jesus?
John: I’m not really sure. In primary school, we had some Scripture classes. There were a few assemblies that involved plays featuring Jesus—you know, the three wise men and all that stuff.
Ben: John, I grew up as one of seven kids in a family and friendship network that didn’t really think about Jesus much at all. Is that similar to your experience?
John: Yeah, pretty much. I mean, mum and dad always mention the fact that they first met one another at church when they were 10. But as far as I’m aware, that’s the only involvement they’ve had. I mean, ever since I was born, the issue of religion hasn’t featured at all. I’ve never seen mum and dad be religious or go to church unless it was for a wedding or something.
Ben: John, from what you’ve seen and heard in life so far, what would you say is Jesus’ Number 1 concern? What do you reckon Jesus Christ was on about?
John: Mmm, I’m not sure. I’ve always assumed that he taught people to love others and stuff like that. He’s still well known today, which is pretty amazing. He preached sermons, supposedly did miracles and stuff… he takes a beating in that Passion of the Christ movie.
Ben: Yeah, that’s a pretty heavy movie.
John: Yep. I suppose Jesus is a bit like a life coach: he tries to help people live right.
Ben: Mate, what do you reckon was his key message? Is it any different to some of the other religious leaders we hear about, like Buddha or Mohammed?
John: It feels weird to put him in a similar category to Mohammed, but I suspect he’s pretty similar to Buddha. His subject matter is morality, ethics—the good life.
Ben: John, you mentioned before that Jesus was a teacher: he gave sermons and perhaps did miracles and stuff. I assume that he’d have been pretty switched on—pretty intelligent—perhaps smart enough to be at university, if he was around today. My question is if he was so smart, why does he walk into an ambush and let himself get killed? He could have taught so many more people! And why do some of his biographers—like Mark—spend 50 per cent of their biography on the last seven days of Jesus life? Kerry Packer’s biographers don’t dwell on his deathbed half as much!
John: I’m not really sure… [John looks at his watch] Hey, I’d better move along, fellas…
Ben: [In a relaxed tone.] No worries, mate. We don’t want to hold you up. Perhaps you’d like to take this with you and read it. [Ben pulls out Mark’s Gospel.] It’s a biography of Jesus’ life. Would you like to take a copy and read it some time?
John: Fellas, I’d better go. Thanks anyway. [He doesn’t take a copy of Mark’s Gospel.]
Ben: Cool, mate. Thanks for the discussion. [Mike and Ben shake hands with John.] Bye! Have a good lab.
This is what I would call a very common discussion: 90 per cent of my time is spent asking questions, attempting to work out the person’s world view. Then I aim to help them see that the facts about Jesus may be at odds with their belief framework. I want to stir their curiosity—to get them thinking, “Huh?”, “Really?” or “Are you sure?” It doesn’t always happen, but if you spend the bulk of your time listening, rather than speaking, you are far more likely to give your new friend an “Aha!” moment.
Afterwards, spend some time praying for those you spoke to. Ask God to have mercy on them and to grant them the gift of salvation in Christ Jesus. Thank God again for the wonderful privilege of being coworkers in his great plan of salvation (Matt 28:16-20) and, if relevant, thank him for the freedom you have in your country to speak about Christ.
Some random thoughts
There is so much to learn about WUE, I feel like a babe in the woods. In closing, I thought I’d share with you some random thoughts.
- Now is a great time in history to do WUE. In 1991, it was much harder: people thought Christians were anti-science and really odd. Truth was limited to those things that could be proven by scientific method. In 1991, I would often go out for an hour, approach up to 10 people and return to base without a single conversation. In 2008, the same 60-minute session will usually result in three or four polite declines and two to three decent conversations. Spirituality is fashionable. Greed is no longer good. And we have been blessed by the influx of thousands of people from cultures devoid of the cancer of secularism. Now is a great time for WUE.
- I try to keep abreast of what the world’s best evangelists are saying and doing. I read Tim Keller’s stuff (e.g. Deconstructing Defeater Beliefs: Leading the Secular to Christ) and Mark Driscoll’s books (e.g. The Radical Reformission). I sit there and marvel at their cultural insights and evangelistic zeal. I love their energy and ideas. I try to keep fresh, but in the end, it all boils down to being a simple Bible-believing Christian who is trying to chat with my hell-destined neighbour about Jesus. I know my method isn’t fancy or sophisticated, but I always seem to come back to the same old question: “Hey, fellow beggar! What do you think of Jesus?”
- One-liners are handy. It’s good to have a few tucked away. Just rip them off everyone else (e.g. “One of the religions Jesus hated was ‘good-ianity…’”).
- Some Christians bag out walk-up evangelists, characterizing them as cultural dinosaurs ramming the Bible down people’s throats. They say things like, “WUE doesn’t work. You need to be in long-term meaningful relationships with people before you earn the right to speak of repentance and Jesus”. This is ironic because these same people also complain that a prophet has no honour in their home town (Matt 13:57, Mark 6:4): they say, “I can’t speak of Jesus with my brothers and sisters. They’ve seen me at my worst.” But non-Christians are never going to ring you up and invite you around to explain the atonement; there is no such thing as a ‘perfect time’ to speak. The key is to pray and give it a loving bash!
- Don’t approach the secularist with even an ounce of embarrassment. The world is full of believers; they may just not be Christians. The idea that atheism has won the day is a very geographically limited view; atheism is a minority world view.4
Friends, I hope this brief overview of walk-up evangelism has been informative and fun to read. Next time you hear the words ‘walk-up evangelism’, don’t think of your dentist; think of the 16-stone Turkish body builder. We have a fantastic message to deliver, so let’s deliver it with joy, mindful of the new life we have as a result of the gospel of our glorious Saviour Jesus Christ.
- I have done WUE with female partners, but only very occasionally. I would not do WUE with a female Christian sister regularly because an unhelpful intimacy may form. It’s a wisdom issue, really. ↩
- I think it is okay for two women to approach a male, but not the other way around. I take into consideration the way God has ordered creation. Most people would agree that two blokes approaching a woman may be intimidating. ↩
- Preaching isn’t just pulpiteering; it is the proclamation of the word in the widest sense. It is sharing God’s word, no matter what the context. It can be done through a variety of methods—from skywriting to one-on-one conversation. ↩
- “If one combines the numbers for both the ‘atheists’ and the ‘non-religious’ the total number of secularists is around 20% of the world’s population.” (David Barrett, ‘Annual Statistical Table on Global Mission: 1994’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research, January, 1994, page number unknown.) ↩