Note: In this our 90th Anniversary year, we continue to feature some classic articles. This is a shortened version of the original article in the September 1993 issue of Ministry, 6–10. To read the original in its entirety, visit www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1993/09/friendship-evangelism.
Clay Peck is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor who promotes friendship evangelism. In the Davenport, Iowa church he held meetings that yielded 30 baptisms. “More than half were from small groups,” he reports. “The rest were from friendship evangelism— every one.” The congregation had worked at a relational strategy for evangelism for three years prior to the meetings and had 80 or more people participating in a dozen small groups each week.
The unchurched are not necessarily unbelievers, but most are not likely to have participated in any religious activity. They can be reached only at a personal level through a relationship with someone whom they trust and respect. In secularized, urban societies, friendship evangelism may be the only avenue to reach large numbers of people who are resistant to religion.
Friendship evangelism recognizes the fact that most converts to Christ and the church are won through the ministry of friends or relatives. Gottfried Oosterwal says that 57 percent of adults who join the Adventist Church list friends and relatives as the most important influence in their decision, and 67 percent say this was the avenue through which they first became acquainted with the Adventist message.* Other global surveys indicate that the percentage may be as high as 80.
Three Elements of Friendship
Friendship evangelism consists of three elements. Each can be seen as a “layer” of solid foundation in Christ, and each builds upon the other.
First, the Christian demonstrates caring and compassion through a genuine friendship that is unconditional—not allied with anyexpectation of the nonbeliever. I do not expect my friends to accept Christ or join the church, because they may never do it, no matter how much I would like it. I do not expect my friends to do anything for my ego, pocketbook, or career. I accept them as they are.
Second, the Christian seeks to understand the needs of unchurched friends. I do not make a theological judgment or a Christian analysis of their need, but accept their feelings as they understand them. I am aware that their needs will eventually push them toward a readiness for the good news about Christ.
Third, the Christian finds opportunities to share the possibility of faith by meeting the felt needs of unchurched friends. Such openings are often brief and fragile, and they are always highly personal moments. In the lives of some, they are rare. Usually they are related to some aspect of life in which their secular values fail to provide genuine substance and inner strength.
Focusing on real-life cases
If an unchurched friend has just confided discouragement about his or her career, and answered my readiness question in a way that indicates openness, I might respond by simply saying, “Have you thought about the possibility of establishing a serious faith in Jesus? If you were to do so, that relationship would provide you with a different standard against which to measure success in your career. You would have the feeling that a life of service is more rewarding than winning a promotion in the corporation.”
Jesus uses this type of verbal witness in John 4:13, 14. He tells the woman that the solution to her deep, inner thirst is the “water that I shall give.” It has the advantage of quench-ing thirst forever, so that those who receive it “never thirst.” And the specific benefit of becoming in the woman “a spring of water” (NIV), or source of eternal love. Many church members are learning to apply this model in their everyday contacts with unchurched friends, relatives, neighbors, and work associates.
People in evangelism
Does your local church have a systematic strategy to encourage and support members in “working their networks” through casual, everyday opportunities for witness? Educate church members in some basic concepts beyond just skills in Bible study and verbal witnessing. These include (1) how to relate to secular people in love and compassion, (2) how to listen to their perceived needs, and (3) how to share faith in a way that it makes sense.
If, in each local congregation, the majority of members practice friend-ship evangelism while 10 or 20 percent become active in lay Bible ministry or other witnessing programs, a real evangelism explosion would ensue!
* Patterns of SDA Church Growth in North America (Berrien Springs, MI:Andrews University Press, 1976), 40. This is corroborated in research by Kermit Netteburg et al., The North American Division Marketing Program, vol. 1 (Berrien Springs, MI: Institute ofChurch Ministry, Andrews University, 1986), 54
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