Wednesday, January 23, 2008


There are plenty of religious crazies out there, but I'm not here to vent about them right now.

No, instead I've got a good story to share about some evangelists. Or, sort of- Wikipedia tells me that 'evangelism' is a Christian term, and while Mormons believe strongly in Jesus (technically, most Mormons are in "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints"), I think they consider themselves "Christians" but I'm not sure?

Anyway! Today I was walking through campus and saw two guys standing in the middle of a heavily populated walkway. It was wide enough that it didn't cause any sort of traffic jam and people could have easily walked further away. Each man stood back, smiling, with a book in his hand. They had a poster in the middle of them, but it was hard to read, and I tried to read it as I went by. I was curious- many times different student groups will be out on campus for one reason or another.

One of the men caught my eye, and he smiled warmly. He first greeted me, and I said hi back as I kept walking. Without moving towards me at all, he asked, "Can I talk to you about the book of Mormon?" Short, succinct, and straightforward- without trying to be too pushy by getting in my face.

I replied "Not right now, thanks."

He responded simply, "Okay, have a nice day." I repeated the sentiment, and kept walking, having barely even slowed my pace.

It might not seem like a big deal, but I was impressed. For one, these guys were standing out in the cold for their evangelism, and it's January in Indiana- the high temperature isn't even above freezing, and there's wind chill to be considered.

For another, these guys seemed to have a good approach in comparison to other people I've seen on campus. A few times, I've seen some older men standing around busy areas of campus and shoving small books of the New Testament into the hand of anyone who comes close enough to them. Some of the men are nice, but they're pushy, and even though they're pushing the New Testament (which I believe!) I tend to avoid them entirely. Sure, they're passing out lots of literature- but how many of those books aren't tossed at the next trash can?

It also annoys me that even saying "Thanks, but I already have a Bible" doesn't seem to stop them. It's like passing out their books is more important than me believing- and that's not evangelism at all.

Personally, I have a hard time with any evangelism this straightforward, because I don't see it working. I think that pushy people are often rejected out of stubbornness, annoyance, or fear. I don't have a problem with evangelism, but I think you can show God to others a lot more through your words and actions, even when they aren't specifically relating to God. It sounds cliche, but the "light of God can shine through you" when you're helping in the community, or being a good friend to someone, or being accepting of someone. It's not that I think we should avoid talking about God, but I don't think that talking about God with complete strangers who may be uncomfortable with the idea is usually going to work very well.

I'm probably misquoting this, but a friend of mine recently said that his pastor had shared a tip for evangelizing: "If you have ten minutes to tell them about God, spend the first nine getting to know the person." I think it's a good way to think about it.

So, back to the Mormon guy, and what he did right:
  • He said hi first, and smiled. It's just nice to greet someone, and it allows that person to make eye contact if they want to. Plus, it means he's not immediately launching into a spiel.
  • He kept a reasonable distance. He stood back, away from people, and even when I'd responded to him, he didn't come closer and crowd me. I never felt like I was trapped.
  • He asked me for permission. He didn't start telling me about the book of Mormon- he actually asked me if he could. It gave me an easy out if I wanted it (which I did), but again lessened the pressure of the situation for me. This also may have meant that he understood I was a student, and could be rushing to a class or something- and recognizing things like that about your audience so you can be understanding is always good.
  • He wanted to talk. He didn't give me something to read, or shout something at me- he wanted to take the time to talk to me. It's much more personal, and probably more conversational. Talking is much less forceful, and more inviting (at least to me) than shoving a book at me.
  • He told me what was going on. He didn't ask a vague question like "Do you want to go to Heaven?" or say "Can we talk about your future?" or even "Do you believe in God?" He kept me in the loop with a simple and straightforward question, and I would've felt a lot more comfortable entering into a conversation with him knowing the subject.
  • He was nice, both before and after I turned down his offer. He said hello, smiled, and told me to have a nice day. He wasn't scary, and he seemed genuine. Even though I wasn't interested, I came away from the brief meeting with nothing but good impressions of the guy- and that helped my impression of the religion he represented, which doesn't hurt his cause.
So, this was a really brief interaction, of course, but I wanted to write down my thoughts. It's rare for me to see such straightforward religious outreach that I don't think is way too pushy and makes people really uncomfortable. I don't know how much this sort of thing ever works, but I can respect the dedication of this guy, and I can say that I was impressed with his approach.

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, [even] unto the end of the world. Amen. –
Matthew 28:19,20 KJV

No comments: