Sometimes I think the word “evangelism” has gotten a bad rap.
People picture that loud guy with a sign at the football game. Or the preacher on the corner throwing hell and damnation, along with a fair amount of spit, at people. Or that guy on tv with the perfect teeth and private jet.
In a recent conversation with a family member, I was talking about a Bible study that meets at my house.
“You’re one of those Bible beaters, aren’t you?”
“I hardly ever beat people with my Bible these days.”
And while I certainly can see where that cultural disdain for evangelism comes from, I think even many Christians tend to back away from that word. Perhaps because it sounds scary. Maybe because it seems uncomfortable. Or maybe because it seems like you’d need to know way more than you do in order to be successful.
But I don’t think evangelism needs to look like that preacher on the street corner
In fact, I think it can look different for different people.
About ten years ago, my husband and I were volunteering with the youth group at our church. We each had a group of high schoolers we met with, we would attend worship services in the youth building, and we went on a few retreats. After our first daughter was born, our schedule started changing. Having to work around nap times, eating schedules, and early bedtimes made it increasingly difficult to participate as much as we wanted with the teenagers.
At about the same time, some of the youth we had formed connections with had graduated high school and were beginning their semesters in local community colleges and trade schools, or had gone on to get jobs. Many of them told us they didn’t feel like they had a place at our church anymore. The youth group wasn’t geared toward the things they were now dealing with, and “big church” was so different than what they were used to that they felt uncomfortable and unwanted. They felt like they didn’t fit anywhere, and so chose to skip church altogether.
Somewhat selfishly (see scheduling issues above), my husband and I decided this was a gap we could try to help fill, so our Thursday night Bible study for college kids was born.
We started with the premise, “if you feed them they will come.”
Each Thursday we would tell our young friends that if they would come to our house at 7 pm for Bible study we would serve them dinner. At first, it was a slow start – there were some Thursdays where only one or two people would show up. However, even on those nights, we would sit around the table like a family, eat a meal, and get to know each other. Then we would move into the living room and talk about the Bible.
As time went by and we stayed consistent, more and more young people started coming on Thursday nights. We didn’t advertise or create a promotion for it. We didn’t brand it and make signage with a clever tag line. We didn’t blast it across social media channels. We just let everyone know that they could come, and they could invite their friends. Oh. And please excuse the messy house and the dogs who like to watch you eat.
Then and Now
Ten years later, and we are still having Thursday night Bible studies in our home. We have four kids now so it can get a little rowdy, and some of our members have stayed with us all of these years so the age and stage of the group members have changed a bit (most are out of college now, although a couple of them will bring college-aged friends along sometimes). But we always eat dinner, we always get to know each other, and we always talk about the Bible.
We often remind our group that the Bible study shouldn’t take the place of going to a church for worship, and some of them actually follow that advice and go. Others, however, just come on Thursday nights.
If you were to ask me why I think this works for the people who have come to our house over the years, I would tell you three things.
1. It’s consistent
Every Thursday my husband sends out a text reminding people that they are welcome at our home for dinner and some Bible study. That text goes out to everyone that has ever come, reminding them that even if we haven’t seen them in a while, they are always invited. We have had numerous people show up unexpectedly because they happened to be in town and knew that on Thursdays they could go to our house – even when they have been gone for years.
2. It’s family style
There’s no formality, no special words or rituals, and very little structure. The dogs sniff you when you come in, you have to get your own drink, and you can put your feet up on the sofa. We may or may not start on time, we’ll probably run late, and there’s a good chance someone won’t show up until halfway in. But that’s ok because this is our home and on Thursdays, it can be your home, too.
3. It’s open
We have an open door policy. Jesus came to the sick. He came to the hurting, the helpless and the hungry. He ate with the tax collectors and met with the woman at the well.
So we welcome everyone to our home on Thursday nights.
You’ve been married two times before and are living with your boyfriend? Come in.
You used to use drugs and now you’re trying to stay sober and make a legal living? Come in.
You were abused in the past and think you have nothing to give? Come in.
You grew up in the church and that’s all you have ever known? Come in.
You are struggling with your sexuality? Come in.
You’re estranged from your wife and you’re pretty mad at God right now? Come in.
Come sit at our table, meet our children and have some dinner. Let us introduce you to our friend, Jesus. We’ll tell you what we know about Him, you can tell us what you know about Him, and we’ll sit down together, open the Bible, and find out what God has to say about Him.
Personally, I don’t think that there is a set formula for evangelism. I believe that it can look differently for different people and that what works for one family would be awful for another. To me, if you’re loving people, and if you’re telling them the gospel, the format you use can be flexible.
Our Thursday night Bible study is how we evangelize. How do you do it?