I have been to places where a person is yelling out the gospel to “sinners” walking by. Is street-corner evangelism effective?
Effectiveness is an interesting word. Street preachers might go home and feel good about doing what they thought was right, which likely included “suffering for the Lord,” and therefore assume they were effective. But were they? If their purpose was to draw others to Christ, perhaps not very.
Although I believe the Spirit can work through humanity’s good intentions, no matter how flawed they might be, I don’t know anyone who likes to be yelled at. Our natural reaction to such behavior is to walk away or yell back. In other words, more people are likely to be turned off by shouts from a stranger than drawn in. In fact, such an experience makes it difficult for us to hear, let alone respond positively to what is being said. Why? Because if the means (street evangelism) contradicts the message, the message is not being communicated effectively.
The question we need to ask ourselves about our evangelism, then, is: What words and actions best reflect Christ’s words and actions—ways and means?
I think Christ’s words and actions reflect a God who is much more relational than street-pulpit evangelists, door-hanger tracts, and billboard verses. I think Jesus modeled a posture of listening and loving, coming alongside, and asking questions that invited conversation and personal connection.
In Christ we see a God who humbles himself, a God who delights to sit at our tables, join us at our celebrations, walk with us along the road, and weep with us in the valleys.
And perhaps it all begins with, “Hello! Nice to meet you.” Perhaps it begins with being present to and interested in our neighbors, willing to take the time to get to know them, to learn their story, interests, skills, and experiences, and to share ours. Perhaps it begins with hanging out in all those places mentioned in your question—with your friends and neighbors! As relationships then develop—as there’s no doubt they will—I believe that we’ll discover God already at work in their lives and the Spirit using us to bear witness to the good news, even when we don’t realize it.
The question for all of us, then, becomes: How does my ordinary, everyday life embody a gracious, incarnate, and personal God—or not? How am I showing up authentically, curiously, and graciously to love my neighbors, enjoy and care for all creation, do justice, and walk humbly with our God so that others might come to know God too?
I ask myself that question every day (well, maybe not every day—but I should)!