What is the best, most effective way to share the gospel with others? This is a question our church has been discussing as long as I can remember. And I think I can say with some confidence that we have tried just about everything except the Goodyear blimp.
We have published millions of magazines and booklets, used radio and network television, launched evangelistic personal campaigns — and in recent years we have experimented with web casts and other types of social media.
Which of these has been the most effective? It’s very hard to quantify the results. Some work for a time, and then the novelty wears off. Others seem to be effective, until we add up the cost. Then there are methods that generate a huge initial response, but very little actual returns. Like a magazine newsstand program. Or advertisements in Reader’s Digest.
But is there one method that is the most effective? Yes, there is.
Ed Stetzer was a guest speaker at our International Conference in Orlando. He is a missiologist and the president of LifeWay Research, and he provided us with a helpful, humorous and colorful presentation on evangelism. He noted that while driving down the interstate, especially in the “Bible belt” in the USA, you will come across some interesting billboards and marquees, set up by well-meaning religious organizations that seem to have more enthusiasm than theological insight and marketing savvy.
Like me, you probably wonder what made the sponsors think that messages like these would turn people to the gospel. As Ed said, “You feel frustrated at how silly they seem. But more importantly, you wonder about the reaction of the countless unchurched who are reading them.”
Ed has done research on this topic, and has come up with some interesting information about how unchurched people respond to various evangelistic approaches. He conducted a survey with more than 15,000 Americans, asking them about different methods of church outreach. The survey covered 13 different evangelistic methods to discover ways that Americans are willing to receive information about local congregations. The top five, in increasing order of effectiveness, are:
5) Newspaper or magazine advertising — 46%
4) Outdoor sign or billboard — 46%
3) Informative ad in the newspaper — 48%
2) Personal conversation with a friend or neighbor from the church — 56%
1) Personal conversation with a family member — 63%
So the research showed that, whereas mass marketing methods have some effect, the biggest impact is gained by the least expensive techniques.
Additionally, the research discovered that some people are more or less receptive to considering issues of faith at different times in differing circumstances. The following are the top five times that people are most open to considering matters of faith:
5) After the birth of a baby — 28%
4) After a natural disaster — 34%
3) After a major national crisis — 38%
2) During the Easter season — 38%
1) During the Christmas season — 47%
What Ed Stetzer’s research has shown is that unchurched people are more willing to talk about Jesus than we may realize. But it has to be the right person and the right time. So while the research shows that marketing and advertising do provide support for outreach, they are supplemental at best. Contact based on relationships is the most effective approach.
And so it has been since the early years, when Peter exhorted the first Christians: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).
The message of Jesus is best shared by example, one conversation at a time. Perhaps that helps explain why, rather than hovering over us for all eternity in a heavenly blimp, Jesus came to us in time and space, in flesh and blood, in person, face to face!