Is "friendship evangelism" the [only] valid form of evangelism?
Even when the above errors are carefully avoided, 'open air evangelism' is unpopular simply because, in our current cultural moment, people value non-confrontation and a type of 'tolerance' that would never question another's beliefs.
And so, a couple of Saturdays ago, a couple from a very large church here in Louisville came out to the sidewalk at 2nd and Market for the purpose of persuading some of my friends that we should not be 'street-preaching.' It seems that this couple believes that the only valid type of evangelism is 'friendship evangelism.'
Now 'friendship evangelism' is certainly valid in the sense that we should definitely bring our friends to Christ. Philip brought Nathanael to Jesus (John 1:45-46) and the Samaritan woman at the well brought her neighbors to Jesus (John 4:28-30), to give only two of many possible examples.
'Friendship evangelism' is improperly practiced when a person believes that he or she must build a friendship first-- and build that friendship without mentioning sin, righteousness, and the judgment to come-- before proclaiming the gospel to an individual.
This is wrong thinking: first because we read of many instances in the Bible where Christians proclaimed the gospel to strangers (Philip's witness to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40 comes to mind as but one example); second if we really believe that the good news of who Jesus is and what He has done is the most important topic of conversation-- if we believe that this message is the only hope for salvation from the wrath of God against sin-- then how long can we neglect this gospel when building a friendship?
The reality is that the longer we fail to interact with a person about the gospel, the more difficult it is to speak with that person about Christ. The Christian finds him- or herself in the extremely embarrassing position of having to admit to his or her friend, 'Yes, I believe that if you die without trusting in Christ that you will suffer forever in Hell, but for all these weeks [or months or years] I haven't told you about the only way to avoid this horrible destiny because I was afraid of offending you.'
Advocates of the improper type of 'friendship evangelism' often say, 'A person does not care how much you know until he or she knows how much you care.' There is almost certainly some truth to this statement. But Christians are commissioned by our Lord to make disciples of all. Now imagine that I, hired as a teacher at Dorothy Sayers Classical School, thought to myself, 'People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care,' and, based on that conviction, I decided that I should spend the first few weeks of school befriending my students before attempting to teach them anything; I would be fired for failing to do my job, and rightly so. My principal, Mrs. Lawson, would inform me, 'You should have found some way of communicating how much you care while teaching the actual subject matter.' Likewise, disciples of Jesus must not first try to build friendships without reference to the good news, but we must instead proclaim His gospel while making every possible attempt to show others how much we care.