Re-Thinking Evangelism by Dallas Willard Discussion

An article published 11 years ago stirred some conversation on Twitter that prompted me to share it here in the hopes of continuing an important discussion on relevant evangelism.


Here are a few poignant quotes from the article:

“Much of evangelism today is rooted in a misunderstanding of salvation. People have been told they are Christians because they have confessed they believe that Jesus died for their sins, but the total package is presented in such a way that it leaves the general life untouched.

“What we want is not just evangelism that makes converts. We want disciples…and if you are intent on making disciples and keep on that track, evangelism will take care of itself.

“Three out of four people who make professions at crusades never show up in any church. That’s partly due to the fact that in our notions of evangelism today, being converted has nothing to do with community; it just has to do with your “personal relationship” with God.”

“How do you do “evangelism-discipleship?” My short answer: You ravish people with the blessings of the Kingdom. You make them hungry for it. That’s why words are so important—we must be wordsmiths. You use words to ravish people with the beauty of the kingdom. It’s the beauty of the kingdom that Jesus said was causing people to climb over each other just to get in. People become excited like the pearl-purchaser—they will give everything to get in.”

“So I think our preparation now makes a lot of difference. Once you get over the idea that you are going to be warehoused for all eternity when you die, lying about on shelves, listening to harp playing on Muzak, you can see how it makes a real difference.”

We have to recognize that most of what we say today does not cut through to real life, and we must find ways to do that. Generally speaking, we have to address the real needs of people—to understand those needs and to devise ways to help people understand that you are talking to them about their needs.”

Our challenge is to get those ideas into language that addresses what people see and experience every day, that helps them separate what is good and what is not good, that helps them understand what redemption from sin means today.”

Read the entire article here.

Share your thoughts in the comments: What did you like/dislike? How does this article speak to the changing realities of sharing the Gospel in today’s culture? 

15 thoughts on “Re-Thinking Evangelism by Dallas Willard Discussion

  1. I particularly like:
    “We have to recognize that most of what we say today does not cut through to real life, and we must find ways to do that.”

    And I think relationships are what cuts through the clutter. Students trust friends. And friends are what make Jesus relevant. Because to most college students, Jesus is perceived to be irrelevant. Their goals in life right now are to have fun (and a distant second: to get a degree).

    At least in my neck of the woods (something we say here in Arkansas) I very rarely find students to be antagonistic (and I realize that is not the case everywhere – but according to the book Souls in Transition, nationwide the VAST majority of college students are not antagonistic to talking about God). But they are typically closed to spiritual conversation unless approached by a friend (and then they are VERY open to talking about God).

    • Tim, our movement has particularly seen the most LASTING fruit in evangelism as a result of friendship, relational EV. Much of that has to do with what Willard says, that they see our practical lives and (hopefully) good fruit of the gospel coming out. You can’t be a Christian caricature of “Christians that hold up hateful signs” when you live real life with people. But this seems also to be the hardest to train in!

      • I don’t know if it’s that hard to train in, I think we’ve seen great success in doing it on our campus. I think the problem is in that it’s very hard to measure or keep track of. It’s also hard to replicate or be transferable. Cru has fantastic trainers and people who create amazing resources, I’m confident with some time and focus this could be more easily trained in.

  2. “we must be wordsmiths”–I like his thought here but I think we need to be “image-smiths” as well.

    Pinterest and Instagram’s success have revealed how our culture has completely shifted from words to images as the primary form of communication.

    This article was written 10 years ago, which speaks to the point of how quickly culture is changing and the urgent need to rethink the way we share our faith.

    • Brian, the “wordsmiths” comment struck me too, and I like your “image smiths” re-wording too. I thought that speaks not only incredibly highly to how we speak from up front (Weekly Meetings, Trainings, Leadership Meetings), but also to our evangelism/discipleship one-on-one too. Loved how he pointed out that people were breaking holes in roofs to get to see Jesus because of how he talked.

      I think I can get so stale in how I share the gospel, or get “used-to” something, and quickly forget the stunning wonder of it all.

  3. So, as a long-time Cru staff member, this is what jumped out to me and alarmed me the most:

    “Right now, evangelism with big meetings is in a very hard place—not only in trying to keep it going, but because of its results. Three out of four people who make professions at crusades never show up in any church.” (this is quoted above as well)

    As I read that, I tried to think through my experience, and I would love to hear from everyone else. I’ve seen lots of big outreaches produce lots of decisions (ie: Events of 600 have 50+ decisions for Christ) but I have not seen even close to that many people get involved with our movements. Sometimes just 2 or 3 stayed involved.

    Has this been other staff’s experience with big outreaches? Does what Willard says ring true for you? If it does, what does that mean for doing big outreaches?

    • Yeah I’m wondering that too DJ. My big questions from this article is to drill down and ask “Ok, what about what he said is true and right?” and second, “So what does that mean about how we do ministry?”

      Maybe we can be hypothetical- that a lot of what he said is true… what would we need to do differently?

  4. Definitely my experience. I’m no expert (and I know many would disagree) but I’m not a fan of big outreaches. We haven’t done one in years. For the same reasons you articulated. VERY little lasting fruit.

    I think some would argue that they provide momentum for your movement and give students something to rally around but do we really want students learning to put on events or learn to share their faith relationally with their peers? Not saying the two are mutually exclusive. But we all have limited time.

    When we (on our campus) say “evangelism” I want our students to immediately think “intentionally pursuing my friends to share Christ with them”
    not “big outreach” or “randoms” or “surveys!”

    What do y’all think? Some of y’all who have seen fruit from Big Outreaches – what am I missing (because I’m sure I have a ton of blind spots)?

    • Tim, I could not agree more. That has been my experience on staff. I love what you said about “when students hear the word “evangelism”, what do you want them to think?” If we are going to do 100% sent, the answer has to be “intentionally sharing the gospel with my friends around me”.

      I hear a lot of questions about training students and that big outreaches, surveys, randoms, etc. are a great way to train them. I always wonder with that statement, isn’t evangelism about the lost, not about us? If those methods are not the best at reaching this generation of lost college students, why would we do them? To me, it seems selfish to do something that isn’t the most effective just for the sake of training. There have to be other ways for students to learn how to share their faith and see momentum build in our ministries.

      • One limitation that we’re all aware of is the scope. I don’t think large outreaches like the maze or porn nation are the answer to reach and involve the whole campus. But, I don’t think we can do it by just talking with our friends either. There has to be something in the middle.

  5. People need to see what we are offering lived out in real life among people they know. I wonder if Cru has been focusing on decisions for so long now that fear keeps us from exploring and giving people time and space they need to journey with God.

    Would we feel the freedom with someone to say, “Why don’t you read the Gospel of Mark and come back next week and we’ll talk about it?” I think a good stat to take as a region or nation would be how many staff are having on going gospel conversations with the same individual over the course of the school year. It seems to me that majority of students are coming to Christ in a journey or process with a friend they know, but often staff don’t do evangelism that way or teach students to do it that way. Almost all of our evangelism tools are designed to be a “one-time sharing to the point of decision” kind of evangelism (big outreaches, Fall Follow-up of surveys, 2×2 randoms on campus). I think it’s time to explore new strategies and ideas or we’ll keep falling behind the culture even farther.

  6. I know one thing that probably won’t produce much lasting fruit:

    I mean, I know that God is capable of anything and that the site is a condensed version of the KGP. But, I’m honestly a little embarrassed that Cru has this site. Do we really think that this will produce the kind of lasting fruit we are all looking for? Yes, someone could have a deep and authentic experience reading that page. But I’m skeptical of the stats we collect from this page and their “lasting” impact.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think we are making great steps in the right direction with using the internet and technology. I just think the gospel deserves more than a 2 minute read and clicking a giant Yes box.

    • Yeah, that’s pretty truncated. What makes you think we are behind it? Is Global Media Outreach part of Cru. After clicking around their website I could not fine any connection with Cru.

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