Relational Evangelism Evangelizing Family and Friends Successfully
Summary: It is said that 95% of Christians will never in their lifetimes lead another person (other than their own children) to salvation in Jesus Christ. Yet there is a simple way to change that dramatically and to turn multitudes of everyday Christians into effective soulwinners. And that way is what I call “Network Evangelism.” Come see how you can effectively lead people to the Savior, Jesus Christ.
Luke 24:46-48 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
• Most Christians rarely, if ever, share their faith with others. Many are intimidated by the thought of evangelizing and don’t know where to begin. Those who do witness often do so in ways that are inefficient and ineffective.
• The solution is network evangelism (some call it relational evangelism, or the similar term friendship evangelism) — “beginning at Jerusalem” (vs. 47). Before Jesus’ disciples began to reach out to other nations, He had them begin at Jerusalem. They knew the culture, knew the city, and undoubtedly knew many people there.
• Christian researchers and writers have consistently found that the most effective soul winning is done not with strangers, but with those with whom you already have some established relationship.
• One disclaimer here: I am not at all trying to discourage you from sharing your faith with a stranger. Nor am I minimizing the great work that gifted evangelists do in mass crusades. Souls have certainly been won those ways. But I am presenting to you an everyday approach to sharing the Gospel that, more than any other way, will turn ineffective witnessers into effective soul winners.
Mark 5:8, 18-19 Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” …  As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
• Jesus said, “Go to … your own people” … “Go to your own [family and relatives and friends]” (Amplified) … “Go home to thy friends” (KJV) … “Go home to your family” (NLT).
• The demon-possessed man had been delivered by Jesus and immediately wanted to forsake all and follow Jesus in His travels. But Jesus declined and told this new believer, rather, to go immediately to his “own people” — his family, other relatives, and friends — and tell them about what Jesus had done for him. The percentage who respond to the Gospel from among our “own people” is dramatically higher than those who respond to a stranger sharing with them.
• As one man aptly put it, you catch the most fish when you fish in the right ponds! The best ponds for you as “fishers of men” is those people who know you well.
John 1:40-42 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.
• I like this. The very first thing Andrew did after personally encountering Jesus was to go find his brother Peter and tell him about Jesus.
• When people are newly saved, that is a very effective time for them to go to their friends and family and tell them what they have just found in Jesus Christ.
Acts 10:3-6, 24 … The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends.
• Peter had been divinely led to the house of the Gentile Cornelius. An angel of God had visited Cornelius and instructed him to have Peter come and tell them how to be saved. When Peter arrived, he found that Cornelius had assembled “his relatives and close friends.” They heard Peter’s message and were quickly saved, filled with the Holy Spirit, and baptized in water (vss. 44-48).
• Why did Peter find such a willing audience? It was because someone they knew and trusted (Cornelius) had invited them to hear Peter preach. Likewise, those who know and trust us are the most likely to listen to our witness or to go to church with us.
In each of the above instances, the people involved proceeded in such a way that the gospel message was shared first with those closest to them. These were people in what we might call their “networks.”
• The formerly demon-possessed man, now a believer, was told by Jesus to go to his family and friends with the message about the Lord.
• Andrew testified first to his brother Peter.
• Cornelius had called together his relatives and close friends to hear Peter preach the Gospel. And the whole group became baptized, Spirit-filled followers of Jesus Christ.
Some research I did years ago for a graduate degree showed the superior effectiveness of working our networks evangelistically. Donald McGavran and George Hunter, in Church Growth Strategies That Work (1980), wrote: “A recent Gallup survey of church-goers reveals that 58 percent of those who now go to church regularly first began going when they were invited by someone they knew.” [boldface mine]
• McGavran and Hunter in their book also quoted Lyle Schaller’s discovery that “in most rapidly growing congregations, two-thirds to seven-eighths of the recent adult new members first attended at the invitation of a friend or relative.” [boldface mine]
This relational networking concept is known and used successfully in the realm of marketing. For example, a salesman, upon closing a sale, might ask the satisfied buyer if he has any friends or family members who might be interested in this fine product. And these “network” leads usually pay off at a higher sales rate than does cold calling.
For the purpose of sharing the gospel, let’s identify four major networks, some or all of which would apply to anyone desiring to be an effective soul winner:
4. Special-interest groups, such as a women’s club, a garden club, a ham-radio group, a civic organization, a sports team that you coach, a school booster club, and so forth.
How evangelistically effective are these networks of people we know? A generation ago, Lyle Schaller, based on face-to-face conversations with thousands of Christians and on extensive returns of questionnaires, found the following answers to the question: Why did those who have joined the church during the past ten years take that step?
3 to 6% came because of the Sunday School
3 to 8% walked in on their own initiative
4 to 10% came because they liked the program
10 to 20% joined because they liked the pastor
10 to 25% joined in response to visitation evangelism
60 to 90% were brought by some friend or relative
• It’s possible that these numbers might be slightly different in 2014. But it is surely safe to say that in the first century, the 20th century, and today, by far the greatest influence on people to join the Lord and His Church is the influence of those closest to them — their family and friends.
• The point by now is obvious and indisputable. Your most effective prospects for evangelizing are those you are already associated with as family members and friends. So focus your soul winning efforts within your networks, of course staying open to opportunities to share with anyone as the Lord leads. But begin at your “Jerusalem.”
Mark 2:14-15 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.
• Levi had a job-related network, the tax collectors. In the account above, we see many of the same occupation eating together with Levi and Jesus, and with many of them choosing to follow the Lord. I used to be a radar air traffic controller, and I personally found my former FAA job network to be an effective environment for sharing the gospel with my co-workers in a way that some were led to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior.
In about ten churches in which I have preached this relational evangelism message, I have taken a poll of the congregation. I asked each Christian to identify with one of two groups: (1) those led to the Lord primarily by someone in their networks; and (2) those led to the Lord by all other means. In every one of those churches, the majority — and usually a large majority — indicated that they had been led to the Lord primarily through someone in their personal networks.
Mark 5:19 …“Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
John 1:41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ).
• For any evangelizing, “network” or otherwise, to be effective, we must not be content just to “live” the gospel before the lost. We must also “tell them”!
• Tell them of the great things the Lord has done for you.
• Tell them of His great mercy on you, whether it be mercy for salvation, healing, deliverance, or anything else.
• Tell them, “I have found the Savior! He has changed my life.”
Again, how effective can network evangelizing be? Let’s take a look at the success the Mormons have had with this method. Although they do not preach the true gospel, they have seized upon a very effective way of presenting their (unfortunately wrong) beliefs. Wayne Zunkel, in Growing the Small Church (1983), says, “The Mormons are discovering this. For more than 100 years they have sent their finest young men to go from door to door. But now their studies reveal that where they go ‘cold,’ with no previous contact or social network, the conversion success rate is 0.1 percent, or one in every 1,000 visits. If, however, that missionary visit occurs within the home of a Mormon’s relative or friend, the odds of success increase to 50 percent, one in every two visits. We do the best with those we know. Start there.” [bold type mine]
Think of that! By changing strategies from a “cold” contact approach to a relational network approach, the Mormons (with a false gospel!) saw conversion rates increase from 1 per 1,000 visits to 1 per 2 visits. Imagine what could be accomplished by born-again Christians going to family and friends with the true gospel of Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit!
Acts 9:20 At once [Paul] began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.
• The apostle Paul, a Jew converted to Christ, from his earliest times of ministry had a regular network evangelism methodology. Time and again he would enter a town and go first to the Jewish synagogue, or to the Jews wherever he found them.
• I found at least nine other repetitions of this pattern by Paul in Acts. That is, he attempted to evangelize first his fellow Jews. Paul knew their culture, he knew their Hebrew Scriptures, and Paul himself was well-known, at least by reputation, to many Jews both within and outside of Israel.
It would be wise at this point to recall that both the Bible and church history are definitely in favor of evangelism towards everybody — friend or stranger. In the churches I surveyed, a small but nonetheless significant percentage of the Christians had been saved outside of relational networks. So do not overlook any opportunity that God presents to share the Good News about Jesus Christ.
But keep foremost in mind the fact, both biblical and experiential, that the most effective soul-winning by most of us will continue to occur as we evangelize our own personal networks of friends, family, school and job associates, and fellow members of special-interest groups, clubs, etc.
I hope that these Scriptures and related thoughts have given you a renewed stirring to reach out with the Gospel to those who know and trust you. May the Lord grant you a wonderful harvest among those who are special to you!