Outside the Walls: Outreach Versus Evangelism

“I just had an amazing gospel conversation! At our outreach block party, I was talking to a man who was having a tough time, and I shared with him about how God has gotten me through tough times and invited him to our church.”

When I hear statements like this, I am encouraged by the outreach that leads to building blocks that, in turn, may lead toward gospel conversations, but I am also struck by the reality that a gospel conversation has not occurred! Most believers mistake a gospel conversation with a spiritual conversation and leave out one important element: the gospel!

Sometimes we make the mistake of equating “outreach” with “evangelism.” Outreach builds relationships with new friends who are far from God. It serves as an intentional gathering or initiative to build essential building blocks for evangelism. 

Critical building blocks to gospel conversations include noticing, praying, asking, listening and caring. One of the top three barriers pastors identified in sharing the hope of the gospel is that Christians do not have meaningful relationships with lost people. Jesus noticed people. When people are noticed, they can be prayed for specifically. Conversations begin where questions of curiosity are asked and responses are listened to. Listening is a powerful building block toward a gospel conversation, as needs are identified and connections are made. Finally, caring for those needs will loosen the wax in others’ ears as you share the source of the love you bring through the hope of the gospel.

Jesus calls us to make disciples of lost people, which begins with evangelism and assumes outreach. He does not call us to do outreach without evangelism. You can have outreach without evangelism, but you cannot have evangelism without reaching out. Evangelism reaches out and makes the first move to those who are not inside the walls of the church. It involves going out of the walls into the community and having gospel conversations, not just opening the doors of the church and yelling,“Y’all come on in! We’ll leave the light on for you!”

A gospel conversation is a dialogue that shares the hope of the gospel and invites a response. It has two key ingredients: the gospel and a conversation. A gospel conversation is not an invitation to church, a chat about the aspects of God, a personal testimony or an offered prayer. These are all great things to share and are spiritual conversations, but apart from the gospel they fall short of eternal saving power. In its most simplistic form, the gospel is the good news of the saving death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It offers life, reconciliation between God and man, and a mission. 

Keep outreaching! Be intentional as a church to do so, and celebrate when you hear of others building relationships with new friends who are far from God. It will set the table for a gospel conversation that can bring hope to someone’s life. Make the first move. Start the conversation!