Effective Evangelism Models for College Ministry

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As a Campus minister at a university, one of the many questions that I have been asked by students is, how do I share my faith in a healthy way without offending someone or creating awkwardness.  Evangelism on Campus is a widely practiced with differing methods. Some of those methods have caused students to write off Christianity and some of them have ended friendships or acquaintanceships. On every college campus that I have either attended or worked at there has had that one or few methods that seems to drive more people away from God than to God.

Here is a list of methods that I have found to be more harmful than helpful. Although, these methods can be affective, if used properly and in the right context.

1. Salvation by Judgement

The first method is what I call “Salvation by judgement.” Rob Bell calls this “the bull horn guy.” At the University of Florida, one campus ministry hires traveling preachers to stand in a courtyard and condemn students. They usually have their location and everyone on campus knows them and has a nickname for them. They are called the Turlington Preachers because they always preach in the Turlington plaza of campus.  They yell scripture, point out if your shorts are too short, or simply stand with a giant sign listing all the things that will lead you to eternity in Hell.

All this method does is make students feel ashamed, apathetic or most consistently, angry.  Side note, I almost witnessed a student almost punch one “preacher” in the face. The Student and the “preacher” were face to face while the student was yelling at the preacher with fist raised.  Helping students come to repentance is very important, but this is simply not the way.

2. Salvation Ice Breaker

Another campus ministry teaches their students to approach their fellow students, and with a one-time conversation, help them find their salvation. This method I call the “Salvation Icebreaker Method.”  This can take many forms (i.e. leading someone to say “the prayer”) but the most popular way that I have noticed is where a Christian student shows a complete stranger a drawing of “the bridge,” which I learned about in Bill Hybels book/video, Just Walk Across the Room.  Bill Hybels uses this model the best as a way to ask a non-believing person, with whom he was in relationship with, how far they are from God.

This model however should not be used as an icebreaker to start up a conversation with a total stranger. This makes you the person in the conversation who has their life together and the other person the one who is living in disorder. While this may be true, I have found that people do not respond well when they feel another person is trying to push an agenda or trying to prove that they are the better person. This method makes salvation an agenda and can be easily compared to a politician trying to get someone to sign up as a democrat or republican.  

Salvation is not an agenda but it is rather, a gift from God that we get to show others. And that is what we need to start doing more of, showing people Jesus, not pushing Jesus. Instead of pushing Jesus onto people we need to start taking more interest in them, without judging them, so that when the time comes they will want to hear about Jesus. We need to continue approaching random strangers, but instead of starting the relationship with an agenda we need to take a genuine interest in the person where a foundation of trust can be formed.

These two methods sets up the paradigm that we can change people’s hearts. Carl Maderis compares it best when he talks about how as much as he wishes he could make everyone a New England Patriots fan, he simply cannot do it. It is the same with salvation. We cannot make people accept salvation. There is only one person who can and that is Jesus Christ.

I think sometimes we, as Christians, wrongly assume that it is our responsibility to change people’s hearts away from sin and towards salvation.  While it is our responsibility to make disciples, we cannot change the disposition of someone else’s heart, only God through the power of the Holy Spirit can do that.  John Wesley wrote that the Holy Spirit lives in every person and works through means of grace to awaken people to the salvific power of Jesus Christ.  It is through those ordinary means, scripture, prayer, the sacraments, etc. that people become aware of the Holy Spirit who is ever working to transform our hearts into the likeness of Jesus Christ. The question then becomes for us is; how do we lead people to opportunities where they can experience grace for their own?  This is where evangelism comes in.

Evangelism should not be understood as a way for us to convince someone to accept Jesus Christ; rather it should be taught as a method through which we enter into a relationship with another person so that others will see Christ in us, through us and in themselves that then, leads them to, in their own time, accept Christ for their own hearts and life.  But, again, how do we do this? If you would like a few books to read here are a few great books that will be very helpful: Speaking of Jesus by Carl Maderis, Nudge by Leonard Sweet, Follow by Floyd McClung, Just Walk Across the Room by Bill Hybels and for those who are really interested in understanding the logic of evangelism (another title of a good book) read The Great Good Place, by Ray Oldenburg.

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Ryan DeLaune currently serves a Wesley Foundation Launch at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida. He graduated from Birmingham Southern College and went on to pursue ministry in the United Methodist Church. He served as a full time youth director in Atlanta before going to Candler School of Theology. He graduated in 2012 and is now a Provisional Elder in the UMC. He has a passion for college students, relationship-based evangelism, the church and all things nature, especially the ocean.

1 COMMENT

  1. Hi Ryan,

    Interesting prospective. Here’s a couple of questions for you:

    1) Did Christ ever share the gospel with people he didn’t know? Did he ever model and instruct his disciples to do the same?
    2) If the answer to question one is yes, then did Jesus model a way for us to share the gospel and disciple others that is not applicable today?

    Further, did the apostles build relationships with others and then share the gospel when “the time was right?” In Acts 8:26-40, what do you think would’ve been the outcome if philip ran up to the Ethiopian, saw him reading from the prophet Isaiah, and then decided he was going to build a relationship with him before sharing the good news like he did? As a matter of fact, what were the first words Jesus spoke when he started his ministry (see Mark 1:14-15)?

    We cannot deny that Jesus, and his disciples, shared the gospel with many, many people in their first encounter with them. We also see in scripture that they shared with their friends and family (Andrew Told Simon, etc.). It’s not an either or, but both and more!

    Anyways, I really appreciate what you are doing, keep it up!

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