5 Evangelism Barriers (and How to Deal with Them)

September 17th, 2013

There are few words in the Christian life more intimidating than evangelism. Maybe that’s why a lot of us try to leave the heavy lifting to other people. It’s not that we don’t want our friends and family and neighbors to know Christ. We’d just be more comfortable if someone else showed them the way. Someone who’s good at it. Someone with the gift of evangelism. Or the role or office of evangelist. (See Ephesians 4:11). Just not us.

Some Christians are better evangelists than others, no doubt, and there are various levels of calling. But don't be deceived—evangelism is for every Christian. Even those of us who are scared to death of it.

I’ve been considering some of the barriers we might face as we attempt to share the Good News of Jesus. Some of these are easier to overcome than others, and you may have some of your own barriers that aren’t on this list.

We don’t know how to articulate what we believe. Have you ever tried to explain the Gospel of Christ, but the words that came out of your mouth didn’t sound nearly as good as the ones that were in your head? To overcome this obstacle, create a few talking points with the basics of the Christian faith arranged in a way that makes sense to you and memorize them. But don’t turn this into a script, because no one wants to hear talking points that sound like talking points. You certainly want to be able to share stories on the fly, answer questions, and be spontaneous, but these basic points should be so familiar to you that you have no problems navigating through any evangelism conversation while covering what you need to cover, and staying on track.

We try to complicate things. Jesus is at the the center of the Gospel. He died on the cross for our sins, was buried, and rose on the third day. We're made righteous by the blood of Christ, and it's because Christ was raised from the dead that we're raised to new life too. Justification is an event; sanctification is a process. (FYI, I don’t recommend using the terms justification and sanctification when you’re doing evangelism. But since I’m writing for a largely Christian audience, I just can’t help myself.)

We must be willing to change our hearts and lives (repent) and believe Christ died for our sins and was resurrected so we might live. Romans 10:9 says that “if you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and in your heart you have faith that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Repent, believe, confess. Keep it simple. There’s no need to get bogged down in atonement theory or in trying to explain in detail how everything works. Stick with the basics. The deep theological discussions can come later.

We lack passion. If we aren’t excited about the Gospel, people will pick up on it. I suppose some of us could use our mad acting skills and get a few converts, but what a lousy way to do it! This is where we have to ask ourselves tough questions. 2 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Don’t you understand that Jesus Christ is in you? Unless, of course, you fail the test.” Now I’m not encouraging anyone to doubt their relationship with God just because they’ve temporarily lost their excitement or hit a spiritual plateau. But in the healthy Christian life, growth should be the norm. If we lack enthusiasm about our faith, we need to figure out why it has become “old hat.” There’s nothing unhealthy about testing ourselves and making sure we really believe what we say we do. Christianity isn’t just about being made righteous, it’s also about going on to perfection. 

Remember, you're ultimately responsible for your own spiritual growth. Paul told Timothy to "revive God’s gift that is in you through the laying on of my hands" (2 Timothy 1:6). The Greek word translated as revive in the CEB is anazopureo, and it means "to kindle up, inflame one’s mind, strength, zeal." Take charge. You know which books, speakers, preachers, spiritual activities, and people get you excited and stir you up to help bring in God's kingdom. You also know the things that bring you down. Interact with more of the former and less of the latter.

Our prayer life stinks. Remember the TV series Alias? Before every mission, everyone sat around a conference table for a pre-mission briefing. The director of SD-6 (an organization originally thought to be a black ops section of the CIA) gave instructions, answered questions, and discussed strategy with the field agents and other team members. Then Sydney (portrayed by Jennifer Garner) went out on the mission, and nothing ever went according to plan. But that’s not the point. (Or maybe it is. God’s missions always seem to include surprises too.)

Here's the point—if we aren’t in regular communion with God, and we aren’t praying for the people around us, odds are we won’t be as intentional about sharing our faith with them. Prayer helps us get to know God’s heart, and it’s through prayer that we cultivate a heart to see others come to know Christ and experience victory over sin. Put another way, when we hang out with God enough, what’s important to him will start to become more important to us. Regular prayer helps us keep our mission in focus.

Our own sin holds us back. Bill Hybels has said, “If you're tolerating sin in your life, don't waste your breath praying unless it's a prayer of confession.” This is a bold statement, and it really messes with some people’s theology. But Hybels is right. If we’re in an attitude of persistent rebellion and we’re hanging on to sin instead of confessing it and turning away from it, we can actually hinder the power of God from working in our life and from moving through us. Plus, sin drains our self-confidence and can even open us up to spiritual attack. And if other people know about continual sin and rebellion happening in our lives, it’s a credibility killer.

Those are some of the evangelism barriers I've faced. What are some that you’ve experienced?

Shane Raynor is an editor at Ministry Matters and editor of the Converge Bible Studies series from Abingdon Press. 

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