When you hear the word “evangelism,” what comes to mind?
For many people, “evangelism” conjures up images of street preachers telling passers-by about Jesus (when not denouncing them for their sins); when many Christians think about what evangelism ought to look like, they often imagine a situation in which they would have to tell someone they do not know very well about Jesus. In the minds of many people, therefore, evangelism is equated with “cold call” evangelism.
“Cold call” evangelism derives from the common phrase heard in the world of sales. When a salesperson begins calling people in the phone book to buy his or her product, or tries to reach out to people at a booth or table at a store or in a community venue, they participate in “cold call” sales approaches and tactics. In contrast, a “hot call” would feature a person who has been a previous customer, referred by another customer, or personally known to the salesperson. “Hot call” sales would be much easier to accomplish, since there is already some kind of relationship or connection established and interest in the product; nevertheless, the number of good “hot call” prospects is likely few. “Cold call” sales prove much more difficult to close and features a high rate of rejection; the number of “cold call” prospects is much higher, and thus the possibility exists to gain a few sales in the midst of all the rejections.
Evangelism is not exactly like sales, but the concepts of “cold call” and “hot call” map effectively. Those who would be in a “hot call” situation are those who have become receptive to the Gospel on account of some kind of personal crisis, experience, or example of a friend or an associate and have reached out in interest or those known by Christians or a recent convert. Telling such people about Jesus requires a good knowledge of the Gospel and the ability to answer their questions, and often proves very successful. Nevertheless, the number of people in a “hot call” situation in evangelism tends to be few. Those who would be in a “cold call” evangelism situation are those who are not known to the one who would proclaim the Gospel and who have not indicated a strong interest in learning more about Jesus. They might be people with whom we interact in stores, restaurants, or other venues. They may pass by as we seek to proclaim the Gospel in a public area. They might be people who receive a flyer in the mail or on their doorknob; in some areas, they might be people whose doors we knock to help them learn about Jesus. We will come across far more “cold call” people, but it will prove far more difficult to receive a good and fair hearing of the Gospel; we will experience a lot of rejection, but the possibility exists to lead a few people to Jesus in the midst of all of those rejections.
Some Christians prove excellent and effective evangelists among people they do not know or do not know well. They have the gift of relating quickly and easily with people and do well at starting conversations, expressing genuine interest in the person, and communicate warmth, love, humility, and concern. Cold call evangelism comes more naturally to Christians like these, and they do well to glorify God by telling many people about Jesus.
But those who do well with cold call evangelism must be on guard against certain dangers and temptations which go along with the craft. Christians must always proclaim Jesus according to the words and ways of Jesus (cf. 1 Peter 3:15-16). As God is love, and love does not insist on its own way, the proclamation of the Gospel of the love of God in Christ should not be pushed, forced, or imposed upon anyone (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 1 John 4:8). The Apostles and evangelists of the New Testament only would proclaim the Lord Jesus when given an invitation to do so. The invitation need not be as explicit as “tell me about Jesus”: many times the invitation was mere curiosity regarding events taking place, or polite willingness to hear what they had to say. The goal is to be able to tell someone about Jesus without the person feeling as if the message is being shoved down their throat. Likewise, overly manipulative and aggressive rhetorical postures ought to be avoided: we ought to speak so as to persuade people to believe Jesus is the Christ, but we should not strong arm people into the ways of the Lord. We must also be careful with “bait and switch” techniques; Jesus expected people to appropriately count the cost and understand that His way will involve suffering (cf. Matthew 16:24-28, Luke 14:25-33). We must also remember the goal is not just to encourage people to get baptized: they ought to become disciples of the Lord Jesus, seeking relational unity with Him and His people (John 14:1-3, 20-23, 17:20-23). The relationship between the Christian and the person hearing the Gospel might not be strong at first, but that relationship ought to grow stronger, and the person hearing ought to be encouraged to get to know other Christians as well.
Other Christians find it more challenging to talk to people they do not know well about Jesus. They find it more awkward to attempt to have that conversation, and tend to do better with people they already know or have some kind of pre-existing connection. They may not have the gift of relating with people they do not know well quickly and warmly; they might have more skill at developing longer-term and deeper relationships with people. Christians like these easily find cold call evangelism terrifying.
Christians who struggle with cold call evangelism should not despair. Talking with people they do not know is not their strength; they should not be shamed or regarded as lesser because of it. There are many other means to communicate the Gospel of Jesus that do not involve cold call evangelistic strategies. Many Christians who are strong at cold call techniques may struggle to develop deep relationships with people, and may quickly move on from people who do not respond quickly; Christians who struggle with cold call techniques may excel at developing deeper relationships with Christians and unbelievers, and may have the patience to work with people over time. We should never speak or act as if there is a “one size fits all” means or model to tell people about Jesus as Lord and Risen Christ. Sometimes the same person might need to hear from different people proclaiming Jesus in different ways before they will come to faith in the Lord. It is for us to plant the seed and water it; God gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6-8).
Cold call evangelism is a means by which the Gospel may be communicated, but it is not the only way to evangelize, nor should it be considered the default form of evangelism. Those who do well at speaking with almost everyone about Jesus ought to do so and glorify God while recognizing their own weaknesses, limitations, and dangers in their approach. Those who struggle with speaking with those they do not know ought to recognize the difficulty but not close off opportunities which might be presented to them to tell people about Jesus, or to begin developing a connection that would lead to the opportunity to speak about Jesus. Those who do well at cold call evangelism ought not condemn those who tend to be more relational in evangelism; those who are more relational in evangelism ought not look down on those who do well at cold call evangelism. May we all play to our strengths in telling others about the Lord Jesus while seeking opportunities to grow and develop in our faith and abilities in evangelism, and glorify God in Christ!
Ethan R. Longhenry