About the author
Mark Mittelberg knows evangelism. He is the former director of evangelism for Willow Creek Community Church, one of the largest churches in America and a congregation known for its emphasis on outreach. He is co-author with Willow Creek senior pastor Bill Hybels of the best-selling Becoming a Contagious Christian, which focuses on how to make the often daunting task of sharing your faith simple and practical. We talked with Mittelberg last week about his ideas and his latest resource, Faith Path, based upon his 2008 book, Choosing Your Faith. The interview went so well that we decided to split it in half. Look for part two in Thursday’s eMagazine.
Discussion on A Cringe-Free Plan
New Man: You’ve had a lot of experience with evangelism. What is the most effective way of talking about your faith?
Mittelberg: Authentically. What I mean by that is that when we speak in ways that fit us, and share the love and truth of Christ in ways that reflect who we really are, that comes across to people we’re talking with. Contrasted to that, when we force ourselves to act as some sort of evangelist or talk like somebody else, that comes across, and it repels people pretty quickly. A big part of my ministry thrust over the last 20-plus years has been to encourage Christians to learn natural ways to share their faith, because I believe that is most effective.
In the materials that we did years ago called Becoming a Contagious Christian, we identified six different styles of evangelism that Christians could use. And the feedback I’ve gotten over the years is that it has been very liberating for many people to find the style that fits them. Now, in the Faith Path materials and the Choosing Your Faith book that goes with them, we’ve identified six different ways our non-Christian friends think. I think it is helpful in making us more effective in communicating our faith to understand how they think as well, because our friends are not all spiritually motivated in the same ways. They use differing criteria to decide what to believe in. They’re on different “faith paths.”
New Man: I’d love to go into more detail about these ideas. Could you describe the six styles of evangelism?
Mittelberg: Sure. These are taken from the core idea behind Becoming a Contagious Christian, which I wrote with Bill Hybels. Every one of these is based on an example from the Bible.
The first style is the direct style of evangelism, and that example in the Bible is Peter on the day of Pentecost. In essence, he gave a three-part sermon: (1) God sent the Messiah; (2) you killed Him; and (3) you’re in big trouble with God. It was a very direct, hard-hitting message, and God used it in a very big way, and 3,000 people became Christians. If were’ talking primarily to men, some of us are like that. If we’re not, we know some men that are. These are the hard-hitting movers and shakers. God can use that powerfully in evangelism.
The second is the intellectual style of Paul in Acts 17. When Paul was in Athens, Greece, he was talking on Mars Hill to a bunch of philosophers. In a very logical, reasoned fashion, he presented the truth of Christianity in ways that led a lot of those philosophers and thinkers to Christ. Similarly, some of us are logical thinkers who prove our point through reason and evidence.
I should just add, when I first heard Bill Hybels talk about these concepts, this was extremely liberating to me—to realize that I don’t have to stand on street corners and do the direct thing but that I can use my naturally logical, intellectual style. I feel like I’m much more of a Paul than a Peter.
The third style is the testimonial style. We see this in the blind man Jesus healed in Mark 9. Jesus restored his sight, and he suddenly found himself on trial in front of the religious leaders. They are questioning him about how Jesus did this, and he finally says: “I don’t know. All in know is, I used to be blind, now I can see—deal with it.” He spoke out of experience. Some people are really good at speaking out of what God has done in their lives and connect with others through their story.
As a side note, the three people who have developed these materials—myself, Bill Hybels and Lee Strobel—are prime examples of these first three styles. Bill is the direct guy, I have an intellectual style, and Lee is very testimonial. If you’ve ever heard him talk, he’s always like, “Before I was a Christian …” or “When I was a journalist … .”
The fourth example is interpersonal. The example here is Matthew. What he did, as described in Luke 5:29, is he threw a big party and invited his former buddies at work—the tax collectors—and Jesus and His disciples. Through his natural relationships, he deepened friendships and helped his Christian buddies form relationships as well. This one’s very relationally oriented. This is the kind of guy that has all his buddies over to watch the game and talks to them during halftime or after it’s over.
The fifth one is invitational. We see this one in the woman at the well in John 4. When Jesus meets the Samaritan woman by the well, He has a great spiritual conversation with her. She’s convinced he’s the Messiah, so she runs up to her town and tells them what she has heard. But more than that, she grabs them and brings them to the well to hear for themselves. Some people are just really good at getting people excited about whatever they’re excited about. Whether it’s a big game or a new movie or an exciting concert, they are great at getting their friends there.
The way this can play out spiritually is by inviting your friends to places they will hear the gospel or that at least will start spiritual conversations. If you’re church is doing a series that would be interesting to your friends, why not bring them? Christian movies like Fireproof or the “Narnia” films are opportunities. Or maybe the next time a Christian concert comes to town, invite your non-Christian friends instead of just going with your Christian buddies. In the case of the Samaritan woman, a bunch of her friends became believers.
This invitational style is one that anybody can do. [Researcher George] Barna had a statistic a while back, which is till true, that said about one in four of our friends would go to church if we would just invite them. You have to think about whether church or some other venue is the best place to invite them, but there’s a lot of potential there. If your church has a special Thanksgiving service or a big Christmas Eve service, those are great opportunities to invite friends. It’s something we can all do. Even if our friends decide not to come, inviting them can be great for starting spiritual conversations. And if they do come, it can have a huge impact.
The sixth one is the serving style seen in the woman named Tabitha in Acts 9. She made articles of clothing for needy people, sort of like a first century Mother Teresa. She served in such a way that made people say, “There must be a God because look how this woman is showing His love to me.”
Some of us aren’t as articulate as others, but we’re great at meeting needs. A lot of men relate to this one. We might be able to express the love of Christ by shoveling our neighbor’s snow or fixing leaky pipes. Lee Strobel would say that his favorite form of evangelism is by way of snow blower. He would blow his neighbors’ driveways, and they would want to pay him, but he would say no and instead share his testimony.
My only caution with this one is that some people want to serve and never to say anything. Even if you don’t say a lot, you have to at least leave some clues. It’s not just that you’re doing good things but that Christ has changed your life. You can do that by talking or inviting them to something or even by giving them a book. But you have to let them know there’s more to it than just being nice.
There may be more biblical examples that people can find, and I think many of us are a combination of two or three of these styles. But I would urge every reader to consider which of these styles represent an avenue into the unexpected adventure of evangelism in your own life and maybe just to experiment with the different approaches. Find ways to share your faith with others that fit you. If you want to find out more about more about this, check out Becoming a Contagious Christian or my new book with Lee [Strobel] from earlier this year, The Unexpected Adventure.
This Cringe-Free Plan copied from an archive of New Man Magazine November 16, 2009 with styling enhancements added.