Evangelism ~= Telemarketing


Street evangelism is interesting. It totally doesn’t work in the US (although I think it sometimes does), but there are evangelical groups that insist on doing it, and believe that the very low rate of return is because the world’s heart is hard.

While the world’s heart may be hard, trying to reach people using street evangelism is almost impossible – because of an interesting phenomenon recognized in psychology, branding, and cognitive science disciplines – basically it’s stereotyping.

It’s not that people don’t want to hear the gospel, it’s that the method being used to communicate it is psychologically impossible for them to receive. Does that make sense? The message may be great, and if it were communicated in another way, it may get across, but there is such a negative stereotype of the street evangelism method that noone is open to it.

This is a similar deal with telemarketing. Is it possible that companies are calling me to give me a good deal, to let me know about a product or service that I want? Yes, it’s very possible. However, because telemarketing has such a negative perception by people (for good reason, right?) – noone likes calls from telemarketers. They hang-up in the telemarketer’s face (I’ve done Christian telemarketing for an AWESOME brand, Catalyst, and it still happens!).

So, telemarketing is a good example. Most of us consider it “impossible” that telemarketers have anything good to tell us. Some of us stick through the call, but we still believe that it’s a waste of our time, and nonsense. This is how street evangelism is perceived (mostly). So, not only do people not get to hear the message, they become “immunized” against the gospel – their negative experience with the gospel via Street Evang makes them resistant to the gospel in other forms, even from friends and stuff.

SO, to sum up, I believe that because of the, now, very negative public attitude toward street evangelism, we should stop employing that tactic for communicating the gospel, as, I believe, it is actually digging us deeper in the hole – not because it’s a wrong tactic, but it’s made wrong by the fact that it’s now 95% repulsive to non-Christians. It worked for Jesus and Paul’s day, but our culture is repulsed by it.

I feel we should focus on engaging outsiders, loving them and sharing with them across a bridge of friendship.


17 Responses to “Evangelism ~= Telemarketing”

  1. 1 Paulg

    Jesse, in order to accomplish what you’re talking about a few assumptions Christians have taken for a long time have to be undone. Here’s one of them…In many communities I have been a part of, there is an intentional withdrawal from the ‘world’. We isolate ourselves inside of our community with the result being that we don’t spend lots of time with people who don’t know Jesus intimately. Our desire to insulate ourselves begins right away. When someone becomes a Christian often we tell the person, “you’re going to have to stop hanging around with certain friends”; the path to knowing only Christians begins. My point is that I don’t think people do street evangelism because they think it’s the best way to reach people, everyone says that relationship is the best way. Street evangelism is a natural consequence of the self – imposed isolation of the Christian Community. If by design a community chooses not to have friendships with outsiders, the only way to share the gospel is to approach strangers. In a lot of places we’re so worried about sin affecting us, we justify shedding off the ‘ministry of reconciliation’. Now, a lot of good would come if we could convince people to stop street evangelism as a system for spreading the gospel. But how much better would it be if we were able to channel the effort and energies people put into sharing the gospel with strangers into forming genuine friendships with people around them? …

    …in an effort to be redundant, we must address the assumptions behind the decisions communities make. If a community holds to the isolationist tendencies of the church, then when we tell people to stop witnessing to strangers, we’re really telling them to stop witnessing altogether. . Try to argue with any Evangelical that we shouldn’t be sharing our faith, and they’ll think that the devil sent you to stop their good work.(Get behind me Jesse, they might say) The buzz word in lots of circles today is ‘missional’ and until we get communities to see themselves as missionaries in their culture, it won’t matter how ineffective our methods are.

  2. 2 Jessica

    I’m in agreement with Paul on this one.

    I also can’t help but be reminded of the story in Mark where Jesus scolds his disciples for forbidding somone to cast out demons, because he wasn’t “doing it right” (by following them). Let us not discourage others in doing good. Instead of saying no, don’t go talk to strangers to share your faith, perhaps it would be more fitting to say go make a friend who’s not a christian, because most people get saved in the context of a relationship, not from a one time confrontation.

  3. 3 jessephillips

    AMEN! GREAT POINT Paul, I completely agree! Wonderful insight!

    I didn’t even think of approaching it from that angle. I was trying to create motivation for not being isolationist – isolationism will never work, because the street strategy sucks.

    But I ignored your point. And you’ve helped me see that isolationism is actually unbiblical, un Jesus like, rude, arrogant, unfriendly, unloving – which are more important factors than whether the strategy actually works or not!! LOL!

  4. Also, a little invention called the automobile makes this less effective. I’ve actually seen a guy preaching at a busy intersection that had virtually no foot traffic. I don’t think there was even a sidewalk. Who was actually going to hear him?

    I think some people do street preaching just to say they did something, much like some of the stupid signs ‘Christian’ hold up on street corners. Just to make themselves feel holy. Can’t judge a guy’s heart, but I don’t see a lot of fruit from it.

    I’m not going to condemn a guy for street preaching, but if he really wants to see people come to Christ, maybe he should re-evaluate his methods. Or at least pick a corner that people walk through rather than drive through at 30+ mph. Or do it in a community/country that isn’t car-centric.

    Oh yeah, isolation=bad.

  5. 5 jessephillips

    Thanks, Michael, Jessica and Paul for your comments!

    Okay, now from the other side. Playing Angel’s Advocate … We need to witness and preach the gospel. We need to be out their sharing the truth. The Holy Spirit draws people to himself. Evangelism is one of the gifts! Isn’t this what Paul and Peter did? Dude, God does all kinds of crazy miracle stuff. He saves people in the strangest ways. Of course he can use you proclaiming the gospel!

    People have to hear the gospel several times before they get saved. Like 10 times or something. If we don’t share it with them, they’ll never hear it that many times.

    I am not ashamed of the gospel! It’s powerful – but our message is foolishness to those who are perishing – which is a lot of people (broad is the path that leads to destruction). We had better go out and tell people, I love them too much not to. I want to get home and hear “well done, good and faithful servant”! So I plant a seed, give a tract, share God’s love to everyone – what’s wrong with that?

  6. 6 Paul G

    Jesse, I have always thought of you as my little angel…well, for starters let me say there are way bigger fish to fry so to speak about the church than this topic, but here are some thoughts. I’m not to sure you can make a strong arguement from the Bible for street evangelism. When Jesus sent out the 70, they stayed in people’s homes. The Apostle Paul’s 1st convert was a fellow tent maker. When he went to Ephesus, he stayed there two years. So, relationship was paramount in their community. Are there exceptions? Sure, Philip with the eunich is a good example, but street evangelism is a different thing than even that. When you see the apostles talking with strangers it’s often at a created space where faith was discussed ie Mars Hill or the Synagog. Beyond that, the very example of Christ incarnating himself as a human to sympathize with our weaknesses serves as a tremendous example for us to follow. These would be a start to this discussion. Paul

  7. 7 Francine Phillips


    What do I do about the mail from the tract companies that keep coming to the house from the days you passed them out in the Gaslamp Quarter?

    Here’s another point. There is no one way that the Holy Spirit works – which the point of a whole lot of our faith. Yes, culturally relevant is good and street preaching sucks – HERE. But in cultures where there are not so many cars, or in Europe where people walk everywhere and the churches are, literally, tombs, who’s to saya that God has prepared THAT person to walk on THAT corner to hear THAT fool with the Bible. (OK, so I’ve watched the movie Michael a billion times) So, you have to look at everything globally and neighborhoodly and, at the same time, not judge others. Although raising the questions and creating the discourse is healthy.

    You may say that your nights in the Gaslamp didn’t do any good – but we aren’t the ones keeping score. We trust and obey. Numbers do not equate to success or failure in everything. Do I wish all of my kids loved God passionately? Yes, it grieves my heart that after years and years they don’t see Christ in me enough to hunger for faith. But it’s not up to me to “make” it happen. But perfect strangers have come up to me to tell me that my faith inspires them. What’s that about?

    What’s that verse – Do Justice, love Mercy, and walk humbly with your God. Or is it love justice? Anyway, I’m trying to edge off the judgemental thing and chip away at my own log.

    Hey Jess, can you program a feature into the page that will allow people to e-mail this page to others, like you can some things online? That’s another way to open up the discussion.


  8. Jesse,

    The insight that you bring to the table is remarkable.

    It is indeed a dire need for the Church to reThink its approach to evangelism. Comparing street evangelism to telemarketing may seem rather silly at face-value, but we cannot underestimate the fact that both turn people off, push people away, and make people numb to whatever is being offered.

    Living in Atlanta, it is all-to-common to see street preachers blasting their “Turn or Burn!” messages on street corners as people walk by. It’s as if they think they are doing Christ a favor. I wonder… is Christ more interested in our reckless efforts to spread the Gospel at any cost or would He rather us take a careful approach to loving people and using wisdom to spread the Gospel? It’s like a company offering the best product the worst way. At the end of the day, you lose relevance, profit, and eventually the company all together (you cease to exist).

    People need to know the truth about Jesus Christ and they need to see the significance of the cross in their lives. This is too big-of-a-deal to be taken lightly or ignorantly. And yelling at an “iPod/Latte” generation of people with “Fire & Brimstone” messages is just not gonna work. I personally wish I could tell some of those guys to “shut up” because their idea of spreading the Gospel is repelling people away. It’s like spam email: once you realize what it is, you delete it. Non-believers have become immune to this style of evangelism. They just ignore it all together.

    And what frustrates me even more is that Christians think that the idea behind people ignoring or not responding to this style of evangelism is that their hearts are just too far from God or they are just too lost to understand. Can you imagine a tele-marker who keeps calling you because they think that eventually you’ll stop hanging up in their face? That’s by far one of the dumbest marketing tactics you could use (talk about making people hate you and your product and your company and anyone who sells anything like you). It sounds crazy – right, but some Christians use this type of marketing tactic to reach the lost and it’s just plain ridiculous.

    That’s why I think it is so important for people like you and I and others to challenge the old paradigms that we as the Church have modeled ourselves after. We gotta reThink this thing called evangelism… and Church… in the 21st Century, because if we don’t, we can kiss saving this lost world goodbye.

    T H I N K | C H A N G E

  9. 9 jessephillips


    Thanks so much for your comment! Ugh! Thank you, that’s such a high compliment you pay me. Wow, yes, very well said, I totally agree.

    In lieu of that method of evangelism, what would you say is a better “marketing strategy” or evangelism strategy or whatever?

    Thanks again, Antwon, for your kind words. They are very much appreciated.

  10. 10 Asher

    Hey Jessie I like you using my analogy of the two types of salespersons. One salesperson (telemarketer) is the pushy, rude salesperson and the other salesperson who actually cares. Great discussion.

  11. 11 Paulg

    Jesus called us to love people Him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and likewise, to love people in the same way. Alright, so in an effort to define (a mental exercise) mind is our intellect, reason, logic, etc. Our heart is our emotion, desire, etc. Our soul is our faith, our spirit that is, the part of us which can’t be explained by natural means. And our strength is our choice, our discipline, self – control, etc. What I have found in my own life and in the lives of the people I have counseled and had relationship with is that we are almost incapable of loving people in the way Christ called us to love. Most of the people I have met are children emotionally, because we have a culture which never teaches us how to incorporate our heart into living. We are only taught to suppress our emotions so we can make logical, reasonable decisions. This emphasis on our minds limits the other aspects of love.

    As it relates to evangelism the majority of the people we should witness to are the people that we love with our heart, mind, soul, and strength. I say majority because the HS does lead in other ways, but it’s the exception not the rule. When we witness now, often, our motivation isn’t the benefit of the other person, it’s for the benefit of God (maybe), or ourselves (probably) so we can say that we’re doing our duty as Christians. When we witness because we are committed in relationship (strength), when we witness to people whom we desire emotionally (heart), when we witness to people because it’s for their good (mind), and when we witness because their well-being is your own well-being (faith), we actually share the good news. When any of the four are missing from our presentations of the Gospel, we fail to completely communicate the beauty and complexity of the Gospel. The Gospel is more than words, more than an intellectual agreement to a set of propositions, it’s an acceptance to a marriage proposal. This is why the Kingdom of God is inside of us, because we carry it with us wherever we go, this is why we have the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ because the gospel is lived, and this is why Jesus came to bring flesh to the OT, to bring heart, to bring mind, to bring soul, to bring strength to our relationship with God. This is the good news of the kingdom.

  12. My preacher says “Relationship paves the way to influence.” I think it is more responsible to evangelize once a person outside the faith considers you safe enough to be influential. Safety is a key phrase to me. This is why I am so careful not to judge outsiders. Judgmental people are not safe and this behavior deteriorates relationships. Consequently they sacrifice the ability to be influential.

    I’ve expressed my opinion concerning street preaching on this blog before (Asher made an excellent rebuttal to some of my points, actually). In our American culture it just seems to me that it does more harm than good, and that we have better tools at our disposal for sharing Christ.

    We should skip telemarketing, and jump straight into social/relationship pyramid scheme sales like Pestered Chef and Mary Kay.



  13. 13 Jim O'Brien

    I hope someone reads this after so much inactivity over time.

    This is a new day and there is a new way to present the gospel that modern man has not yet seen. I refer to the methods of The River Church in the Tampa area. Go to revival.com to see their website and the free tools they offer to anyone who wants to download them. Especially successful on the street is the “Gospel Soul-Winning Script”. It bypasses most of the head reasoning that people use to fend of everything from insurance salesmen to ID protection service and goes right for the heart. He that winith souls is wise. We don’t have time to do relationship selling of the gospel. Download and lock and load. You can be effective beyond your wildest dreams. Just read the script to people. The River also offers free training to anyone on how to use the tools in street evangelism.

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