Most churches, now, have outreach activities. Some Christian bodies are geared uniquely towards evangelism, too. Alpha courses have grown in popularity, as have other introductory courses to the Christian faith.


Photo: Chris Downer, re-used under CC License

Churches (and therefore Christians)  should grow in all three directions of the famous “in-up-out” triangle. Growing in community and being inwardly edified, worshipping up towards God and reaching out towards the NYCs (not-yet-Christians).

This approach, sadly, dissociates three essential parts of growth. Sure, we should have personal spiritual growth in order that we may reach out, etc. – but we sometimes forget that when we are reaching out, we are simultaneously growing inwardly. (And, yes, it is also simultaneously an act of worship – but the permeating nature of worship is not  the point of this post)

Alpha courses (and I’m taking this example because it’s the only one I roughly know of) have “facilitators”. Outreach events have speakers. And in the relationship between them and the seekers/recipients of the free beverage/food/whatever else, is akin to a teacher-student relationship. And as such, it leads to expectations that the teacher “knows it all”. In such events, the role of the “Christian” is to state and to answer, whilst the role of the NYC is limited to listening and asking questions which will find a rebuttal. Ironically, in such situations, the Christian is the one who is quick to speak and slow to listen.

All this leads to three undesirable effects:

1. It forces the creation of three rather artificial categories of people: the NYCs, the Christians, and the Christian leaders – i.e., those who have reached enough enlightenment to talk about their faith with others.

2. It discourages the less confident from participating in outreach activities. And when they do participate (out of a sense of oughtness, more likely than not) they put on a persona – because they are forcing themselves not only to do outreach, but also to be the type of people who do outreach: confident and knowledgeable.

3. It gives off the image of people who are sure of their entire worldview. Of course, being firm in the hope that is set before us – the hope of redemption and salvation – is great, and I’m sure it is the case for most, if not all, who get involved in any form of outreach. But do we have the same confidence in, say, the End Times? Hell? Predestination? Creation? Why the Psalmist is sometimes angry with God? The necessity of attending church? I know I don’t. Don’t get me wrong – I do have a bit of an idea about how to answer these questions; but I’m nowhere near as sure of them as I am of salvation.

Of course, it’s not deceitful to be ready to answer questions with our opinions on such matters. After all, we hold the views that we outline in our answers. But from the NYC’s perspective, it can be very off-putting: they are at a place where they are ready to re-evaluate their worldview. That is to say, their current metaphysical stance is shaky at best. And all we offer them, in appearance, is a pre-fabricated, solid, indigestible worldview. That can be appealing to some (although I believe it is a twisted perception, and it can be damaging to approach Christianity with such expectations); but, crucially, it can be threatening to others, and off-putting to many. Threatening, because it cannot possibly coexist, or draw on, the current worldview the NYC hasn’t quite brought himself to shed; off-putting, because how are people who have a fragile worldview meant to identify with people with an apparently solid one?

Evangelism is weird because, when I try to help people understand and embrace Christianity – and therefore me as a Christian – I pretend to be more confident of  my answers than I am. Evangelism is weird because when I should be celebrating the Truth, I bring other statements to the same level. Evangelism is weird especially when it fails to truly listen.