evangelism-and-email

By Chuck Lawless

It’s official. I no longer like e-mail.

That wasn’t always the case. I still remember discovering e-mail for the first time. My computer modem was as large as a vintage radio and as loud as a jet engine, but it allowed me to contact friends at a moment’s notice, at any time of the day or night. “You’ve got mail!” were welcomed words back then.

Not anymore. Not only does the constant vibration of my iPhone remind me that life is too busy, but the e-mails I receive sometimes only hinder communication. Most of us have experienced the anxiety of reading wrong emotions into an e-mail and/or explaining a misunderstood message we sent. The e-mail symbols designed to express emotion simply cannot replace give-and-take, ask and respond conversations when emotions are involved.

In other cases, e-mail provides a means to express much more – too much, and in much less God-honoring ways – than we would say personally. We give too little thought to our words when communication is between computer screens rather than two people looking each other in the eye. The buffer of cyberspace somehow permits us to be rude and ungodly in our interaction with others.

My biggest concern about e-mail, though, is that this medium makes it possible to send messages without ever talking to each other. I have in my archives dozens of messages from friends who write regularly, but whose actual voices I have not heard in years. Why pick up the phone when I can just send an e-mail? At least this way I know I will not get a busy signal or an answering machine. I am a strong introvert, but I still fear that face-to-face conversations have sometimes been unintentionally sacrificed on the altar of e-mail convenience.

Of course, my distaste for email is really only partial. I’m excited when I hear from long-lost friends who found me via the web. I can now easily communicate with missionaries around the world. Their concerns are distributed and prayers sent heavenward following just the click of a computer key. And, email has provided unprecedented opportunities for doing evangelism, especially for believers who might be less inclined to speak face-to-face about Jesus.

On the other hand, my concern that email promotes faceless communication is matched by a similar concern about current trends in evangelism. Think about it –

  • Evangelism in many churches is about believers responding to a guest who first visits the church rather than believers proactively sharing Christ. If the non-believer makes the first move, we are then ready to respond with the gospel.
  • Evangelism is sometimes reduced to “invite others to church, where someone else [that is, the preacher] will tell them about Jesus” during the sermon. In that case, nobody does personal evangelism.
  • In some congregations, evangelizing takes place more on the international mission field – as essential as that task is – than in a church member’s neighborhood. The same believer who travels overseas to speak of Christ through a translator often leapfrogs his own unbelieving neighbors who speak the same language.
  • Despite the New Testament emphasis on laity, many churches still relegate evangelism to hired clergy. As one church member told me, “We pay them to do that because they’re the ones trained for it.” Personal involvement in evangelism is thus equated with putting a check in the offering plate on Sunday.

I realize I may have just frustrated some readers, so I need to be clear here. I fully support using any God-honoring means to spread the gospel, and ignoring current technological advances means missing great opportunities now available. I want church members to appreciate God’s work through their church so much that they willingly invite their friends to attend. My heart beats with global missions, and I’ve seen church members more committed to local evangelism after returning from the mission field.

I also believe clergy must set the example in doing evangelism, and they should see the pulpit as one means of evangelizing. The preached gospel should always offer life to those who respond in repentance and faith. Hence, I am not discounting any of the evangelism methods and strategies listed above. I am simply saying they are not enough if evangelism is not also personal. 

Yes, write evangelistic emails, invite your neighbors and friends to church, follow up with guests, take mission trips, and expect your pastor to be a model. Prayerfully support all your church does to reach your community.

Don’t forget, though, to tell others about Jesus – and take the risk to do it face-to-face.


Lifeway_Blog_Ad[1]Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary.

You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.

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Comments

  1. Ken Jerome says

    Well said, my brother, we have moved into a non verbal world. We are to speak the truth in love. We now say, text me, I need human voice and touch in my life. If we are to reach our world, we must touch them.
    Thanks again for your honesty.

  2. Mike says

    This article would have been perfect if it ended with a smiley face emoticon.

    Seriously though- great insight. Great reminder to me that some things are better caught than taught. I need to set a good example to help others know the importance of personal evangelism.

  3. Ken Jerome says

    Writing and preaching to me always brings the best results — I just hate it when my wife reminds me what I said last Sunday!

  4. Laurence McKeon says

    When I started my graduate studies in 2009 at Liberty, I came across a ministry called GMO, (Global Media Outreach) and today I am currently the community leader for one of their speciality communities. We reply to emails from around the world, from people seeking Christ. Some of our replies go unanswered and it sometimes gets frustrationg not knowing if your seed was planted or not but there are others that we have been able to build relationships with and share the Gospel. Its tough not having that face to face communication, but like you stated, its also tough to ignore our technological advances.

  5. says

    Do you think this mindset toward evangelism is the disease, or the symptom? We think of lots of things — fixing the plumbing, changing the oil, even cleaning the house — in terms of writing a check to a professional. This is especially true of things we think, rightly or wrongly, we can’t do ourselves. I agree that evangelism SHOULD be different, but I’m not overly surprised that it’s not.

    • Chuck Lawless says

      I think it’s probably both, Ben. We want someone else to do our evangelizing — particularly because it is evangelizing, which can be difficult, confrontational, and challenging.

  6. tom smith says

    I;m old(79)fashioned and not advanced to Iphone. It was good to See your words in print. very educational , as always. thanks for pointing me to Christ, Brother Chuck and God bless your ministry.

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