Why Evangelicals Stink at Lifestyle Evangelism

September 9, 2015

Lifestyle evangelism, aka friendship evangelism, is a strategy for making converts by living an attractive life among non-Christians so they will be drawn to the gospel and want to know more about Jesus.

Photo Courtesy of Hugo Chisholm

This strategy has been popular since the 1990s, and most Evangelicals would probably say that they share their faith primarily by building relationships with nonbelievers.

Of course, lifestyle evangelism works only if your lifestyle is distinctively Christian. Otherwise, it’s just networking.

So what is unique about the way American Evangelicals live? What is so winsome or countercultural or compellingly different that people who have never heard of Jesus would want to know more about him based on—us?

The old answer (we’re talking 1990s here) was moral rectitude. Christians, Evangelicals in particular, were the people who lived right. We didn’t drink or cuss or chew or go with girls who do.

All that’s changed.

Many Evangelicals, including in my own historically teetotaling denomination, use alcohol. Even preachers throw in the occasional swear word as a badge of authenticity. And tobacco? Ew.

So what does, or what should, make Christians so interesting?

I can think of a couple of things.

1. Balance

We, among some others, are the people who honor one day a week as holy. For Christians this isn’t technically the Sabbath (seventh day) because we observe it on Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the grave. Either way, we are the people who stop, rest, and remember.

The world is frenetically busy, so much so that people have lost a sense of identity. Though they have much, they feel little. They are often unhappy and isolated, seeking meaning through endless activity, achievement, and possessions.

But we’re not like that.

We don’t cram every weekend so full of action that Monday seems like a good time for a nap. And though we’re not slavish about rules, we generally place worship and family ahead of things like sports and work. We are devoted to God, not travel soccer. We prize community, and we set aside time to be with the people we love and share life with.

We do that, right?

2. Hospitality

In biblical terms, hospitality is a bit more than checking Martha Stewart Living for the best fall centerpiece. Hospitality is offering welcome, comfort, and basic necessities to newcomers and strangers, even foreigners.

The world is a cold place where people tend to associate with their own kind, usually in ethnic, religious, or political cliques. It’s a place where the haves generally get even more and the have-nots are left to fend for themselves.

But we’re not like that.

We’re generous people who are quick to welcome the unwelcome. We insist on the fair treatment of immigrants, regardless of their documentation status. We’re eager to help refugees fleeing religious persecution. Like the Good Samaritan, we’ll even pay for the health care of people who can’t afford it.

We do that, right?

3. Grace

Grace is giving people a benefit they don’t deserve. That includes forgiveness, or surrendering your right to avenge a wrong. When someone acknowledges fault, we let it go, no matter how great the offense or how often repeated.

The world thrives on vengeance. People are heartless. They literally torture their enemies, troll people on social media, practice vigilantism, gossip. They love to use the strength and anonymity of the herd to exercise personal power.

But we’re not like that.

We don’t shame people by reposting or retweeting their worst moments on the Internet. Though we believe in justice, we don’t use the letter of the law to harass people because of their skin color. We don’t lock people in jail for small mistakes like failing to signal a lane change. And we don’t lock people out of church because they read the same Bible we do but have a difference conscience.

That’s us, right?

We’re the people who are gracious, hospitable, and temperate, known for fairness and forgiveness, devoted to community. That’s why people love us so much.

Given that our lifestyle as followers of Jesus is so radically different from the world—and so appealing—it’s puzzling that more people don’t want to join us.

Lawrence W. Wilson

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I blog about Christian faith and ministry. I've also written a few books including The Long Road Home and Why Me? Straight Talk about Suffering.