Five Steps for Effective Evangelism
The story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4:1-26 is a very practical passage. In this passage, Jesus models for us five practical steps for effective evangelism.
1) Put yourself in places where you will have social contact with unbelievers.
Verse 3 describes how Jesus was in Judea and was going to Galilee. However, in between Jerusalem and Galilee, there was an area called Samaria. And if you know anything about the Samaritans, you probably know that they were hated by the Jews as half-breeds and idolaters. They were guilty of all kinds of different compromises with pagan culture that really dishonored God.
So when Jews wanted to go from Judea to Galilee or from Galilee to Judea, they would actually go to the trouble of traveling around Samaria so they could avoid going through it. And it would be one thing to decide to do something like that when you have a car. You just drive a couple more hours, spend a little more on gas, and it’s not a huge deal. But these people didn’t have cars. They had animals, and they had their feet. So these Jews must have really despised the Samaritans if they were willing to walk around Samaria, and yet, that’s what they did.
But Jesus didn’t do that. Instead of going around Samaria as a Jew normally would, Jesus decided to go through it on his way to Galilee. He wasn’t afraid to associate with the Samaritans. Jesus knew that these people needed the gospel, and so he intentionally went through Samaria so he would get to share it with them.
And in a similar way, if you want to have the opportunity to reach out to people who don’t know Jesus, you have to put yourself in a place where you’ll have regular social contact with them.
When you think about it, it’s not really rocket science. I mean, think about the 40-year-old guy who wants to be married but doesn’t do anything except eat Cheetos and play video games at home all the time. What advice would you give him about finding a wife? I’m guessing you would probably tell him that if he wants to find a wife, a good place to start would be to spend time in places where he’ll have social contact with women.
So if you’re a Christian, think about your life. Could it be that the reason you’re not sharing the gospel more is because you simply don’t have enough social contact with people who aren’t Christians? And if that is the case, what could you start doing that would give you more social contact?
But it’s not enough just to be around non-Christians. You have to actually engage them relationally. That’s why we have step number two.
2) Take the initiative to reach out to people around you.
In John 4, Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. He asked her for a drink. And that might not seem like a big deal at first, but you have to understand how many social barriers Jesus was crossing by doing that. She was a Samaritan, and he was a Jew. She was a woman, and he was a man. Both of those differences were a big deal in that culture. Normally, neither one of those boundaries would be crossed. We can see this clearly in verse 9: “The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)”
But instead of refusing to associate with this Samaritan woman as a typical Jewish man would, Jesus spoke to her. He didn’t allow any social barrier to get in the way. He was willing to reach out.
So take a moment and think about how you can reach out to people around you. If you don’t already have a relationship with them, how can you develop a relationship with them? If you do have a relationship, how can you move that relationship forward and become better friends with them? The better a friend you become, the more of a green light you’ll have to talk about spiritually meaningful things.
3) Take advantage of opportunities in regular conversations to turn their attention toward spiritual matters.
In John 4, this conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman started off about something completely normal. Jesus asks this woman for a drink. But when the woman asks Jesus how he could possibly ignore the social barriers ask her for water, Jesus brings up the subject of “living water” in verse 10. He then goes on to talk about the possibility of being completely satisfied in him and inheriting eternal life. So Jesus took a natural, everyday conversation about something like drawing out water from a well and linked it to something that was spiritually significant.
You may not think you have the ability to do that. You may not consider yourself a very smooth person or a very clever person. But let me encourage you: you don’t have to be smooth or clever. Because here’s the thing: if the gospel message of Jesus really grips your heart, it’ll naturally come out in your conversations.
Think about Steelers fans. Do they have trouble finding opportunities to talk about football? Think about grandparents. Do they have trouble finding opportunities to talk about their grandchildren? Of course not—because we naturally talk about things we find exciting. Jesus says in Luke 6:45 that it’s “out of the abundance of the heart [the] mouth speaks.”
So if you want to get to the point where you find it easier and more natural to talk about the gospel, I would recommend that you open up your Bible and get on your knees in prayer and start filling your mind with gospel on a daily basis. Let the gospel so fill your mind and so grip your heart that it naturally comes out in your conversations.
4) Bring the person to a realization that they are a sinner before God.
This can be uncomfortable, but it’s quite necessary. Help people see the reality of their sin—that they have broken God’s law and brought upon themselves God’s condemnation. The reason this is so necessary is because until a person understands their sickness, they’ll never appreciate the cure.
In verse 16, Jesus seemingly changes the conversation completely and says to this woman rather abruptly, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” Why do you think he said that? He was using his omniscience to turn the woman’s attention to the sin in her life. Then, when she tells him that she doesn’t have a husband, Jesus says, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
If you’re building a relationship with an non-Christian you want to witness to and you’re doing your best to turn conversations to spiritual matters, that’s good. But sooner or later, you have to help them understand that they are a sinner before God.
Of course, you always do that with love, gentleness, and humility, but that’s not something you can leave out. Part of sharing the gospel is helping people to understand why they need the gospel—why they need Jesus.
Again: in order to appreciate the cure, they first have to understand the disease. If you tell me that you have a cure for my disease and I’m not aware that I have this disease, I’m not going to care very much about your cure. And if you tell someone that Jesus offers them salvation, and they don’t know what they need to be saved from, they’re not going to care very much about any salvation Jesus offers.
And then once you do that, you can move on to step number five.
5) Present the full truth about Christ.
In our text, after the woman is reminded of her sin, she becomes a bit uncomfortable and tries to change the conversation. But Jesus ever so skillfully brings the conversation back around to the gospel and, in verse 26, finally reveals his identity as the Messiah from heaven sent to rescue God’s people. He says, “I who speak to you am he.” And that’s the essence of the gospel: Jesus himself and the rescue he offers.
And the way Jesus is able to offer this rescue is through his death and resurrection. When Jesus died on the cross, he was voluntarily talking upon himself all of the sins you and I have committed and suffering the penalty for those sins in our place. Those sins had to be punished. God’s justice had to be upheld. But Jesus stood in our place and suffered every last bit of God’s wrath so we wouldn’t have to. And he then won a decisive victory over sin and evil three days later when he rose triumphantly from the dead.
And so, the way we can have a relationship with God and go to heaven when we die isn’t by merely being a moral person or doing enough good things to outweigh the bad things we’ve done. It’s by looking to Jesus—this crucified and risen Jesus—for rescue. It’s by placing 100% of our confidence in him to save us by virtue of his merit rather than our own.
That’s the message people have to understand. That’s the gospel message. And until we’ve shared that message, we haven’t truly evangelized. Merely building a relationship with someone isn’t evangelism. Evangelism, by definition, is about sharing the gospel. Everything else we’ve talked about is just preparatory.