A Coward’s Guide to Evangelism

Getting Started

For years I’ve written articles and books about evangelism. On the surface, this looks like a desire to help foster evangelism in the Christian community. And it’s true; I do desire that. But on a deeper level, it stems from working out my internal angst concerning evangelism. How do I present the gospel honestly and boldly without needlessly offending? How do I ensure I don’t slip into heresy by adding or subtracting from the gospel? When do I need to remember that the gospel is offensive to those who love their sin and rebellion and that their distaste for the gospel has nothing to do with me at all?

Can you identify with this inner struggle? After decades of asking myself questions just like these, I'd like to offer seven suggestions for you to keep in mind as you consider how to get started in evangelism.1

How Do I Get Started in Evangelism?

J. Mack Stiles

This concise, convenient guide defines proper evangelism and gives readers the tools to teach the gospel clearly, biblically, and persuasively.

1. Sweep away misconceptions in your head about evangelism.

It’s easy to listen to well-meaning believers and get the wrong idea about evangelism. The mistaken ideas are almost too numerous to list. Evangelism is not about how many people you lead to Christ, though it’s beautiful when that happens. Certainly, evangelism must happen for people to come to Jesus, as Paul stresses in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” But evangelism happens even if people don’t come to Jesus. Neither is evangelism merely showing our good works. Evangelism is a message, and a message must be spoken. Nor is evangelism a method, a memorized set of questions that lead people to the conclusion that they must commit their lives to Jesus. Evangelism is merely teaching, sharing, or preaching the gospel with the desire in your heart for someone to come to faith. As Paul says, “. . . we persuade . . .” (2 Cor. 5:11).

2. Prepare your heart.

Of course, you should pray about evangelism. Everybody says that, and for numerous good reasons. It’s mainly good to pray because I usually forget to. But remember, it is good to pray for unbelievers to come to faith because it’s biblical. Paul sets the example again in Romans 10:1 when he says his heart’s desire and prayer is for his people, the Jews, to come to faith. So pray that God would soften the hearts of those you know who don’t know the Lord. Praying for others’ conversion reminds us that it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convert, not ours. It reminds us that faith is a gift from God, a gift God longs to give. There are other good reasons to pray for unbelievers to come to faith. Best of all, it shapes our hearts to be more in line with the heart of God. I find that when I pray, my heart develops in its love for the lost and a greater awareness of the needs around me.

3. Recognize this is not about your personality.

People justify their lack of evangelism by saying they don’t have the right personality. I’m unsure where this idea comes from, but it’s hogwash. Both introverts and extroverts struggle with evangelism. For most personalities, evangelism is always pushing the ball uphill. Extroverts are sorely tempted to twist the gospel to fit the hearer. Some of the most effective evangelists I know are introverts. Evangelism does not start with the right personality but rather an awareness that Christians are creatures who live in the physical world and yet have been given the gift of knowing the reality of the spiritual world. It’s an awareness that every person you meet is headed to one of two ends: a glorious eternal existence in a paradise that we can barely imagine or an immortal existence in what Jesus called “outer darkness.” This understanding helps us frame evangelism correctly. It’s helpful to know that evangelism may be expressed differently for different personality types, but it’s the same gospel.

4. Recognize you can get better at it.

Many talk about “pre-evangelism,” which is helping people get ready to hear the gospel. I’m not sure what pre-evangelism is or whether it’s a particularly good biblical term, but anyway, nobody talks about post-evangelism. For the record, I’m the best post-evangelist I know: “I should have said this,” or “I forgot to say that.” I’m always going over in my mind better things I could have said. It used to be that I would beat myself up about that, but over the years, I’ve come to see this as more of a sharpening exercise for next time rather than a defeat. Like all spiritual disciplines, evangelism is not something you do perfectly every time. There is always room to grow. So read books about apologetics to be equipped to sweep away objections. Listen carefully to testimonies of how people came to Jesus. Think through how to turn conversations into spiritual conversations.

Evangelism is merely teaching, sharing, or preaching the gospel with the desire in your heart for someone to come to faith.

5. Rehearse the gospel. Use it or lose it.

Become a student of the gospel. As I’ve mentioned, the gospel is a message with some complexity, so it must be studied. If you study it well, you can say it well. So first, nail down the essentials of the gospel.

  • Who God is (holy, loving, creator, Father).

  • Who we are before God (valuable creatures, made in God’s image and reflecting his glory, yet in rebellion to God’s ways and slaves to our sin).

  • Who Jesus is (the divine son of God, equal to God and fully man, who came with a rescue mission to save us out of darkness and move us into God’s light and fellowship by willingly offering his life as a ransom payment for our sin, and then proving his words and actions true through his resurrection from the dead).

  • And what we are then to do (repent of our sin, which is primarily our disbelief that God’s way is the right way, and put our entire faith in Jesus).

Entire books could be written about each part of the gospel mentioned above, so don’t just memorize it; keep working at its meaning. Connect those four principles of the gospel with Scripture. It’s a rich treasure trove of spiritual knowledge. Turn it over in your mind and think of ways to say it accurately but without jargon.

6. Think of specific steps you can take.

This is where the rubber meets the road. First, think through your non-Christian friends, neighbors, fellow students, co-workers, and relatives you know. Write their names down and pray for them, as in point number two. New believers will probably have long lists, and people walking with the Lord for a long time may have shorter lists. Think through if there is some friendship work that needs to be done so that you can come to the point of sharing the gospel (Okay, maybe that’s what pre-evangelism is). Perhaps it’s inviting them to church, though you should remember that inviting someone to church is not you doing evangelism. Now, hopefully, your pastor makes the gospel clear with every sermon, but regardless, your evangelism starts after the service when you ask, “What did you think of the service?” Maybe it’s making a friend at church who is a seeker and inviting them over for lunch after the service. Relatives are complex, but you could email them and tell them that you’ve been thinking about them (praying for them) and would like to have a spiritual discussion. For others, it may be the bold step to start a neighborhood Bible study. University students, you have the best opportunities for evangelism as your living situation, work life (your studies), and social circles are all nearby; these things will all be divided once you graduate. So, students, take advantage of this and start an outreach Bible study. Everyone should get used to asking people, “Are you interested in spiritual things?” or “What’s your faith background?”

7. Take the plunge.

One of the greatest needs in evangelism is not endless preparation but boldness and clarity. In Ephesians 6:19, Paul requested prayer that he be bold and clear with the gospel, which should be on our hearts too. As I say often—I hate to sound like an old sneaker commercial—“Just do it.” Fix your mind on Christ and take the plunge. See where the Holy Spirit brings you.

And most of all, keep at it. Persevere!

I listened to four reports of the year-end campus ministry called “ACross” at the University of Louisville just yesterday. This group of students is deeply motivated to reach their campus for Jesus. The first three stories were terrific reports of how the gospel had been proclaimed to numerous people, many of whom came to faith. What an encouragement.

The last testimony came from a young woman named Megan. She stood up shyly and said, “Eight months ago, I didn’t even know what evangelism was.” But she had been convicted at a Christian conference to share her faith. Megan dug deep and stepped out. First, she tried to organize a Bible study with some friends, but nobody showed up. Then she started giving a ride to a fellow student in her nursing program who informed Megan she was a worshiper of Aphrodite (a true pagan!).

Though they read some in the Bible, eventually, she told Megan not to talk to her about Christianity. Megan continued to give her rides. Megan then met with another classmate, and they read through Greg Gilbert’s book What Is the Gospel? in its entirety, but in the end, the woman said that Christianity didn’t fit with her lesbian lifestyle. Megan shared the gospel with another friend who just thought Megan was weird. And that’s how her story ended. Everything Megan tried, I recommend: Bible study, book study, and one-on-one sharing of the gospel. But nobody came to faith or even seemed all that interested in the message Megan had for them. But Megan was faithful. And far from giving up, Megan spoke of how much she had learned and how grateful she was to God. She said she was looking forward to reaching out next semester on campus—Wow!

For me, that makes Megan an evangelistic hero. And I think that’s how God sees it too.


  1. I would also recommend a more profound treatment of getting started in evangelism in Matt Smethurst’s book Before You Share Your Faith.

J. Mack Stiles is the author of How Do I Get Started in Evangelism?.

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