What You Need to Understand about Evangelism before You Do Evangelism

What Is Evangelism?

I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:20–21)

What comes to mind when you hear the word evangelist? What about evangelism? Before I became a Christian, those words sounded creepy and pushy to me. “Evangelistic zeal” seemed a standard applied to anybody who believed something too much—a wild-eyed and preachy fanatic.

After becoming a believer, not only did Christ become real to me, the spiritual world did too. It dawned on me that much was at stake for a person’s soul. So I scrapped negative thoughts of evangelism—but regrettably, I replaced them with an equal amount of religious error.

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.

For instance, I thought evangelistic success meant a person got converted. But that’s not true. Faithful evangelism can occur even if nobody positively responds to the gospel. And besides, it’s also a discouraging definition since most evangelistic appeals aren’t met with positive responses.

Later on, I saw evangelism as an attempt to win arguments for God. But after winning some of these battles, I recognized I was losing the war. Besides offending people with my smug attitude, my apologetic arguments only seemed to move people away from Jesus not toward him.

Next, I attempted evangelism by telling stories about my personal encounter with Jesus— I had a dramatic and scintillating testimony. Still, people seemed more entertained than convicted of sin.

So after a time—okay, so, after a few years— I looked more carefully at the Bible.1 Here’s a definition I gleaned that has served me for years: evangelism is teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.

I’m sorry it’s so simple; I wish it sounded complex and sophisticated for credibility’s sake, but that’s it—four essential words: teach, gospel, aim, persuade. Let’s look at these four words.


There are many ways to teach the gospel. It can be taught in a one-on-one Bible study over coffee or a full-fledged sermon on Sunday morning.

There are many things to teach about the gospel. We teach to sweep away obstacles, answer questions, or correct misconceptions. But most of all, we teach to help people see the gospel’s truth as the core message of the Christian faith.


We don’t just teach for teaching’s sake; we teach with an aim—we desire for something to happen. An aim guards us against seeing evangelism as mere information transfer, a kind of gospel data dump on somebody.

Aim steers us toward the bigger picture. Since much is at stake, we put aside our egos and any hint of dismissiveness—those things that will drive people away—and focus our evangelism on critical components for salvation rather than spinning through needless rabbit trails of theological trivia.

After all, we have the hope that someone might move from darkness to light. So we put ourselves aside for our aim, which is to persuade.

We teach to sweep away obstacles, answer questions, or correct misconceptions. But most of all, we teach to help people see the gospel’s truth as the core message of the Christian faith.


The word persuade comes from Paul’s statement about evangelism in 2 Corinthians 5:11: “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.”

First, let me state what persuasion is not. It is not manipulation or coercion as some think. The apostle Paul says, “We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways” (2 Cor. 4:2). In the same passage where Paul renounces disgraceful evangelism, he says he refuses to practice cunning or tamper with God’s word. In fact, Paul says when we give an open statement of the truth, our words commend us to God and people.

Persuasion helps us see that how we speak is almost as important as what we say. After all, a heated argument rarely persuades anyone. Persuasion means speaking graciously. As Paul says, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:5–6).


Now that we’ve got a working definition of evangelism, we need a working definition of the gospel—the very thing we teach and aim to persuade others about. Here it is: the gospel is the message of what God achieved in Christ that leads us to salvation.

When the Bible uses the word gospel in the New Testament, it refers to a message about Christ the King who saves his people from their sins. So if we want to get started in evangelism, we need to start with a clear understanding of the gospel.

What Are the Essential Parts of the Gospel Message?

I find it helpful to think of the gospel as a message that answers four questions: (1) Who is God? (2) Who are we before God? (3) Who is Christ (and what has he done)? (4) And how do we respond to this message?

Of course, massive libraries are filled with answers and explanations to these four questions. But here is the CliffNotes summary:

  • God: He is a loving Father, he is our Creator, and he is holy, which means that he is wholly perfect and without sin.
  • Us: We are made in God’s image. That is why each person is valuable. At the same time, we are fallen and sinful. The Bible sees those who do not know God as rebels and enemies of God. Though God made us to be with him, our sin separates us from him.
  • Christ: He is the God-man, fully God and fully man. He lived a perfect life such that he could become the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Jesus, in concert with the Father, agreed that he would become the payment for our sin. His death on the cross satisfied God’s justice against our sin and liberated us from the power of sin. He ransomed us from bondage to sin and this ransom is a free gift (Mark 10:45). This means that God will not hold our sin against us. It means that treasonous rebels can become his children. Jesus rose from the dead, proving his words and life true. He established the kingdom of God on earth and promises to return and make all things new.
  • Response: We must respond in faith by turning from sin and rebellion and trusting Jesus. Putting our trust in Jesus means believing he is who he said he is and that his way, not ours, is right. Let me put it in the negative: trusting in Jesus means repenting of our disbelief in Jesus. That’s how we respond to the good news of what Jesus accomplished for us, and we find salvation.

Even though you could spend a lifetime studying each of these four elements of the gospel, these answers give us a baseline understanding of the good news. All followers of Jesus should be able to communicate in a minute or two these four gospel points.

Every Christian should make it his aim to be a student of the gospel. The apostle Paul’s regular method of evangelism was to set out facts of the gospel, answer questions, and overcome obstacles. Paul taught the gospel. To do the same, we need to know the gospel message inside and out.


  1. I also had some help from J. I. Packer’s excellent, short book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Westmont, IL: InterVarsity, 2012).

This article is adapted from How Do I Get Started in Evangelism? by J. Mack Stiles.

Related Articles

Missionaries Come from People Like You

John Piper

God is closing in on some of you. He is like the “Hound of Heaven” who means to make you far happier in some dangerous and dirty work. Missionaries and ministers of mercy don’t come from nowhere.

Related Resources

Crossway is a not-for-profit Christian ministry that exists solely for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel through publishing gospel-centered, Bible-centered content. Learn more or donate today at crossway.org/about.