Lessons from Spain: Evangelism

Sagrada FamiliaI want to do a few posts, now that I am getting back to some degree of health, about what I learned by spending a week in Spain as it applies to ministry in the US. Western Europe is post-Christian, maybe better stated post-christendom. People do not view the church as important or necessary, and because their lives are generally taken care of by the government, they have no real pressing needs. One of the people we hung out with made the comment, “Spaniards work to live. Americans live to work.” The desire for more isn’t as strong as in the US. They actually answer the question, how much is enough?

Despite the fact that cities spend millions of dollars on building and maintaining churches, they are mainly empty on the weekends. This is becoming the norm in America. The missionaries in Western Europe spend more time plowing the ground than reaping. The ground is hard from centuries not spent preparing the soil and planting the seed evangelistically. They have difficult work. They told of how confrontational evangelism, ie. the Way of the Master, or CWT, or EE or the 4 Spiritual Laws, would not work in Western Europe. People will not engage you in those conversations. Guilt doesn’t work either. As a side note, I find it interesting that Jesus never used this type of evangelism. The missionaries I talked with noted that as well.

The church harvesting and planting movements of the East do not happen in Western Europe. And it’s hard for the missionaries to come home to the traditional churches and share that, because people don’t understand why they can’t be starting 10,000 churches a month like those missionaries in Asia.

What I was told worked was relationships. Long-term relationships, being there when crisis hits, just being a friend, was the most effective method of evangelism for these missionaries. Now hop a plane across the pond…

In Delaware, the same things are evident. People are busy and despite the many needs they do have, don’t really recognize them. We are not seeing large numbers of people coming to Christ. It is more like a Northeast culture than a Mid-Atlantic culture. If you are an outsider, it takes a long time to get integrated into the community. Confrontational, guilt-oriented evangelism does not work here either. The way that I have been able to express the Gospel in a way that people hear it is through sustained relationships and through blessing other people. What I see happening in Europe I see already in parts of the US. And in 10-15 years, I have to believe it will be widespread throughout the country.

This will mean reframing our evangelistic conversations. It will me engaging the culture relationally through already established groups and organizations. It will mean that we may have to deconstruct our understanding of how to understand and express the gospel in a world that will be at best ambivalent to it. This means we will have to see people as people, not as numbers or projects. It will also mean we have to redefine success.

This will be difficult for the SBC, and for many of its churches. We might consider preparing our people for it now.

PS…to my new friends in Western Europe, please let me know if I get any of this wrong!‚  I would hate to have misunderstood my experience…

David has been a systems thinker most of his life. He has started three businesses as well as designed and developed systems and processes in existing organizations. He has a Doctorate in Leadership and has also done additional post-graduate work in communications.

He has also pastored 3 churches and loves to think about, write about and podcast about scripture, theology, and leadership.

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  • David,

    Though I didn’t get the chance to accompany you for the gathering in Barcelona, I do appreciate your efforts to reflect on the challenges we face as missionaries in Western Europe. The questions you reference here very accurately reflect many of the issues with which I wrestle almost continually. In light of this, I also struggle with Scriptural admonitions regarding wise stewardship of resources, and “shaking the dust off of your feet.” Still, somehow, though, I believe that God has a purpose for me in Spain. And, no doubt, for others throughout Spain and Western Europe, as well. But, this doesn’t exempt us from asking the hard questions. In regard to all of this, it is encouraging to see someone else struggling along with us, and trying to truly support us in the midst of this struggle. Thanks.

  • David Rogers,

    It is interesting that I ask some of the same questions about “shaking the dust off of your feet” here in my American context. A year or so ago I heard Len Sweet (or Ed Stetzer, I don’t remember which) say that less than 2% of the churches in America that are growing are doing so from true conversion growth rather than transfer growth. The soil is hard here as well and the church is falling increasingly behind. I’ve had people ask me why I stay in a rather traditional church and my reply has always been, “Because I don’t believe God has given up on her.” I don’t believe God has given up on Europe either and I appreciate those of you who are committed to seeing his work advanced there despite the difficulties.

  • David,
    Thanks for sharing from your perspective on evangelism. I’m so glad you got to see a little bit if what life is like here, and that God has shown you the implications of that in your own life and ministry.

    Unfortunately, many of the good people who support us believe that our methodology should look like theirs. Thanks for speaking into that.

  • Hello,

    I’m not familiar with all of the evangelism methods you spoke about, but I am familiar with Way of the Master. It is called that for a reason. It is the way Jesus witnessed. Ray Comfort didn’t just make it up, and give it a ridiculously presumptuous name. It really is what Jesus did.

    We would be wise if we did what Jesus did rather than rely on the wisdom of men in making up new evangelism systems.

    Jesus used the law in Matt 5:17-30, 15:1-20, Luke 18:18-23, John 4:16-18, Mark 12:28-34. The purpose of the law is to prepare people for the Gospel, which is exactly what Europe (and the rest of the world) needs. It stops people from justifying themselves, leaves them guilty before God (Romans 3:19-20), shows the exceeding sinfulness of sin (Romans 7:13), and is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). What more can anyone ask for?


  • Bill,

    Thanks for dropping by. Unfortunately, since you are not in Europe, you don’t have a clue as to what kind of evangelism method is best to use in Europe. In addition, let me note a couple of things:

    1. Jesus never attempted to make people feel guilty and guilt them into the kingdom (he rebuked the pharisees and religious people, but never confronted the normal person that way).

    2. Jesus only once associated salvation and heaven – see the rich young ruler.

    3. Jesus never associated salvation with hell when sharing with people.

    You see, when you frame the conversation that salvation is a get a out of hell free card, or you got your insurance in heaven card, you leave out the implications of present living. Salvation DOES get us into heaven and it DOES keep us out of hell but it DOES also have great implications about our present life.

    Jesus was about restoration – he is in the process of restoring people back to the state of the garden – no we will never get there on this side of heaven, but he wants us in a place where we can share, and be intimate with the father, where our life is in constant presence with him and our physical and spiritual wholeness is accomplished. For today and tomorrow.

    Thanks for playing Bill…

  • Hello,

    Are Europeans really so different that the way the Bible teaches us to evangelize doesn’t work? Are you sure you have a better way than Jesus? Keep in mind that there is nothing new under the sun.

    1. I have to disagree. Jesus let the woman at the well know that He knew she was an adulteress. While He was open air preaching during the Sermon on the Mount, He used the law and raised the bar so high that it should have made everyone feel guilty. The job of the Holy Spirit is to convict the world of guilt in regard to sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). I want to be on the same page as the Holy Spirit in my evangelism.

    2. Take a look at Matt. 5:20, John 3:3. God’s kindness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). The kindest act in human history was for the forgiveness of sins. We need to preach the Gospel in a way that makes that kindness make sense.

    3. Jesus spoke more about hell than anyone else in the Bible. If we don’t speak about hell and God’s wrath, then His kindness doesn’t make any sense.

    Godly sorrow leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10-11). This is sorrow from realizing that you’ve sinned against an infinitely holy God and realizing you deserve hell. I never said salvation is a get out of hell card, nor does Way of the Master. If someone repents because they’re scared of hell, they’re probably a false convert. They should repent because God is so kind to save them.

    I don’t leave these comments to be a jerk. I’m just pointing out what Jesus did in His evangelism. I really think that His method, and the method they all used in the Bible is the most biblical way of doing it. If you want to do it another way, then you should go for it. I’m grateful that you’re doing something, and you care about the lost. I didn’t mean to criticize, and I’m sorry if it came off like that. I was trying to be helpful.


  • Bill,
    Thanks for pointing out that “The way of the Master” is the way Jesus did it. And with that claim it’s impossible to rebuttle “Jesus did it this way.” Yeah I forget that when Jesus confronted people he offered them a $20 to listen. Then he spoke at them using carefully planned out statements. Then at the end he sent them home to make their own decision…away from the church…with no ties to other believers.

    Jesus gave us a commission to go make disciples, not converts…discipleship happens through relationships not slick, pre-planned, Amway like sales pitches.

    And by the way…the world is not the same all over. One technique for sharing is good for the West but not for Asia. For example in the west we share about sin and the consequences. In my local North African culture they don’t care about sin and the law, they care about shame and honor. So sharing 4 spiritual laws here is a waste of time. We need to help people realize that their lives are bringing dishonor and shame to them, their families and God and only through Jesus can this be reconciled. So please be careful when you assume to know whats best for the rest of the world

  • Camel Rider,

    You make some interesting points, and it sounds like we agree on several things.

    If you want to explain biblical concepts in a way that people understand, that’s great. I don’t see much difference between saying someone has sinned against God, or has dishonored God. It actually sounds like you use the Way of the Master if you’re discussing how people have dishonored God. If someone ever said they’ve never dishonored God, you might naturally name sins like lying, stealing, lust, blasphemy, etc. I agree wholeheartedly with what you explain about dishonoring God, and how only through Jesus this can be reconciled.

    I believe you when you say the 4 Spiritual Laws don’t work in Africa. I doubt that they’re good for anything but making false converts anywhere in the world. But, I’m not sure what you mean when you make a distinction between converts and disciples. Do you think there are people who are born again, but aren’t disciples? I think a true convert is a disciple.

    No one claimed that offering money or prizes for trivia questions is what Jesus did. The Way of the Master is “law to the proud, grace to the humble.” When someone adds their own ideas to this, or does things differently from someone else, this seems to be something you espouse, except for Ray Comfort. When he adds his thing to attract a crowd, you don’t like it. That’s fine; no one said you have to do that. I would hope that you would extend the same grace to him as you would want him to extend to you.

    I would have to disagree that sending people home to make a decision isn’t what Jesus and the disciples did. Jesus told people to repent (Mark 1:15), not repeat the sinner’s prayer after Him. Peter open air preached (Acts 2). Paul open air preached (Acts 17). When Peter went and preached to Cornelius and his family (Acts 10), he didn’t give an invitation, or try to persuade them. He just preached the Gospel, and God saved them while he was still speaking. It’s the Gospel that saves (Romans 1:16), not our coolness or our friendship.

    Sorry I couldn’t be more brief.



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