Contend Earnestly: Door to Door Evangelism

Monday, January 29, 2007

Door to Door Evangelism

Talk about a dead issue these days. Who goes door to door anymore? Didn't the Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses ruin this for us who believe in the true Gospel? It doesn't really work, does it? As I continue in my thoughts on God's sovereignty from my last post the pracitical aspects of His sovereignty find themselves in this post and in this area of my life. I head the evangelism "team" at my church and a couple of months ago, and again yesterday, we went door to door handing out Bibles to our community and proclaiming the truth of our Lord's death and resurrection. I find this in the New Testament in Acts 5:42

And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

Now, I am not saying that if you don't go door to door you are sinning. But, I must ask for all those who don't: Why not?

Is it because of the above mentioned questions: The Mormons ruined it, it doesn't work, etc. etc. Again, do we not believe in God's sovereignty? I don't care what people think of me as I walk up to their door. They can think I am a Mormon or a Jehovah's Witness; they can yell at me, shut their door in my face, or tell me to go away from the comforts behind a closed door. You know why? Because I believe that God ordains those who will not only be home or not, but also ordains who will or will not open their door. Not only that, but I believe that this person who takes a Bible might throw that Bible away and the garbage man could pick it up and see it and be saved by the power of the word of God. I believe that these people could keep it on their night stand, be on the brink of a major breakdown and decide to pick up that Bible to save their soul. All because they decided to not go to the store, to open the door to a stranger and to take a Bible and not throw it away. All because of the sovereignty of God. He does not lose anything! If one of these is His elect and I am the only one who will ever witness to them then God will not only direct my steps to their house on the correct day at the correct time, but He will not allow them to be away from their house, will not allow them to NOT open the door and will direct their heart to take a Bible and listen to the strange young man speaking of Christ.

Have the Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses "ruined" this for us Christians? Only if you believe that God is not completely sovereign. Because I believe that He is, I go. Yesterday we knocked on many doors, had many responses, but in the end we handed out 40 Bibles to people who may or may not have their own copy of the sacred Scriptures. Now my prayer is that God would open the eyes of their heart to understand them.

Also, if I hear one more person say that "door to door doesn't work" or that "going door to door isn't their 'gift'" I might scream.

May we all press on towards the goal, and that goal is for God to be glorified in all we do.


Daniel said...

We better find a temple to preach while we're at it. :)

Seth McBee said...

plenty of mormon temples to visit...I know James White goes every year to their annual LDS meeting in Utah...

I know we are talking of two different temples but the calling would be the same.

Jake said...

Hey Seth, hopefully you remember me, this is Jake, I was a groomsmen in Trev's wedding, you made me sleep with an OU blanket that night at your house.... Anyway, for me, I don't do door-to-door evangelism because I honestly don't see a biblical case for it and it isn't effective in our culture. Most people find it annoying. Granted, God is sovereign and can work through any method but take that thinking to its extreme and you may as well buy billboards at all the major intersections of your city and slap the Romans Road on it, because God is sovereign and ordained who will drive by, right?

The fundamental issue is being biblical, and when I look at how church planting and evangelism was done biblically it was, generally, done in a way that was respectful, sensitive to the culure in which it was being done, and highly relational. Paul doesn't blunder into Athens completely ignorant of his listeners, which you can't help but doing when you're knocking on a total stranger's door.

I'm not saying it's wrong to go door-to-door, but I don't think you can build a real strong case for it biblically. You must do what you feel convicted to do, but I think most door-to-door proselytizing comes across as annoying, no matter who it is doing it.

For what it's worth, I think the methods being used by Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll of inviting people into the church community before they convert is a far better way of approaching it in our contemporary culture.

ps if you have time, check out my blog, it's called Between the Trees, a Presbyterian friend of mine and I started it :).

Seth McBee said...

Jake...good to hear from you and yes I remember you...but I don't agree with you.

Your assertation of us doing what is "culturally relevant" and not being "annoying" is a scary proposition. And as I stated in the post the apostles went door to door preaching Christ.

Is not preaching Christ to a lost people "annoying" and upsetting to those we preach to, no matter the method? Also, when you say that Driscoll and Tim are doing what is correct by bringing people into the church community and then converting, no where is that stated in Scripture. We are told to "Go therefore" and that we will be Christ's witnesses even to the remotest parts of the earth. We are never told to bring the sinner into church to do the converting, it is actually just the opposite. The church is to edify the saints and worship God, not to inwardly convert the sinner. We are to do that outside of the church building and apart from the Lord's Day service.

I still don't see why going door to door isn't relevant and when you say it isn't effective you are just really saying, excuse me if this sounds harsh, that God's word doesn't change people but our methods do, which is completely unfounded in Scripture and goes against the teaching that preaching of God's Word alone is what convicts, not us. Remember Paul;

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.
1 Cor 3:6

or Isaiah 55:11

My word does not return void, but accomplishes what I purpose and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

You are putting way too much emphasis on our culture and not enough on the living and abiding word of Christ. God's word does not change, culture does. We must abide in the unchanging word and rely on it alone and not what we think is best in our culture.

I don't think door to door is an end all but is definitely effective because we are giving people the word of God which changes lives.


Jake said...

Good thoughts, but the first thing I would point out is that you didn't respond to what I said about Paul understanding the people he was evangelizing, which as I said before is impossible if you're just going door-to-door at random people's houses. Nor did you respond to my point about taking your thoughts on God's sovereignty to their natural end- why not buy billboards?

Nor do I think your verse from Acts is probably referring to door-to-door evangelism. The early church met in homes, so it makes more sense to me to think what it is referring to is the proclamation of the gospel in the homes where the church met and gathered. If you look at Paul's pattern on his missionary journeys he doesn't go door-to-door either. He goes to wherever public dialogue is held and engages the listeners there- be that at at temple or the Acropolis in Athens. The pattern I see biblically is that evangelism is done in a way that is respectful of the feelings of the listeners and is communicated in a way that is relevant to the culture they are in. The message is unchanging, but the language and methods are fluid.

As for my looking at culture too much, I would argue that I am being biblical by looking at the culture because that is what the biblical characters did. Paul presents the gospel many different times in Acts and never does it the exact same way- he tailors it to his audiences. Or look at Jesus, he is asked the question of how one is saved many times and I don't believe he ever gives the same answer twice. Even the fact that we have four gospels speaks to the fact that the gospel must be contextualized. If biblical evangelism was about a one-size-fits-all method then why do we have four gospels that cover the same stuff but convey the information in very different ways? I would argue it is because each gospel is written to a different culture and God was inspiring these men to communicate in a way that made sense to the culture they were writing to.

Finally, this is not said to provoke you but simply so that you know where I'm coming from: I come out of a fundamentalist background that bought into a lot of your philosophy about evangelism and the result I've seen is a church that is stagnant in terms of loving non-Christians. I've probably at times reacted too strongly to that negative approach, however what I see Keller and Driscoll doing is proving to be effective, and while pragmatism taken too far is dangerous, if our best efforts to lead others to Jesus are proving totally fruitless, shouldn't we ask ourselves if it's time to change a little?

Finally, as to the point about Keller and Driscoll bringing people into the church before they are converted- I think it would help to bring up a distinction here that many reformers see but, to my knowledge fundamentalists and dispensationalists generally do not. When Driscoll says bring people into the church before conversion, he means bring them into the visible covenant community, let them experience the beauty of the Christian community and use that as a witness to them. Is it a method found in scripture? No, but the concept of contextualization certainly is and that's all Driscoll and Keller are doing.

Thanks for the fast response,
ps I'm all for discussing this but I think we're going to probably have to agree to disagree on a lot of this because there probably isn't an issue I feel more strongly about than evangelism (I'm considering a career in missions, so it's an issue often on my heart) and one of the primary reasons I left the church I grew up in was over evangelism. I'm not saying end the discussion or there's no hope for any agreement between us, but I am saying that I'll be very surprised if either of us budges much on this. Which is by no means a bad thing, God is a God of diversity, right? :)

Keith said...

Our church is "very big" on the door-to-door method of evangelism. In fact, they currently have two different "evangelism classes" running that employ that method, (The Way of the Master and FAITH Evangelism Training (FAITH is a Lifeway, i.e. Baptist, thing.) I have attended the WOTM.

Honestly, I understand and support their desire to share the gospel, but I am a little wary of the method(s) for one particular reason. In WOTM, we were encouraged to go door-to-door and begin the "conversation" by telling the people we were taking a religious survey and asking if they would be willing to answer a few questions. Most said "yes." What bothered me was that we were NOT tallying any of the information gathered or looking at in in any kind of analytical way, so I felt like the method was somewhat deceptive. To me, it was an "end-around" to get someone started in a discussion (sometimes argument) they really didn't care to be in.

Our church does do a thing where we get the addresses of households that have recently moved into the area and we take them a "welcome bag" containing a Bible, map of the city, some information about the area and of course, our church. We simply drop the bags off if they are not home--if they are, we engage them in a very light, short conversation ("how long have you been in town? where did you move from?, etc.) Most people act very appreciative and we have actually seen several come to our chruch because of this outreach. I try to participate in that ministry as often as possible. I enjoy meeting new people. My two cents.

Seth McBee said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Seth McBee said...

Jake...thanks for stopping by and I hope to continue dialogue on this topic and many others in the future.

As far as a billboard with the Romans road on it...I have absolutely no issues with that whatsoever.

As far as Paul changing the way he presented the message to whomever he was going to...notice this. When he goes to Mars Hill it says that he preaches the resurrection even though the people he was preaching to didn't believe in people being resurrected from the dead; he knew the people and didn't change the method. I think we can all learn from Paul is that, while evangelizing away from the church he was respectful to who he was speaking; whether he shaved his head, or having Timothy circumcised but the message is always preached to a dead sinner needing a risen Saviour, the message is always the same, just said differently...again away from the church not inside the church. This is why if I were to go to a Japanese home, if they wanted me to take off my shoes to enter into their house, I would also be polite if they were to be meditating as I came in to their home, but my message of salvation only in Christ would not change whatsoever.

Jake you also say that when I go door to door I don't understand the person when I go door to door; you are compelely wrong there. We are all the same without Christ; dead in sin, enemy and haters of God needing a Saviour. Now the conversatino might be different depending on the person I am speaking; as it was with Paul when speaking to the Jews versus on Mars Hill but always brought the same direct message. I also have much respect when going door to door as I know that I am interrupting their day; so I politely hand them a free Bible and tell them it is what will teach them about the life of Christ and that He died on the cross for their sins, if they would like to continue the conversation; I continue; if not; then I don't and say thank you and go on.

As far as you saying if it works or doesn't work that should be our guide, you need to know that is pragmatism at its core. David thought it would be better to put the Ark of the Covenant on a cart because it "worked better" but it was not God's plan. If we are looking at numbers, look at Christ's ministry while on this earth compared to Mormons and Islam. Jesus went from 5000 men to 11 scattered apostles and one who betrayed Him and killed himself. while Mormons and Islam are the fastest growing religions in the world.

the "if it works, it must be right" attitude is only physical. You can only see numbers and "converts" but you cannot see the spirit or God's sovereign plan. Is ways are higher. Now should we continue to test our "methods" to make sure they glorify God; absolutely. But we should not change the ways that God has ordained because we don't feel that they work. Evangelism in the Bible was always done away from the church not inside the church. This doesn't mean that we won't preach repentance on the Lord's Day but we definitely won't surround our worship around the sinner but around the worship of our heavenly Father.

thanks again for your comments jake and look forward to many more.

Seth McBee said...

I completely agree with you. I have studied the methods of WOTM and I do like their face to face method and have yet to study their "door to door" method. If that is their way of going door to door I do not like it and agree deception to bring truth is a tough pill for me to swallow. I simply go door to door to offer a free Bible and let them know about a local Bible study in their area. If they want to continue the conversation then I will continue, if they say, "thanks" and are ready to shut the door, then I let it be. I trust in God's sovereignty to show me direction when I knock on the door. Face to face is completely different but when I interrupt someone's day at their house, I want to respect their time and their "safe" place. So, I only continue the conversation if they are willing.

I usually say something like this:

Hi, I am from Taylor Creek Church and just wanted to give you a copy of the Bible that shows you Jesus Christ's life and that He died on the cross for your sins. Also, you will find some information in there about a local Bible study for adults that is currently going through the book of (insert study).

I then let the person guide our time...

Thanks again for your comment keith and hope to hear from you again soon.

Keith said...

Just a quick clarification: the "religios survey" is something I think our church implemented as a "conversation starter." I don't reacall WOTM advocating it. My observation of Kirk Cameron/Ray Comfort via TV and videos is that they just walk up to people on the street and begin with the "do you consider yourself a good person" line.

Jake said...

Seth- Thanks for the response, I understand where you're coming from but I think we differ on some basic ideas, such as how the Bible was written. It seems like, though I could be mistaken and if I am please correct me, you think the Bible is some kind of standard, culture-free book and I'm seeing it as a book written in a specific culture in such a way to communicate unchanging truth to them. Yes, Paul talked about the resurrection- you have to if you want to proclaim a true Gospel- but he did it in a very different way from how he did w/ the Jews or even the uneducated Greeks in Lystra.

Consequently you see me as being pragmatic, but from my vantage point I'm being biblical.

I think we're having a similar conflict about whether or not you know a person when you knock on their door. You say, "I know they're a sinner in need of Grace, that's good enough." Whereas I want to exercise caution in that b/c I don't know anything about them as an individual and if I'm not careful I could end up saying something extremely hurtful or insensitive that drives them away.

The basic conflict I think is you think and evangelize like a Calvinist, I think like a Calvinist and evangelize like an Arminian. It's not that I question the doctrines of grace at all, I cherish them, they've helped me to grow to love God more, but when I read the Bible I see Paul writing like a Calvinist and evangelizing like an Arminian, so that's the approach I choose to take.

I do greatly appreciate the high emphasis you place on being as respectful and sensitive as possible. The more I think and learn about Jesus and his gospel the more I realize how important that is. I never want to develop an attitude that thinks I'm beyond the gospel and what I'm sharing is only for non-Christians. What I'm sharing with non-Christians is something I need just as badly as they do because often even if I claim to believe in Jesus, I'm relying on some other functional savior. May we never develop arrogant or superior attitude toward non-Christians, for it is only by grace that we are where we are.

I would like to get your thoughts on something though: In America today, according to Barna, 75-80% of "Church growth" is transfer growth. Most in our culture who grow up outside of the church never become involved in a church of any kind, and surely you and I both agree this is not a good thing. So what would you have us do to reach these people? If what I'm suggesting is too pragmatic, what would you have us do?

ADieL said...

Sorry, for butting in to the conversation.

Keith you asked "what would you have us do to reach these people". My suggestion is simple. Lets follow in the steps of Jesus, Paul, Peter, Stephen, Phillip, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel etc and:

1) Pray, pray, pray
2) Go out into the streets with a Bible in hand and a heart completely surrendered to the Lord, open up your mouth, and preach the gospel loud and clear until (as Paul Washer said)...

a)someone gets converted
b)you get stoned to death

like this guy is doing:


Keith said...

Just to clarify- Jake is the one that actually asked the question: "what would you have us do to reach these people?"

Since I'm already in this converstaion **deep breath** I'll add maybe one more comment, this one in regard to the video link you posted. As I watched it, I got the sense I was wathcing an auctioneer; the guy was talking so fast and trying so hard to make as many points in the span of the video, I'm not sure he was making much, if any headway. I'm not saying it can't happen--that people can be "converted", "saved", whatever term you wish to put on it, but I'm still more comfortable with a more "one-on-one" encounter as I referred to in my earlier post. I think Seth outlined a similar thought (Seth, if I misread your intent, I apologize).

God can use most any situation; I won't deny that. Using the Ten Commandments (WOTM) method most certainly may work with some; others may require a different approach. Just some rambling thoughts.

I admire your zeal for Christ.

Jake said...

As Keith said, I admire the zeal too, but I think you're practicing theological reductionism to say Jesus and Paul were simply open-air preachers. Paul didn't just stand up wherever he wanted and then address people and confront them individually with their sin. And Jesus never did anything of the sort except when addressing self-righteous religious hypocrites who went around condemning everyone.

When you just stand in an open-air environment and yell at people you might think you're loving them but it doesn't look like it. It looks like you're just trying to convert them to a religion. Like, as one pastor has put it, "They're notches in some kind of spiritual belt."

Our purpose here is simple, it's to glorify God by enjoying Him forever, we do that by living the life he demands that we live and that life is characterized by an obvious love and respect for people.

I'm really not into the whole endless argument thing and I don't want this to become what defines our conversations here. Rather than endless disputing, let us all dwell on the breath-taking beauty of the supremacy of Christ and the glorious gospel of grace that allows all of us, though none of us are deserving, to be reconciled to God and join him in his dream to redeem all of creation.

Seth McBee said...

I agree with you, I like the face to face encounter in evangelism. I like the WOTM format but it can turn into a hateful experience if you are not careful and sometimes Ray Comfort comes off that way, even though it seems that isn't his intent. But, overall I like his approach. I also know that we must evangelize with gentleness like Jesus did with the woman at the well, but He of course was gentle yet brought to her the truth of her sin and the need for a Saviour.

I have been thinking of open air preaching, and I don't know quite what I think of it yet, but would not condemn anyone for doing it, if they did it in a loving way. Again, Ray Comfort has come off angry when he does it...but it could just be zeal, but that didn't come off too loving, in my humble opinion.

ADieL said...

Dear brother,

With much love and respect in our Lord, I would like to respond to a couple of things you said.

Jake said: I think you're practicing theological reductionism to say Jesus and Paul were simply open-air preachers.

Hey! I never said that Jesus was "simply" an open-air preacher! Jesus is the great "I AM", the Giver of life, God Almighty, the Holy One of Israel, the Alpha and Omega. For that reason, I believe that a lot can be said about the fact that God in the flesh in all His majesty, infinite wisdom, and glory saw it fit to preach the gospel in the open air. He was not against the bold proclamation of the gospel in the open air, He was for it. I was also pointing out that Peter, as moved by the Holy Spirit, also preached out in the open to the multitudes. As well as Paul the apostle, and many others in the Bible. This should help us answer the question: Is preaching in the open air biblical? It most definitely is.

Jake said: Paul didn't just stand up wherever he wanted and then address people and confront them individually with their sin.

Lets see if that is true. Someone on this blog mentioned Acts 17 when Paul preached on Mars Hill. Lets take a look at verse 17 of that same chapter:

17 Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there.

Where does it say that Paul preached in addition to the synanogues? The marketplace... daily. (Like the guy on the video actually. Go figure.) Who did he preach to in the marketplace daily? To those who happened to be there. The sermon on Mars Hill gives us a glimpse of his message. In it we see that Paul confronted them about their specific sin: idolatry. They were idol worshippers. And then he did the unthinkable, he tried to convert them, he told them that "God commands all men everywhere to repent." Why? "Because He has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness." So far we see three things that Paul preached about in his sermon: 1) their specific sin 2) Gods command to repent 3) Gods judgment. And finally he shared with them about Jesus Christ, the crucified, buried, and risen Lord. My friend, Paul shared with them the whole counsel of God! Surely this came accross as non-loving to some, ridiculous to others (the Scripture says they mocked), but it also says that some joined him and believed! I believe that we can learn alot from Paul's example.

Jake said: When you just stand in an open-air environment and yell at people you might think you're loving them but it doesn't look like it.

The truth is that when a preacher boldly proclaims the gospel in the open air... even if it doesnt look "loving" to God-hating hellbound sinners... the truth is that it is still loving, good, and biblical nonetheless. Of course certain biblical guidelines should be obeyed and followed such as 2 Timothy 2:24-26 as well as many others. There is a fine line between antagonistic spiteful holier than thou hell-fire preaching and loving compassionate bold proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I believe that the preacher in the video did a good job. He wasnt accusing "you are all adulterers!" but instead he was explaining that "IF you have lusted after someone, Jesus said its the same as adultery! Which one of us has never done that?" He wasnt standing up there acting "holier than thou" or yelling wildly at them that they were going to burn in hell but he was rather pleading and reasoning with them about the same things as Paul in Mars Hill: sin, righteousness, judgment, repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Here is another example of the same preacher.

I say this with much love for you brother. I am in no way to trying to argue or anythign like that. Just sharing with you that preaching in the open air is biblical and good! It reaches people! It plants seeds and brings the gospel to people who might never even step food in a church.

God bless you.

Jake said...

Seth- I greatly appreciate your responses and I'll definitely be thinking about them for awhile. I admire your zeal and desire that others come to rejoice in the gospel of grace. I hope that my tone throughout hasn't been disrespectful or argumentative, if it has, I'm sorry for that. Sorry if this is a weak response on my part, this has just been a really long, difficult week and that perhaps is also part of the reason for the nature of my prior response.

Ultimately, we are both responsible to do what we feel God is leading us to do, and if that is street preaching for you, then I pray that God bless it and work through it, as he certainly can.

thanks for the discussion,

Seth McBee said...

I do enjoy the discussion, but I think you thought I typed in last comment when that was Adiel and not myself.

I hope we can continue to sharpen one another in our aspirations to more godly in both theology and practice.

ADieL said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ADieL said...


I greatly appreciate the discussion as well. Your tone has not offended me at all. I hope mine hasnt come across as argumentative either. God bless you brother!


roger said...

hello. i came across this thread and read it with great interest. i was curious if your position on this issue has developed and/or changed at all since this discussion...



Seth McBee said...


Yes I have developed in my thinking on this subject and others related to it in the comment thread.

Let me know of any questions/concerns you might have.



roger said...

hey seth,

i was just curious if you are still an advocate of door-to-door evangelism? it has certainly fallen out of favor in our current evangelical culture, which is why i followed this thread with such interest. some excellent points were made on both sides of the issue...



roger said...

hey seth,

i was just curious if you are still an advocate of door-to-door evangelism? it has certainly fallen out of favor in our current evangelical culture, which is why i followed this thread with such interest. some excellent points were made on both sides of the issue...



Seth McBee said...

I wouldn't say that I am an advocate. I don't see anything wrong with it, but I do feel like there are better ways to go about evangelism.

I have softened on this issue quite a bit since this post.

roger said...

hey seth,

right on. i appreciate your candor. i find myself agreeing with you as well. i am curious what has happened in the past year to soften your viewpoint. i say all this because i have, shall we say, some very zealous friends that hit the streets every weekend. they often get doors slammed in their faces, but i find that's because of their tactics, not their message. (telling someone 'you are living in sin' when they are christian but don't attend a church, tends to, you know, offend some folks. i just can't picture paul doing that. but that's just me. or is it?)

anyway, i realize our current postmodern culture (or really our post-postmodern culture) is very private yet at the same time desperate for community. (the anonymity of 'world of warcraft' yet the obsessive devotion of its players to their in-game guilds is just one proof of that.) that sets up quite the bundle of contradictions, eh? the trends are interesting to watch. one local church here in kansas city, long noted for its huge high school gatherings, now only has small group meetings, per the request of the students themselves because they wanted deeper connections with more personalized activities. interesting. i find it very compelling that the church had to adapt to meet the shifting cultural needs...


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