Way of the Master Review Part III: Cold Contact Evangelism

Part I
Part II

The WOTOM methodology focuses on a scripted (or memorised and then personalised) dialogue and envisions a lifestyle of stranger/acquaintance evangelism. A lot of the training course is built around preparing you emotionally and practically for talking to strangers.

1. I like this. I believe in cold contact evangelism:

  • We won't be able to reach everyone with the gospel through friendship evangelism alone. 
  • We mustn't trust in friendship, as if God needs our personalities and social groups to convert people.
  • We must remember and rejoice in the fact that God can save someone in the most simple way.
  • Cold Contact can embolden us and prepare us to share the gospel with our friends
The WOTM gives many simple, practical steps to prepare you to share the gospel with unbelievers, rather than sending you off to do an open air preaching gig in week one;
  • "Make the effort this week to practise being friendly and greeting complete strangers each day until the next session. When you walk into the grocery store, the gas station, or work, give a friendly greeting to people you don't know (Of course be friendly with those you do know too!) If you don't normally rub shoulders with strangers go somewhere where you can" (Training Manual p. 26)
  • It encourages us to make the most of using tracts (although sometimes giving some odd suggestions where we might put them!)
  • Practise what you might say at the start of a cold contact converation by speaking out loud and watching yourself in the mirror. Do this until the sound of your own voice doesn't freak you out.
  • Bring up spiritual conversations by responding thoughtfully to the issues people raise (although sometimes their suggestions are a little cheesy, if not rude).
They rightly encourage the camaraderie that comes from doing evangelism together. They describe going with friends to your local 'fishing hole' - a shopping mall or public park where you 'fish for men'. And they give you the simple acronym, PIE: Pizza, Intercession, Evangelism.

2. There are problems with their method, however:
  • The danger with any evangelistic script, is that it becomes staged and unnatural. This is the case with any memorisable gospel presentation, but I think it is accentuated with the WOTM because it is actually a staged dialogue, not simple a monologue. We have to prompt our interlocuter to respond a certain way before the presenation can continue.
  • The approach, and the presentation is adversarial. At its extreme, like in their You Tube videos of cold contact evangelism, this is more like circus.
  • Their approach doesn't emphasise the need to ask for permission before engaging in evangelistic conversation with a stranger. Instead they encourage us to try to hook people into a conversation. I don't like this at all. It's like the street hawkers for phone companies and environmental groups. I think we have to begin a conversation with a stranger by stating clearly who we are, and asking permission to talk.
3. There is problem with the strategy of focusing on cold contact.

I had misunderstood them on this point. I thought that they wanted you to do the WOTM with your friends and family too. That you were meant to be in your face with them, like they were with strangers. It's not quite what they're saying.

Rather, they acknowledge that it's so much harder to be bold with friends and family, so advise you to spend most of your time and energy talking to strangers instead:

So, make it easier for yourself: learn to witness to strangers. Make it a way of life to share the gospel with people you don't know. This will help encourage you to be bold. (p 33)

They recognise that friendship is a different thing altogether, and actually give an excellent list of ideas of how we might relate to our friends and neighbours (if only they had put more time and energy encouraging this!):

The greatest way to love our neighbours is to share the gospel with them. But neighbours are like family - we don't want to offend them unnecessarily, because we have to live with them.... A friendly wave, a gifts for no reason, fresh-baked goods, etc, can pave the way for evangelism. Offer to mow your neighbour's lawn or help do some painting. Volunteer to pick up their mail and newspapers while they're on vacation. Compliment them on their landscaping and ask for gardening tips. Invite them over for a barbecue or dessert. Pray for an opportunity to share the gospel, and be prepared for it when it comes. (p. 112).

I have lot of criticisms of their focus on cold-contact evangelism:
  • The whole flavour of the training manual is like pepping keen young Christian guys up for the Christian equivalent of extreme sports. It's not really about doing the most effective thing for Christ's mission, it's about doing the thing that feels the most full-on and scary.
  • They seem to feel that as long as they dump the gospel on people, 'my hands are clean'. That's a far cry from the 'day after day', pleading and imploring with tears of the Christ and his apostles.
  • Especially in non-Christian culture, we need to take our time to share the whole biblical worldview. Even proper comprehension takes much longer than WOTM acknowledges.
  • Their understanding of friendship is pretty cold and clinical, like in the quote above, we are kind to our family simply because we have to go on living with them! Or again:
"Understand that you can develop a rapport and build a 'relationship' with someone in three or four minutes, if you care about the person's salvation. Once the door is open, then share the truth, knowing that the person to whom you are speaking may not have a tomorrow" (p. 33)

There is so much wrong with this quote! The quotation marks around 'relationship' are very telling. The simplistic view of what true human friendship can be is quite sad. The thing you are caring about is not the person themselves, but merely their 'salvation'. You can't help but wondering what kind of heaven it would be, filled with people who are not genuinely loving of others!

4. In correction to the WOTM, I want to stress the value of friendship evangelism. Which is really not a method of 'evangelism' at all, but rather a context is which evangelism takes place.

The normal Christian life should have built into it a 'salvific mindset', as John Dickson puts it. We should all desire to live out our faith and share it in whatever context we find ourselves. But this is not simply by creating times to share the gospel with strangers. Rather it is within the rhythm of our normal lives.

The vast majority of people in Australia become Christians through friends and acquaintances. If we are really passionate about evangelism, therefore, we ought to be very interested in investing in true, meaningful relationships with unbelievers. It is while we are getting on with being loving people, that the opportunities come up.

It is actually harder in a different way. Cold contact evangelism may be scary, but it is easy to get it done and to tick the box. But to invest in deep relationships and keep breaking out of the comfortable ruts of Christian community is harder and more demanding in the long-term. And also more powerful. Perhaps it's a little boring, at first, for a keen young Christian blokes, but that ordinariness is humbling.

But all the way through the WOTM course, they keep undermining the value of true friendship with their rhetoric. Although they claim that love and kindness and God's grace important motivators, these are almost said in passing, as disclaimers... The fires of hell and the urgency of the task are the dominant ethical motives in the WOTM's rhetorical universe.

Of course there is a time for rebuking cowardice and a failure to come out of the closet as a Christian. But that is not the only sin we Christians are capable of. We must beware of assuming that Christians are always guilty of the sin of not being evangeslitic enough, and never guilt of not being loving enough.