In the late eighties, churches started thinking about a gentler, kinder, less aggressive style of evangelism. A number of years of corporate church growth models had filled our mouths with the distaste for church as a capitalistic endeavor. We were tired of sales pitch Christianity, and marketing techniques for spirituality. Well, some of us were, but the tide had not yet shifted and the momentum of corporatizing God was still in full tilt.
In the middle of this juggernaut of evangelical fervor, coinciding with the peak years of the political activism of the Religious Right and the rise of a post-millennial victorious conquering theology a triumphalism of Christianity appeared. We seemed to trend with hip-hop culture, trash talking NBA superstars and the embryonic stages of reality TV. Christianity never looked as cool as any of the other trends, and like the young David preparing for Goliath, the overcompensating fashion of Saul’s armor did not fit us well. We were not built for posturing and confident declarations of final victory against our enemies. Culture expected something better from us. Culture inherently knew we were supposed to be redemptive.
Friendship Evangelism appeared like a breath of fresh air to many Christians struggling with the tension of an Evangelical sales force, but years down the line these words, which meant something to us then now ring in our ears like a softer version of the old fashioned sales pitch.
I have heard the voice of the skeptic, the Pagan, and those who are spiritual without affiliation bemoan the syrupy friendliness of Christians who seem to want something from them. The friendship comes with the strings of identification with the God we serve. If time delays too long in a conversion, they wonder, ‘will these friends dump me for the greener grass of more interested seeking souls?’
If you have felt that tension, and have had your heart squeezed like fruit in the market, only to be left bruised – I am really sorry.
I dropped the term Friendship Evangelism years ago. It is too difficult to place a well-received word, next to a word our culture despises. It does not create a better overall term. I wish “evangelism,” which should be connected to the idea of “good news”, could be saved from the junkyard of semantics, but I am afraid we are many years from that possibility.
For now I offer friendship to everyone I can. No strings attached. No evangelism necessary. That is my simple human duty.
For the Christians who need a Bible verse to hang on this thought, here you go:
“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” No strings attached.