Three Modes of Evangelism for Youth Ministry 

I became a Christian through personal evangelism. While I was a student athlete at Kansas State University, a teammate of mine began to pursue me and ask me questions about my faith. He began to hand me books and directed me to a local campus minister who took the time and intentionality to meet up with me on a regular basis to share the gospel with me. I had no clue at first what he was saying, but as I persisted in intense and direct searching, he persisted in faithfully loving me, inviting me into his home, and being there as I accepted Jesus. 

I believe in evangelism because without it, I would still be in the kingdom of darkness. As I grew in my faith, evangelism was naturally a big part of what I wanted to do because of the life-altering influence it had on me. I stepped out in faith, trusting the Holy Spirit to work, and began to share Jesus on campus. To my surprise, people were not the antagonistic, angry skeptics I thought them to be. Instead, they were largely apathetic to faith and would often reply, “I’m happy that’s true for you.” 

Even more, the fear of talking publicly about my faith dissipated as I realized that I was just talking to people. My old mentor told me the two most important rules for evangelism: 1) share the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, leaving the results up to God and 2) don’t be weird. I became more comfortable with the competence I gained with tools and experience. More than anything though, I had some unbelievable conversations with people who opened their lives to me, a total stranger, because I just took the time to ask. 

As we enter into the period of  “The Great Dechurching” and the rise of the “nones,” I believe evangelism is going to be the most important skill in which a youth minister can cultivate and train their students. 

Defining Evangelism

There is an oft-misquoted line by Saint Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” This pithy statement is not only misquoted; it is not true to what Scripture teaches. The Bible is very clear that the message of the gospel is one that needs verbal proclamation: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching” (Rom. 10:14)? 

So while evangelism is not less than works of love and kindness, it is absolutely more. The Bible speaks clearly that a simple way to understand evangelism is with the definition: “the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed.” Still, we need to understand the ethos, or a heart, for how to engage evangelism.

The Heart Posture

The engine behind faithful evangelism is captured in the title of Tim Muehlhoff and Richard Langer‘s book Winsome Persuasion. To be winsome is to engage in culture acknowledging common grace God extends to each person in his world. Instead of first condemning people for their non-Christian beliefs and lifestyles, Christians should seek common ground and listen before they judge. In an incredibly hostile and fractured world, Christians should seek to participate in the ministry of reconciliation. Winsomeness should permeate all of our evangelism in how we think, speak, and act toward non-believers.

When people think of doing evangelism, they usually have one thing in mind: walking up to strangers and talking at them about Jesus for an hour…or more. While this is a faithful model and one which saw literally millions come to Christ through in the 1900s, it is not the only way. If you recognize the biblical calling to help the students in your youth group grow in evangelism, consider teaching them about the three different modes of evangelism in which they can faithfully engage.

Initiative Evangelism

Initiative evangelism represents the typical model that comes to mind in regard to evangelism. It is usually done in a public space with people with whom you have no prior relationship. Christians are unfortunately characterized in popular media as people who have a lot to say to others yet have no ability to listen to other perspectives. This is not only sad but often true. We can help our students winsomely engage through this model of evangelism.

One of the most natural times to do initiative evangelism is as a part of a winter retreat you are hosting in a city or during a mission trip. Students are already in the head space of doing something new. Do not make this mandatory, but encourage everyone to participate. In pairs, approach someone in public and share with them who you are, identifying your ministry or church. Avoid any tactics in which you ask someone to talk about a topic unrelated to faith and then midway through play a “gotcha” card, asking them about Jesus. This turns people away from the message we are proclaiming. Remind your students to always be clear about who you are and why you are talking to them. 

Francis Schaeffer said, “’If I have only an hour with someone, I will spend the first fifty-five minutes asking questions and finding out what is troubling their heart and mind, and then in the last five minutes I will share something of the truth.” This is the approach we should encourage our students to take. Spend significantly more time getting teenagers to ask questions than talking at someone. Only after they have listened to the other person should they say, “would you like the hear what a Christian thinks about this?” Earn the right to be heard by a non-believer. If the person says no, students can thank them for their time and move on. By engaging with kindness and respect, they have still planted seeds for which God will hopefully one day cause growth (1 Cor. 3:6-7).

Once everyone has come back together, debrief as a group the ways that the students saw God show up through their conversations. It is always beautiful to hear just how formative talking with strangers can be. 

Ministry-Mode Evangelism

In the next model, we create a space where non-Christians can come to hear the gospel or to engage with some common objections to Christianity. Alpha Course and Christianity Explored are two organizations that operate in this mode. The basic model is to meet in a non-threatening environment, offer food, listen to a talk together, and then engage in a conversation for the majority of the time, putting good listening skills into practice. 

If you are considering using ministry-mode evangelism in your youth ministry, give it an eight-week runway. Post about it on social media, make flyers, and tell parents. The most powerful tool is a personal invitation. Challenge your students to invite their non-Christians friends to this event and make sure they know exactly what is happening so they are honest with those they invite.  

Trained apologetic speakers like Rebecca McLaughlin and Gavin Ortlund are seasoned at this approach. Hosting an event with a guest presenter or panel could be a fun idea to encourage gospel ministry within your city. Reach out to other youth ministers and talk about co-hosting an event for students. Explain to your students that they will have an opportunity to ask their own questions, and that inviting someone to the event is a way to share Christ. Even though a student may not be the one directly sharing the gospel with a friend, the student’s relationship with that person paves the way to see who Jesus is.

Life-On-Life Evangelism

This last kind of evangelism might happen at your student’s volleyball game as you’re talking to another high schooler with whom you’ve been building a friendship. As you tell him about your role at your church, you can ask, “what is your spiritual background?” or “did your parents ever take you to church growing up?” Whereas initiative evangelism is predicated on no prior relationship with a person, life-on-life evangelism involves those who are already in your life naturally. Family, coworkers, friends, classmates, etc. This mode of evangelism is exemplified in the CoJourners Field Guide by Cru.

A classic line I heard in campus ministry was, “the gospel moves at the speed of relationships.” This is a very helpful framework for taking the long-game with people in our lives. Sam Chan has an amazing concept in his book Evangelism in a Skeptical World: The faithful work of evangelism for most of your life won’t look like handing out gospel tracts, but naturally sharing your faith with people around you. Cultivating the ability to share Jesus with our friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers is the vital work a youth minister not only needs to cultivate for themselves, but also to train their students in for the future. 

No One Right Way

There is no one “right” way of doing evangelism. A plethora of models and modes can effectively bring someone to saving faith. I came to faith through a friend’s handing me The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel and Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Something that required no training or experience, just a heart to want to share the gospel with me. Sharing our faith is not a one-time event or special ministry opportunity for overly zealous students, it is a posture one adopts in life. 

As the youth worker, building a culture of evangelism starts with you. The easiest way to see your students grow in evangelism is to think through your youth ministry intentionally. Would a non-Christian feel welcome? What barriers to the gospel need to be broken down?

With Us Always 

Maybe you are starting to feel shame that you are not doing enough. Please hear this: “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:19–20).

The promise of the Great Commission is that Jesus will be with you always (Matt. 28:18-10). Amazingly, it is not you or me who is working to draw people to God. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). As you evangelize teenagers around you and teach students to do the same, you will notice the amazing fruit of sharing Jesus with the lost.

Interested in learning more about gospel-centered youth ministry? We hope you’ll consider applying for our youth ministry mentorship cohort, beginning in August 2024.

Mitchell Dixon

Mitchell Dixon is the NextGen Director at Trinity Church Kirkwood in Kirkwood, Missouri. He is also a student at Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv). He and his wife, Megan, served with Cru for five years in the midwest before stepping into youth ministry. He is also privileged to be the father to two amazing children. Mitchell has a passion for evangelism, discipleship, and mission, and he loves equipping others for the same.

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