Many Christians feel ambivalence about evangelism. On the one hand, Jesus’ good news has captured their hearts, so they want to share it. On the other hand, they are unsure how to do so.
This uncertainty often arises because they have a mental picture of how to share their faith. Perhaps their church trained them in a specific evangelistic method, such as Evangelism Explosion or The Four Spiritual Laws. Such methods can be helpful and have resulted in people coming to faith. Unfortunately, method-based conversations can also feel forced and inauthentic.
Mark Mittelberg discovered this the hard way several decades ago when he and his wife Heidi traveled to England. Partnering with a local ministry, they knocked on doors, hoping to strike up scripted spiritual conversations. That didn’t go well. On hearing their American accents, one lady even said, “Why don’t you go home and pester people in your own country?”
The solution to forced, inauthentic conversations is natural, authentic ones. The central insight of Contagious Faith is that there are “a variety of natural approaches we can take to reach the people around us — things we can say and do that fit our own God-given personalities.” Mittelberg goes on to identify five “contagious faith styles” in particular.
The first is “Friendship-Building.” It focuses on “extending hospitality to others.” Mittelberg says that rather than being “cause-driven or issue-oriented,” friendship builders are “relationship-oriented, with their natural focus being on individuals and their needs.”
“Selfless-Serving” is the second style. Selfless servers are “naturally attuned to the needs of the people around them, and they find delight in meeting those needs.” This style overlaps with the first in that both addresses peoples’ needs, but the emphasis is different. The first style focuses on the person, while the second emphasizes the need.
Have you ever met someone who has a compelling testimony of salvation or healing? According to Mittleberg, they illustrate a third evangelistic style: “Story-Sharing.” He writes that story tellers are “skilled (or can become skilled) at articulating the details of their experiences with God and his grace.”
“Reason-Giving” is the fourth style. This is the style I resonate with, and it is Mittelberg’s own, too. “Some of just have to know!” he writes. “And when we interact with others, we’re generally more concerned about what they think and why they think it, than about how they feel about things.”
The final style is “Truth-Telling.” Mittelberg describes truth tellers as “bold, confident, and direct. They’re effective at getting to the point and bringing truth to bear in a variety of situations.” My mind raced to fire-and-brimstone street preachers when I read this, but they aren’t who Mittelberg has in mind. Instead, truth tellers are people who tell you the right thing — even the hard thing — at the moment you most need to hear it.
The danger in describing personality-based evangelistic styles is that people may excuse themselves from sharing their faith in situations that don’t jibe well with their personality. For example, reason givers might excuse themselves from selfless service because the person’s need doesn’t center on ideas. Or friendship builders might shy away from truth telling because it’s relationally uncomfortable.
Mittelberg recognizes this danger and includes a section on “Key Skills for Every Christian” at the end of each chapter. Reason givers need to serve selflessly, and vice versa. Friendship builders need to tell hard truths, and vice versa. Everyone needs to be prepared to share their story.
Still, it is encouraging to know that God made your personality, so He can use you as you are to share the gospel. Evangelism doesn’t have to be forced or inauthentic. It can come naturally to you.
I recommend Contagious Faith to pastors and church members alike. I read the book alone, but it might be more useful to read the book as a Sunday school class, small group, or book club. Mittelberg describes evangelism as a “team activity,” after all. As such, “we can each play a unique role (or several roles) in the divine effort God is directing to bring people into his family.”
However we do it, then, let’s share the good news!
Mark Mittelberg, Contagious Faith: Discover Your Natural Style for Sharing Jesus with Others (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Reflective, 2021).
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P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com by permission.