Many people in evangelical churches are embarrassed by open air preaching and tract evangelism. Often, it is for good reason. Here are several reasons that I know of.
- Deliberate obnoxiousness in open air evangelism: In my college days, there was an open air evangelist that would visit our campus on regular intervals. His way of getting attention was to call passersby with insulting names. Frequently the people he would pick out and insult from a distance would be fellow believers. Many believers felt that his deliberate obnoxiousness was doing more harm than good. I’ve also seen this same approach in some downtown business districts by others as well. It’s possible, through the love of Christ, to deal with unbelievers on the scriptural facts of sin and eternal judgment without using cutting, reckless and obnoxious words.
- “Gotcha” Tracts: These tract purport on the outside to be something they are not, such as a unit of money or something else. I, as well as many other believers, grew to view these as less than honest.
- Comic book tracts and bigoted tracts: Some tract publishers in the past put out comic book tracts. These tended to be well read by less literate people, but the messages over time became more and more strange and sometimes incorporated a lot of bigotry as well. Deliberate twisting of facts about denominations and non-Christian religions, or ignorant repetition of falsehoods reported by others in tracts discredit the message in the tracts.
Many believers sense that these methods are dishonest and misleading, and detract from the love, respect and honesty of Christ. I personally could not use these methods after a while once I spent some time meditating on what the Bible says in II Corinthians 4:2: “Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”
Here are some alternatives:
- Combine open air preaching with outdoor celebratory services. Combine enthusiastic praise by a fellowship of believers with a message. An outdoor gospel service might attract many to give a hearing to the gospel. I’ve attended open air services with some Pentecostal groups where I’ve had friends where this has worked beautifully to display joyful Christian lives alongside the Biblical gospel.
- Combine open air evangelism with visual aids. Several of my friends who have served with World Evangelization Crusade (WEC) trained with Open Air Campaigners and spoke quite highly of their methods. Here is the link to their USA website: Open Air Campaigners USA. Their approach makes use of visual aids, and appeals quite strongly to curious passersby, without being unloving and deliberately obnoxious.
- Find tracts which are Biblical, truthful and positive in their message, loving and scriptural even when they mention sin and judgment, and visually attractive and which avoid bigotry, sensationalism and exaggeration. If you cannot find satisfactory tracts, write and publish your own with desktop publishing. Rosalind Rinker discusses this in her book, You Can Witness With Confidence.
- Provide passersby with a link to a website where they can find out more and a form on the website or a generic email address where they can request more information. Several web pages of information which can be easily read can increase the amount of information to available to the person who is wanting to know more about Christ and the way of salvation. Even more, more information can be added on how to start out in the Christian life and guidance on how to start reading the Bible and how to find a good Bible believing church.