Any true church of Jesus Christ will be actively engaging the neighborhoods and the nations with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus has given us a clear commission that we often refer to as “The Great Commission” in Matthew 28:18-20. Any group who calls themselves a church but refuses to engage in the spread of God’s good news of salvation is certainly something other than a church. That being said, many methods and missions of local churches that fly beneath the banner of evangelism are not biblical evangelism.
Many pithy definitions have been spread around throughout evangelicalism over the years on the subject of evangelism. One such statement defines evangelism as “One beggar telling another beggar where to find food.” While this is certainly a description, it’s lacking in substance and cannot be a true definition. Evangelism comes from the Greek verb “euangelizesthai [which] means ‘to announce good news’, and is found 52 times in the NT. The noun euangelion means ‘good news’, and occurs 72 times, mostly in Paul. The noun euangelistēs, meaning ‘evangelist’, appears only three times (Acts 21:8; Eph. 4:11; 2 Tim. 4:5).” 
Therefore, the word evangelism actually means to communicate the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ to guilty sinners who deserve the judgment of God. Mark Dever defines evangelism as follows:
[Evangelism] is telling the good news about Jesus, and doing it with honesty, urgency, and joy, using the Bible, living a life that backs it up, and praying, and doing it all for the glory of God. 
Don Whitney provides a helpful definition of evangelism by writing:
Evangelism is to present Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit to sinful people, in order that they may come to put their trust in God through Him, to receive Him as their Savior, and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His Church. If we want to define it simply, we could say that New Testament evangelism is communicating the gospel. Anyone who faithfully relates the essential elements of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ is evangelizing. This is true whether your words are spoken, written, or recorded, and whether they are delivered to one person or to a crowd. 
Therefore, it’s essential to understand what evangelism is and what it entails before passionately supporting a ministry or mission that falls beneath this category. While it’s a good thing for a church to be engaged in various endeavors such as mercy ministries, that alone is not evangelism.
That’s Not Evangelism
If evangelism is a true presentation of the saving message of the gospel that comes exclusively through Jesus Christ the Lord, anything other than this is not biblical evangelism. Consider the fact that much mercy ministry, although well intended, is not evangelism (or missions). Some popular missions and ministries within local churches often find themselves categorized as evangelism or mission endeavors, but in all reality—they’re not.
- Sharing your testimony is not evangelism
- Digging wells in poor villages in Kenya is not evangelism
- Choir trips to foreign nations is not evangelism
- Apologetics is not evangelism
- Providing shoes for underprivileged students is not evangelism
- Inviting people to church is not evangelism
- Serving people in sports ministries is not evangelism
- Wearing a Christian t-shirt or jewelry is not evangelism
- Tweeting or sharing Christian quotes is not evangelism
- Evangelism is not church planting
It’s not that these things are bad, in fact, I engage in most of the things in this list (except for the choir trips). All of these things can be really powerful tools used by the Lord to open doors to evangelism, but they’re not evangelism at the foundational level. It’s quite possible to wear Christian apparel without sharing the good news of what Christianity is all about. It’s very probable that many wells have been dug in social gospel efforts without sharing the true gospel. It’s possible to win a well framed argument in an apologetic setting, but miss the boat in real evangelism.
Perhaps many Christians don’t share the gospel because they lack good examples or haven’t been discipled by a good biblical evangelist. In many cases, this isn’t true. A lack of evangelism is prevalent among many evangelical churches, and it’s not based on a lack of knowledge or opportunity. A lack of genuine evangelism among evangelical churches is most often the result of laziness and selfishness.
It would do us all well to read Matthew 9:35-38 – “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”
Until the King returns, let us be faithful to the commission. In order to become a Christian, it’s necessary to affirm the true gospel of Christ. In order to validate a genuine faith in Christ, one must move beyond affirmation to declaration of the gospel.
- Sinclair B. Ferguson and J.I. Packer, New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 241.
- Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, (Grand Rapids: Crossway, 2007), 107.
- Don Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, (Colorado Springs, Co: NavPress, 1991), 100.