Posted by: gmscan | October 30, 2013

Lunch with Bruce Dreisbach: Evangelism Isn’t Enough

 {I have not been posting much here this past month because the on-going disaster of Obamacare has occupied most of my time. If you want to keep track of all this, visit the blog of the National Center for Policy Analysis at


My men’s group has been reading “Growing With God,” by Bruce Roberts Dreisbach.  We chose this book because Bruce headed up a business association here in Waynesboro about ten years ago – well before I arrived here. Not many around here realized he was an accomplished Christian writer, the author of ten or so books.

The book is very good. It is aimed at new believers, but is helpful for old timers, too, to help them rekindle the joy of discovering Jesus. There are sections on how to talk with God, reading scripture, building a community, caring for the poor, and sharing with the “spiritually hungry.” He talks about how different people may experience God differently, and how we each have unique gifts provided by God to fulfill the purpose He has given us.

We decided to invite Bruce to join us for lunch. He was going to be in the area anyway, so he agreed to spend some time with us and a few other people we invited, notably a couple of local pastors.

It turns out Bruce has been working on a project for quite a while to help believers become witnesses, It is something he touches on in “Growing With God,” but he also has a book devoted to this, “Out of the Belly of the Whale.”

He makes a sharp distinction between evangelism and witnessing. Over lunch he explained that evangelism is a gift that very few people have. It is the ability to bring someone to Christ who has never thought of it before. Stories abound of people who can do this in the course of an airplane ride, or a trip on a ski lift. It is like building a wooden rowboat on a Saturday in your garage. It is quick – if you are one of the few people with the talent to do it.

Witnessing is more like growing a garden, he says. Almost anyone can do it, but it takes time and patience. It is a slow, nurturing process, and can be done only with the grace of God, who provides the sun and the rain.

Too many of us, and too many churches, focus on (or at least give lip service to) evangelism and are frustrated that our efforts rarely bear fruit. Bruce writes –

The embarrassing little secret of the evangelical Church in America is that we have lost the ability to do evangelism. How ironic is that? Evangelicals without evangelism! In the last fifty years the evangelical Church has grown less than 2 percent, not enough to even cover the biological growth of our congregations.

Over time we despair of reaching out to nonbelievers because all of our workshops and programs and open houses and charitable activities fail to find the lost sheep. We end up using the church for worship, fellowship, and good works. All commendable and necessary activities, but they fall short of Christ’s Great Commission.

Bruce writes that he was once involved in a study of 6,000 churches and found only fifty that had “regular ongoing evangelism.” The rest had great preaching, good music, excellent fellowship, but no effort to reach out to adult non-believers.

Out of 300 million Americans, only one-third are followers of Christ. Yet, he says, there is a hunger out there to find spiritual meaning – “Research indicates that more than half of all the lost secular people are interested in having conversations, asking questions, and exploring different aspect of faith.” This hunger is being filled, not by the evangelical church, but by spiritual cults.

Too often Christians blame the lost for not being receptive to the message. We offer programs and outreach, we make our houses of worship friendly and welcoming, we introduce modern music and video sermons, yet no one comes. They must all be nursing hangovers on Sunday morning and seduced by the allure of football games on Sunday afternoon. What can we do? It’s their loss.

Bruce Dreisbach reminds us of how Jesus did it. He did not sit in a chair waiting for the curious to come to Him. He went out to where the sinners were and talked to them. He had dinner with tax collectors and Pharisees. He talked with a woman at the well –

Jesus did not offer a program. When you read the Gospel accounts of his life, you don’t find him stuck in a box, offering religious programs. Instead, he was out living with people, wherever they happened to be living. He went to parties and weddings. He went to people’s houses for dinner. He hung out at the docks, talking to fishermen and other rough sort of folks.

Bruce cites a survey of 10,000 believers that asked how they came to Christ. The responses were –

  • 0.5% came through an evangelistic crusade
  • 1% through a home visitation
  • 2% through a “special need”3% on their own
  • 3% through a program or event
  • 5% through Sunday School
  • 6% through a pastor
  • 79% through a friend or relative.

You get the point. If we are going to bring people into fellowship with Jesus, we need to do it ourselves, with the people we know.  If each of us reached only two people in the next ten years, instead of only 100 million Christians in the U.S., there would be 300 million. This does not mean being “Bible thumpers.” In fact Bruce has a graphic description of the wrong way to reach the lost –

I have a friend who is convinced he should be trying to convert all of his lost friends from their wrong world view to his view (which he believes is also God’s view). He is rude, harsh and offensive in these encounters. I have to admit that if he was the only demonstration I had ever seen of God’s love, I would quit being a Christian right now.

Rather, witnessing means identifying one or two people in our lives who are not currently believers and nurturing them as we would a garden through prayer, love and sharing.

It starts with prayer, so God can help us identify the people who will be receptive. It goes on to building a loving relationship with them. And eventually leads to talking about what Jesus has done in our own lives. We don’t need to be scholars or theologians. We don’t need to have all the answers and we don’t need to be perfect people. We need simply to be ourselves, with all the flaws that we share with all of the other people we know. But, if we are walking with Jesus, we are leaning on him for comfort and strength through all of the challenges we face. Our friends will see how our trust in the Lord strengthens us in facing the same kinds of problems they face. Eventually they will ask about that. Then we have to be able to share our story of how we came to faith and what it means in our lives. Then, God will do the rest. Like a gardener, we can prepare the soil and plant the seed, but it is God who grows the stalk.

Bruce strongly recommends having a community, or a support group for our witnessing. Becoming intimately involved in the lives of others can be hard. People’s lives are messy and we need prayerful friends to help us see when (and how) to get involved and when to step away. Bruce doesn’t talk about this, but from my own experience it is important to not get sucked into supporting someone’s self-destructive behavior. We don’t want to be so “helpful” that we enable them to continue these habits. A community of supporters can help us discern the proper course.

One caution – many of us might assume the purpose of all this is to get them to go to church. If only we can get them to attend a service or two we can hand them off to the professionals and be done with it. Bruce asks us not to do that. He notes that many, many people have had bad experiences in church. They may have witnessed hypocrisy or sanctimony.  It may be why they fell away from Jesus in the first place. Even without those bad experiences, churches can be intimidating – the rituals and language seem foreign (what is a doxology, anyway? What is an acolyte?), and the people all seem like an in-crowd to a stranger. The time for church will come, but let the new believer ease into it by meeting other believers in less formal settings first.

Let me wrap this up the way Bruce does in his book. He writes –

My wife, Martie, and I have always had a heart for lost people, but it became obvious that neither of us have the spiritual gift of evangelism. In the first fifteen years of our marriage, we were both very active in the church, holding most of the jobs available. Yet we probably saw only a person or two come to faith during that time. Then we learned about lifestyle witnessing. In the first twelve years after we adopted this perspective on life, we saw over two dozen people from our circle of influence come to faith! We have even had the joy of seeing our kids’ friends come to faith though witnessing.

Lifestyle witnessing really works. It is God’s plan to reach the lost and grow the church. It is his Plan A t reach your lost family and friends. Just try it. It will change your own walk with God and allow him to use you to change others – for all eternity!

To find out more, contact:

The New Life Center, Inc.

1216 Whitby Road

Richmond, VA 23227




  1. My most positive experience with Christianity was the year I was involved with Jehovah’s Witnesses. I respect their boldness in knocking on stranger’s doors, their gentle manner of discussing controversial topics, their thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, and their authentic walk with Jesus.
    I enjoyed the Tuesday night discussions, and the Sunday services, part of which was designed how to witness to others in an engaging, non threatening way.
    Jehovah’s witnesses are the most authentic Christians I have had the honor of knowing. What is reflected on the outside is what they passionately believe within.
    Don Levit

    • Interesting, Don,

      Most Christian denominations consider the Jehovah’s Witnesses to be off the mainline track, and among religious sects, they have been reported to have a much higher than average suicide rate among their youth. Yours in an unusually positive commentary on the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

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