LEADING PEOPLE TOWARD JESUS
I once came across a study about evangelism conducted by a man named James Engel. He created a tool that provides us with perspective about the journey that people are on with the Lord. The tool is called the Engel Scale, and the chart below shows a depiction of his findings:
In this version of The Engel scale, it shows 15 steps. Each of these represents a different stage where a person may be at a given time in their life in relation to walking with Christ. The scale starts at the bottom step with an unbeliever with no awareness of God and goes to the top step with a believer who actively shares their faith with others. In between are several common steps that people take from one place to another. Obviously, a person does not need to start at the bottom and systematically move to the top. Many of these steps may occur in a short period of time or even immediately. The intention of the scale is not to create a step-by-step process, but to illustrate the fact that every person we come into contact with is somewhere on that scale.One major takeaway from Engel’s research is that not everyone is in the same place when it comes to their understanding and interest in the Gospel. Click To Tweet
One major takeaway from Engel’s research is that not everyone is in the same place when it comes to their understanding and interest in the Gospel. Think about it this way. Let us say that you approach two different people on the streets. The first is a woman who grew up with a grandmother who brought her to church every Sunday. She has some very pleasant memories about her time spent there. She also learned many of the basics of Christianity. After her grandmother died, she lost that influence and just lived her life the way she wanted. Now she is thirty-five and you are walking up to her to share the Gospel with her. Where do you think she will be on the scale?
Let us say you approach another person. This man grew up in a strict religious home, but was abused by an elder in his church growing up. As soon as he was old enough, he left home, rejected his church background and vowed to never trust a Christian again. He views the church through the lens of his pain. Just the mention of Jesus and Christianity stirs up the memories of the abuse he has tried to shove down all his life. Can you see how this man is in a completely different position from the woman? He has built up walls and obstacles that need to be addressed before he even wants to hear a word about this Jesus that you are trying to tell him about.
This is why evangelism cannot simply be based on a pre-packaged formula. People are not robots trained to respond to a script. Instead, the moment you engage them with the Gospel, you are entering into the timeline of their life. Their background, past experience and knowledge all play into how they respond. Of course, the actual message of the Gospel is the same in every situation. But the way in which we engage with people varies.
Another interesting point made by the study is that each encounter that a person has with the Gospel has the capacity to move them up the scale or move them down. For example, let us suppose that a Christian approaches the woman in our illustration, but they are rude, pushy and are more interested in making sure she hears what they have to say than to actually minister to her. Those warm memories that she had of Christianity from her childhood can be tainted by an encounter like that. Now, the next person who tries to share the Gospel with her is going to run into more resistance because she will remember how she was treated.
Or suppose a Christian meets the man in our illustration at a bus station. She begins to share the Gospel with him, but she does it in love. When the man angrily says he hates Christians and does not want to hear a word, the Christian does not respond in anger. Instead, she humbly says, “I’ll be praying for you. I’m really sorry for what you experienced in the church, but I know Jesus isn’t like that. Here’s a little bit of information about the Gospel if you are willing to take it. Maybe it’ll be helpful at some point.” The angry man calms down, takes the tract, and they each get on the bus. That night, the man is lying in bed, pondering the fact that a Christian reached out to him, just to share the love of Christ. The next encounter might be the one when he hears the Gospel and responds.One question that I have found to be helpful is: “Has anyone ever shared the Gospel with you?” Click To Tweet
It usually does not take too long in a conversation to determine where someone is. Asking probing questions can help to gauge where to start with someone. One question that I have found to be helpful is: “Has anyone ever shared the Gospel with you?” Usually, this will prompt a person to say, “Oh yea, I grew up in church,” or “What is the Gospel?” Either of these responses would lead the conversation in a different direction.
Engel’s Scale suggests that every encounter with a person has value as long as the person you approach leaves the conversation further up the scale than when you came. If they know nothing about Christ, giving some basic info about Jesus—who He is and what He did—is a win, even if they are not ready to surrender their life at that moment. If they have been deeply wounded by the church, if you walk away and they feel better about Christians and willing to open their heart a little more the next time, that is a win as well.
When I first saw the research of the Engel Scale, it helped shape my paradigm of evangelism. Of course, we always share the Gospel with the expectation that a person is going to respond. The goal is to see people repent and believe the Gospel. And we always want to do our best to present it in every encounter. But living evangelistically is so much more than just reciting words. It requires that we listen to people and minister to them where there are spiritually.
Our work in ministering to people is to lead them closer to Jesus. If we accomplish that, we have done our job. One day, they will be sharing their testimony of how they came to Christ, and as they describe their progression up the scale, they will testify to how our influence in their life—whether a one-time encounter or years of witnessing—played a part in their salvation.
DUSTIN RENZ is the President of Make Way Ministries, a non-profit organization that exists to see the world changed one Christian at a time. He has a passion to see the Body of Christ find rich intimacy in their relationship with Jesus and step out in faith to share the Gospel with the world around them. He is the author of Pile of Masks: Exposing Christian Hypocrisy and Something Better. He resides in Dayton, Ohio with his wife and three daughters.