Evangelism in a New Century

Evangelism is particularly challenging when it is not contextualized, as anyone struggling to evangelize the young people of Generation Z (Gen Z) has noticed. The demographic cohort born between 1997 and 2012, Gen Zers are not likely to take interest in gospel tracts and presentations.

“Evangelism just doesn’t work today!” a student told me. “When I explained the Four Spiritual Laws to my friend, he just looked at me like I was crazy. Maybe others are gifted in evangelism, but certainly not me!”

If you’ve had a similar experience, you’re not alone. Instead of using 20th century evangelistic approaches in 21st century culture, we must contextualize our approach to effectively reach others with the gospel. Every semester for the last eight years, Asbury Seminary and Knox Fellowship have hosted an eight-week practical evangelism seminar (free to Asbury Seminary students)[1] to learn both the complexities and opportunities in reaching Gen Z.

Three Key Strategies for Reaching Gen Z

Here are three key strategies we discuss and practice in this course to effectively reach Gen Z today.

Stop talking and start listening. Evangelism starts with this simple action. Drop the formulas and assume the posture of a listener. God is having a conversation with everyone that you meet, even if they are not aware. Your role is to catch up on that conversation and keep it moving toward Jesus. The difference between being heard and being loved is almost indistinguishable.[2] One way to demonstrate love for Gen Z is to practice empathic listening.

Learn to ask good questions. Now that you are listening, demonstrate love to the individual by asking good questions. In a culture so consumed with self, caring about someone enough to ask good questions can be truly revolutionary. It sounds simple, and it is. All it requires is your time, attention, and the heart of Christ for the person you are conversing with.

Speak God’s message into the struggle. Instead of starting with a pre-formed message, tell God’s truth to the specific struggle the individual is facing. Don’t expect to reach these deep conversations the first time you meet someone. These often take time and are the fruit of a cultivated relationship with someone God has placed in your path, whether a friend, neighbor, or co-worker. There are no “quick wins” in evangelism; leading someone to Christ is a cooperation with the Holy Spirit through continued faithfulness and commitment to the relationship.

Shame, Fear, or Guilt

Are they burdened by shame? Shame is particularly on the rise with Gen Z, bolstered by the audience that social media provides. Share with them your own experience of dealing with shame, and explain how Jesus removes shame and restores honor for a child of the family of God, as portrayed in the Prodigal Son story.

Are they struggling with fear? Those with addictions often want to hear about how to get power to break the chains that bind them. Explain to them how Jesus helps you address your fears. Be real and authentic. Eventually, explain biblical stories about Jesus’ power to transform people.

Are they struggling with guilt? If God is conversing with them about internal guilt, then explain how Jesus removes guilt and justifies humans through His substitutionary atonement.

Indifferent to Faith

Increasingly, though, our research over the last eight years has revealed that many Gen Zers are not experiencing guilt, shame, or fear; instead, they are simply indifferent to faith. The story of Zacchaeus is a helpful parallel, as he was also indifferent to the religious system of his day. As a chief tax collector, he was not even allowed in many synagogues. When Jesus visited Zacchaeus, he didn’t address internal guilt, external shame, or fear; instead, Jesus extended an invitation of belonging and acceptance. This gave Zacchaeus new purpose for his life and work. Then Jesus declared, “Salvation has come to this house!”

Drawn to Belonging and Purpose

God is having a conversation with many Gen Zers about belonging and purpose. When this is the case, put aside evangelistic formulas and start with Jesus’ offer of belonging and purpose. Their next step of faith may not be coming to church. Instead, try these next steps:

Invite them to your small community group. Often, people find that belonging comes before believing, such as in the story of Zacchaeus. Let hospitality be your ‘secret sauce.’

Ask them to join you in some meaningful practice. Feeding the homeless, caring for widows, and neighborhood cleanup could be opportunities for them to experience purpose. Your deeds substantiate your words. Many Gen Zers want a demonstration of the gospel more than simply an explanation.

Moving The Conversation Toward Jesus

You are demonstrating God’s love by participating in the conversation God is already having with them and moving it toward Jesus.

G.K. Chesterton said, “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” Deepen your friendships by listening, sharing your own authentic stories of Jesus’ work in your life, offering relevant biblical stories, inviting others to belong in a faith community, and engaging them in a purposeful lifestyle. In this way, you are helping your Gen Z friends fall in love with Jesus.

To learn more about participating in the practical evangelism seminar, contact

[1] The eight-week seminar meets one hour per week and includes a free meal, teaching, demonstration, and practical activities/games in partnership with Knox Fellowship and the ESJ School of Mission and Ministry. If interested to participate or learn more, contact:

[2] Adapted from David Augsburger’s quote, “Being heard is so close to being loved, that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.”