Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimized by a campus evangelist. Many Christians agree that suited men shouting on Guadalupe is uncalled for, but groups approaching strangers on campus to talk about Christianity is just as baffling and awkward. While students are sympathetic to intentions, it is much more meaningful to focus on practicing relationship-based evangelism over abrupt encounters with students.
With over 65 groups at UT dedicated to sharing the word of God on campus, it’s easy to find yourself in an evangelism trap. Many groups offer free lunch or doughnuts to students, and before long, passersby realize that this gift obligated them to a superficial conversation about faith.
People evangelize because they feel a personal conviction to share their faith. However, it is often unwanted and ends up being a waste of time for both parties. Electrical engineering graduate student Suyogya Karki didn’t realize she was in the trap until it was too late. A young evangelist assumed Karki, a Hindu, believed in the Christian heaven and asked what she would say to God if she had been wrong to not believe. “I just wanted her to shut up,” Karki said.
This arrogant act is unnecessary. Karki didn’t try to convert the Christian to Hinduism, but she was not given the same respect. The turn in conversation came suddenly, and Karki didn’t know how to make it stop without hurting the evangelist’s feelings. The girl eventually stopped, but ignored Karki’s body language, lack of eye contact and what she said to show she wasn’t interested. The evangelist believed what she had to say was more important. Surface-level conversations like this are ineffective when trying to persuade someone to change something as personal as their faith.
UTeach student Brian Bolton was raised Catholic, but doesn’t go to church regularly. He is surprised that evangelists think their methods are effective in recruiting people on campus. “Real change can never be effective through fear, coercion or manipulation, especially from an institution of power like a church,” Bolton said. Students are on campus to study and go to class, not to change their faith.
The problem with many groups is how they evangelize. Instead of making students feel cornered, Christian groups should use a more passive approach. A group should make their presence known on campus, and also keep in mind that someone may not be interested, and that’s okay.
Megan Otto, director of campus, young adult and senior adult ministry at University United Methodist Church, says their students evangelize by bringing a friend to church, not someone they met on the street. They rely on their location to make students aware of their presence, instead of going out on campus regularly. “We are not here to tell you all you’ve done wrong. We want students to know they’re welcome … That changes more lives than anything I’ve ever seen,” Otto said. This model is genuine and better reflects the more intentional and relational actions of Jesus.
It’s time for campus recruiters to rethink evangelism. Christians should show people God instead of talking about God. Emulating Jesus says more than making someone feel like a prop in a conversation. If you feel it’s your mission to evangelize, create a presence — but don’t force someone to listen to you. Focus on building meaningful relationships and caring about people, regardless of whether or not they want to become a Christian.
Alarcon is a UTeach Liberal Arts major from Austin.