The Difference between Outreach and Evangelism

Over the years, consulting with many churches, pastoring three, planting one, overseeing the planting of seven others, I have come to the conclusion that many in our churches have a misunderstanding of and a conflation of terms when they talk about outreach and evangelism. They are different. They may be handmaids to one another but they can be done without each other. So let’s make sure we are clear on definitions.

Definition of Terms

WitnessingActive or passive, we are always witnessing. Everything we do or say is a witness to others. Sometimes our words, or our lifestyle, or our attitude, adorns the gospel well and sometimes it might be scandalous. It might include the gospel or it might not. Witnessing is the the umbrella term that encompasses both outreach and evangelism as well as lifestyle.
OutreachThose things that we do to build relationship with those God has called us to reach with the gospel. Acts of love, acts of sacrifice, caring for them, expressing our compassion, listening, showing our respect. Outreach also includes things like having them over for dinner, a BBQ, or a desert. It can include inviting them to a program or ministry at church, being their designated driver when they have had too much to drink, raking their leaves, shoveling snow from their drive in winter, mowing their lawn in the summer. All of these are acts of kindness and love that we might do simply because we are Christ-ones who love people and want to have relationships that express our submittedness to the Spirit of Christ and desire to live like Him.
EvangelismIs when we actually proclaim the data points of the gospel, the good news about Jesus and call people, like Jesus did, to repent and believe the gospel. When I say “data points,” I mean the gospel at its most basic level.

1. Christ came. (2 Corinthians 15:3-5)
2. He died for sin according to Scripture.
3. He was buried.
4. He rose on the third day in accordance with the Scripture.
5. All men everywhere are commanded to repent and believe in the gospel. (Mark 1:15)
6. Be baptized and take up your cross and follow Christ. (Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23)
DiscussionEvangelism is different from outreach. Outreach is not necessarily evangelism. Outreach can help evangelism but it can never replace evangelism. The great commission cannot be accomplished without proclamation. The idea that the gospel can be shared without words is erroneous. Often attributed to St. Francis, “Share the gospel with everyone, if necessary, use words” was . . .
a. Never said by St. Francis.
b. Is contrary to what we know of his preaching style.
c. Is impossible on the face of it, because the gospel is fundamentally, good news, and must be told.

Maybe that is enough to start the discussion.

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