The Biggest Barrier to Evangelism

By James M. Rochford

What do you think is the biggest barrier to evangelism in our modern culture?

The way many Christians talk, you’d think it was the culture itself. Believers regularly grumble about how our culture is becoming more and more secular in its worldview. New Age literature resides on best-selling charts. Our moral foundations have shifted dramatically in a (sociologically) post-Christian culture.

Even though these are all realities that we face in our modern context, can we really say that this is our biggest barrier for evangelism?

The early church reached over a million people in the first century alone,[1] and this was in a culture that was highly pagan and morally depraved. While reaching lost people with the gospel has its complications (read 1 Corinthians!), people are coming to Christ all over the globe in record number. Authority David Barrett estimates that 10,000 Chinese people come to Christ each day![2] In case you believe him to be exaggerating, other authorities place the number at 30,000 per day.[3] Can we really say that the biggest problem with evangelism is our culture, when other cultures have done so well in far worse conditions?

Of course not. Instead, the biggest barrier to evangelism is not our culture… It’s us! Christians are often disinterested or disheartened to do the great work of evangelism, and we are overcome by fear or unbelief. Let’s consider several of these false beliefs below.

“I’m too scared to share the gospel. Every time I go to share it, I get so nervous that I just clam up.”

Even the strongest believers suffer from fear. We have heard it said that the statement, “Do not be afraid” is the most repeated command in Scripture. So, if you suffer from fear, join the club. Even the apostle Paul told the Corinthians that he was so nervous to speak to them that he was filled with “fear and much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). Paul’s fear was so severe that Jesus felt it necessary to make a personal visitation to Paul to encourage him. Christ  told Paul, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; 10 for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10).

Fear is especially common in evangelism. This must be why Paul told Timothy, “God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. 8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord” (2 Tim. 1:7-8a). Note that Paul doesn’t just tell Timothy to become powerful or courageous. Instead, he reminds him that God has already given him this power through the Holy Spirit.

Many believers expect God to bolster their confidence before they speak for him. And yet, this is most often not the case. In fact, throughout the book of Acts, we see that believers aren’t filled with the Spirit to speak until they make the decision to open their mouths. For instance, when Peter debated with the religious leaders of his day, the text says, “Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them…” (Acts 4:8). From this passage (and many others), it doesn’t seem that we are filled with the courage to speak until we make the decision to open our mouths and trust God with the rest. As we take a step of faith to speak, this is when God takes over.

Believers struggling with fear need to remember that something supernatural occurs when we share God’s message with others. The gospel message “is the power of God” (Rom. 1:16), and when people hear it, it comes to them “in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess. 1:5). This is why Paul referred to his service for God as being based on God’s power—not his own. He writes, “Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, 6who also made us adequate” (2 Cor. 3:4-6). It is in reflecting on this great biblical truth that Paul learned real confidence.

We need to get the focus off of ourselves, and onto God. One way to overcome our fear toward evangelism is to write out how we came to faith. Write down on paper the wildly “coincidental” people and events that led to you coming to Christ. If you were born in a Christian home, what were the supernatural ways that brought your parents to Christ? How has God been active in growing your faith? How did that happen?

As I think back on my story, I remember agreeing to go to a Bible study on campus because a friend had invited me. As I think back, I often wonder, “Why did I say, Yes, to that invitation? Why didn’t I just stay home that night…? How strange!” Then I think of all of the moral and spiritual problems that I had to work through since then. I think, “How did that happen? It’s so strange that I’m still following Christ after all these years… How did that happen?!” As we reflect on this, we quickly realize that the answer is simple: It was a miracle.

We need to get our focus onto the miracle-working God, rather than our own personal deficiencies.

“I’ve tried to give the gospel before, and it didn’t work.”

We will need to share the gospel with several people before even one will come to Christ. Jesus told us as much in his parable about a farmer planting “seed” (i.e. the gospel); he taught that most of the seeds didn’t grow (Mt. 13). Based on this teaching, we need to be prepared to face rejection.

Of course, rejection is never as bad as we thought it would be. Often, the best thing that could ever happen to us is to taste a good dose of rejection! When our greatest fear is realized, we discover that it wasn’t as bad as we thought.

Furthermore, rejection doesn’t always mean failure. How do you know that God didn’t use your step of faith to reach the person in some way? God doesn’t measure success based on fruit, but based on faithfulness (1 Cor. 4:2).

Like anything else in life, evangelism takes practice. We would never expect to hit a homerun when we swing a baseball bat for the first time, but many assume that they will be incredibly effective the first couple of times that they share their faith. While this is certainly possible, it shouldn’t be our expectation.

Many Christians also have a faulty view of what evangelism even is. Evangelism does not refer to (1) talking about being a Christian, (2) talking about going to church, or (3) talking to someone about their worldview. Evangelism only occurs when we’ve actually shared the gospel message with another human being. Many believers will complain that “the field is too hard” or “people aren’t interested.” But how would you know if you actually haven’t shared the gospel? How different the day of Pentecost would’ve looked if Peter said, “Have you guys seen our church? We’ve got 120 people in the upper room down the street. We have good speakers and childcare. Maybe you could check it out sometime?” Far from it. Instead of talking about the church, Peter talked about Jesus Christ and the forgiveness available through him!

“I don’t have any opportunities to share my faith.”

While we might not see opportunities to share our faith, they must be there all around us. After all, we are daily surrounded by lost people. This is why Paul wrote, “[Pray] …that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ” (Col. 4:3). After praying for these “open doors,” we need to be sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, who will lead us to speak.

We also need to learn to make opportunities. It’s common to travel to and from work without ever having any sort of meaningful contact with another human being. Rather than making ourselves available to others, we stand in silence or fill our ears with headphones in public places. It’s so easy to zone out or functionally focus on our schedule, rather than look for opportunities to build relationships with others. Look at Jesus’ life: he was constantly being interrupted by people. As followers of Christ, we need to be willing to surrender our schedule to make opportunities to meet people.

Often, believers simply need to learn how to start and carry on a conversation with another human being. This might seem condescending (and maybe it is), but in our experience, many believers do not know how to do this simple skill. Learning how to carry on a conversation can go a long way in evangelism.

As a practical suggestion, consider writing out a prayer list for people you know. But additionally, consider writing out a list of people you don’t know yet. For instance, start to pray for people you see regularly at the gym (i.e. “that guy with the Mohawk haircut”), the bank (i.e. “the friendly teller who is a single mother”), or a neighbor (i.e. “the guy I see when I’m walking my dog every day”). Pray for these people, and pray that God would open up a door for a conversation. He will!

“Someone might have a question that I can’t answer.”

The answer to this false belief is simple: so what?

What is the worst thing that can happen if you don’t know how to answer a question? When this happens (and it surely will happen), it’s usually a good idea to simply say, “That’s a good question! I don’t know how to answer that… I’ll look into it.” Honestly, I had to do this a lot as a younger believer. I don’t have to do it as much anymore, but I still do it from time to time, and it doesn’t bother me, either. Not only does this open up an opportunity for another conversation, but it models humility in the process. At some point, you will probably have questions for your friend that she can’t answer. Hopefully, you have modeled how to graciously admit that you don’t have all the answers, so that your friend will be willing to reciprocate this honesty in future talks.

Finally, there aren’t that many questions that we need to answer. Paul Little writes, “I can predict, with a high degree of accuracy, the questions that will be asked me in any given discussion with non-Christians. A few of the questions may depart from the pattern, but most of them will fit into one of the several basic categories.”[4] If we can only study and learn how to respond to these common objections, we will be able to answer 95% of the questions that will be asked to us.

“My walk isn’t very exciting. I secretly don’t think my friends or family would enjoy walking with God—mostly because I don’t enjoy it!”

If this is something you are wrestling with, you’re in trouble: You’re not going to make for a very good evangelist! Evangelism is like a communicable disease. Like having the chicken pox, you can’t give away what you don’t have!

It’s interesting to see this in Scripture. For instance, in Romans 1-8, Paul meditates on the incredible gift, security, and love of Christ. Then, this meditation causes him to think of others who don’t have this incredible gift. He writes, “My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief 3 for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ!—if that would save them” (Rom. 9:2-3 NLT).

Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever been giving thanks for the fact that you are a son or daughter of God, and then you think, “God, I wish that my friends and family could have what you’ve given to me…”? As we reflect on the love of God, the Bible teaches that this has an overflowing effect in our heart, and it only becomes natural to give it away to others (1 Jn. 4:19).

Additionally, we also see the opposite happening. When believers share their faith, they see that this causes a new spark in their excitement. Becky Pippert writes, “My continual amazement, as I engage in the task of evangelism, is how profoundly I am blessed. It is not an experience in which I have something to give but nothing to receive. It’s not an experience in which they are changed but I remain unchanged. The truth is, I am as affected by my encounter with them as they sometimes are with me. As I engaged in evangelism, I find it’s not only their needs that are met; mine are met too. God’s intention is to bless us both—the giver and the receiver.”[5] This must be why Paul writes, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ” (Phile. 6). This is also why Jesus said, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (Jn. 13:17). In other words, we don’t get to experience the happiness and joy of Christ, unless we act on these things.

“God will reach people without me… He doesn’t need me to share my faith.”

Sadly, this perspective is shared by many believers today. George Barna states that only one out of three believers in the country feel like it is their personal responsibility to share their faith. He also adds that to defend their view, these believers say that evangelism is the responsibility of pastors, missionaries, and those with the spiritual gift of evangelism.[6]

And yet, the word of God starkly disagrees with such an attitude. Paul writes, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14) He speaks of us as “God’s fellow workers” in the project of evangelism (1 Cor. 3:9). Paul also writes, “God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19-20).

It’s surely mysterious as to why God uses human agency, but it isn’t mysterious that he uses it. If we can trust the Bible at all, it’s clear that God wants to use believers to reach the world for Christ. Furthermore, while this is a mystery, it is also surely incredible privilege. The fact that God uses people means that God wants to give us an incredible purpose in life, impacting eternity.


Before we can reach the world for Christ, we need to fight the battle that is going on in our own heart and head. If you are wrestling with these fears, doubts, or misconceptions, analyze them carefully. Hold them against the truth of Scripture. Ask God to help you to take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Pray that God would show you how he has filled your heart with his love for lost people (Rom. 5:5) and pray that your eyes would be opened to the spiritually needy people all around you.

[1] See Global Table 1. Christians Among the Peoples of the World, A.D. 30-2000. Barrett, David B. World Christian Encylopedia: A Comparative Study of Churches and Religions in the Modern World A.D. 1900-2000. Vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1982. 3. See also Latourette, Kenneth Scott. A History of Christianity. Vol. 1. New York: Harper and Row, 1970. 85.

[2] Barrett, David B., Todd M. Johnson, Christopher R. Guidry, and Peter F. Crossing. World Christian Trends, AD 30-AD 2200: Interpreting the Annual Christian Megacensus. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2001. 3.

[3] See Bach and Zhu, The Underground Church (2014).

[4] Little, Paul E. How to Give Away Your Faith. Chicago: Inter-Varsity, 1966. 66.

[5] Pippert, Rebecca Manley. Out of the Salt Shaker & into the World: Evangelism as a Way of Life. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1999. 69.

[6] Barna, George. Evangelism That Works: How to Reach Changing Generations with the Unchanging Gospel. Ventura, Calif., U.S.A.: Regal, 1995. 23.