As a young Christian I used to haunt “The Square,” a single city block in downtown Springfield, Missouri. This was the Friday night hangout Springfield’s Trench Coat Mafia types who would congregate and party all night. I frequented their Friday assemblage, not because I enjoyed donning Goth garb and dying my hair a depressing shade of black, but because I wanted to “win those lost souls to Jesus!”
On occasion this necessitated sermonizing to several sinners at once, but most often it was just me, dressed in my khakis pants and American Eagle polo, having an awkward conversation with a single person who was frenetically looking to flee because they rightfully perceived my plan to manipulate the conversation toward sin, salvation, and their eternal damnation.
As many of you know from your own experience, these exchanges were artificial and fated to fail. At best, people would politely converse with me because they were interested in discussing spirituality. At worst, they expressed downright anger – and not necessarily for “gospel” related reasons.
For those of you zealous to share the good news of a crucified and risen Jesus with everyone you meet, let me propose a better alternative to this awkwardness: Friendship.
I know friendship is a peculiar sort of proposal in the world of Josh McDowell and Kirk Cameron, but humor me for a moment.
If you want to share a truncated gospel with someone, you can easily memorize Ray Comfort’s conversation-manipulator-techniques; you can mimic Josh McDowell’s “reasons;” or you can even street preach as passionate as Billy Graham.
But none of those things can replace having a genuine friendship with another person and therefore none of them exhibit a genuine concern for the person after salvation. Thus, they represent a truncated, stymied gospel, not only in the verbal presentation, but more specifically in the way you live it out. .
In genuine friendship you desire what’s best for a person. And as a Christian, you probably believe that what’s “best” is found in a relationship with Jesus. But because you are a friend, you never manipulate conversations, you never preach at someone, and you never violate your friends trust only befriending them for the purposes of gospel-expansion. Because the kind of friendship based on “soul-winning” is more damning than Ray Comfort or Kirk Cameron are willing to admit.
But genuine friendship, for its own sake, is never damning, even when it must respectfully disagree.
I am not advocating a silence about the gospel – indeed, I am telling you, by your friendship, to be an even more faithful prophet through your life and words spoken in a timely, not a hurried, manner. Genuine friendship with someone, based on mutual respect and love always trumps a 5 minute, stilted conversation. Indeed, it makes such a weird conversation unnecessary because you’re not trying to manipulate anyone.
In a world aware of the church’s sex scandals, hypocrisy, and our outdated soul-winning tactics, street preaching and fly-by evangelism are not sufficient (assuming they ever were!). In this disconnected and disillusioned world, there is no greater testimony to the gospel than genuine friendship, especially with those who are religiously different than we are. And that, friends, will take our time, efforts, and vulnerability – all things which drive-through evangelism is simply uninterested in.
 Notice the “win” language here. As I will argue, genuine friendship is not about “winning” a competition or a war. Genuine friendship is about inviting people into a journey that you exemplify in your own life, but do not force upon them.
 Even when someone did ‘pray the prayer,’ I didn’t have a genuine friendship with them to know if they were really ‘saved’ or not. Of course, that didn’t matter to me at the time. After all, they had their Fire Insurance, didn’t they?