Defining Evangelism

Although there are others, this is a good concise definition of evangelism: To evangelize is to present Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that men and women will come to put their faith and trust in God through him, to accept him as their Savior, and to daily serve him as their eternal Lord in the relational fellowship of his church.

Based on this more comprehensive definition of evangelism, a person would not be numbered a true disciple of Jesus Christ until he or she has personally received him as Savior and Lord and also daily serves the kingdom of God.

It follows, then, that the act of reciting the sinner’s prayer and inviting Jesus Christ into our life is just one step on the way to becoming a mature, grace-filled disciple. It is important to emphasize that conversion is a process, not simply a momentary decision. It is also helpful to highlight that the conversion process doesn’t begin at the moment of decision—but much further back.

The Engel Scale

Although not precise, the following diagram—known as the Engel Scale—is a helpful tool in visualizing the conversion process. This diagram illustrates the various steps a person often goes through on their way to becoming a faithful, growing follower of Jesus Christ. Read through the diagram below from the bottom up.

+3 A lifetime of conceptual and behavioral growth in Jesus Christ

+2 Incorporation into a local Body of Christ

+1 Post-decision evaluation

0 The person is born again, and becomes a new creation in Jesus Christ

-1 Repentance and faith in Jesus Christ

-2 Decision to act

-3 Personal problem recognition

-4 Positive attitude toward the good news (gospel) of God

-5 Grasp of the implications of the good news of God

-6 Awareness of the fundamentals of the good news of God

-7 Initial awareness of the good news of God’s gospel

-8 Awareness of a supreme being, but no effective knowledge of the good news of God

This diagram begins from the bottom, “Awareness of a supreme being, but no effective knowledge of the good news of God,” and ends at the top, “A lifetime of conceptual and behavioral growth in Christ.” To get from the bottom to the top, a person normally journeys through each of the stages in the conversion process, though not always uniformly. Some people move very rapidly through these stages; others don’t. Still others may come only so far in the process and stall out.

It is important in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with a person that we accurately assess where he or she is presently located on the Engel Scale. An accurate assessment will help us discern more effectively how to reverently share the good news of Jesus Christ with them. For example, perhaps he was raised in a Christian home. We could assume then that he falls on the scale at about level -5, since he is likely to have a reasonable “grasp of the implications of the gospel message” that is probably the stage where we need to start in sharing the gospel with him. It is unlikely that we need to spend a lot of time convincing him of the existence of a supreme being.

Another important thing to remember is that the conversion process usually takes time to accomplish. It is highly unlikely that we are going to influence a person to make the journey from level -8 to +3 by sharing the gospel with him only one time. What we should aim for when sharing our faith is assisting a person to move up a step or two in the conversion process. Depending on the person, however, even this may take days, months, or possibly years to accomplish. Remember, God is the only one that can truly produce a heart transformation in a person, and the Holy Spirit is always directly in the conversion process of a person.

One other way to understand the conversion process is to compare it to the three stages in the birth of a child: The nine months of pre-birth formation in the mother’s womb, the actual birth event, and the integration of the new baby into the family and growth to an adult.

In comparison, the spiritual conversion process also involves three stages: The pre-evangelism formation prior to conversion, the born-again event, and the integration of the new Christian into a local church fellowship, where he or she can be nurtured and grow into a mature Christian.