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HomeFeatures › Outreach vs. Evangelism: How to Tell the Difference

Outreach vs. Evangelism: How to Tell the Difference

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“We must not confuse outreach with evangelism.”

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Every Christian should agree on the necessity of reaching out to the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Through history some Christians and some groups of Christians have placed more emphasis on this than others, but nearly all have agreed on its importance. In the English language we have two terms that are often used synonymously to describe the sharing of the Good News: evangelism and outreach. I would like to address the difference between outreach and evangelism, for I believe we easily confuse the terms. We often feel that we have fulfilled the Lords command to preach the gospel through evangelism, when in reality we have been involved in outreach. While both are noble pursuits and bring honor to God, only evangelism fulfills his command to take the Good News to all the world.

Evangelism

evangel ( -v n j l) n.
1. The Christian gospel.
2. An evangelist.

[Middle English evaungel, from Late Latin vangelium, from Greek euangelion, good news, from euangelos, bringing good news : eu-, eu- + angelos, messenger.]

The root of the word evangelism, evangel, is derived from the Greek word euangelion which is translated good news. From that same word, we derive the word gospel. We find also that many words we use in English are in reality synonymous evangel(ism), gospel and good news all speak of the same thing and find their root in the same word. They speak of the act of spreading the gospel and to the content of the message that is given. This is an important point to note they refer both to the method and the message.

The word euangelion is found in many places throughout the New Testament. The term is often used to express collectively the gospel doctrines; and “preaching the gospel” is often used to include not only the proclaiming of the good tidings, but the teaching men how to avail themselves of the offer of salvation, the declaring of all the truths, precepts, promises, and threatenings of Christianity. It is termed “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23), “the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1:16), “the gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15), “the glorious gospel,” “the everlasting gospel,” “the gospel of salvation” (Eph. 1:13). (Easton Illustrated Dictionary)

In the Elwell Evangelical Dictionary we read specifically about Pauls application of the term which he used over 60 times and is found in every one of his letters except for Titus. Paul’s ministry was distinctively that of the propagation of the gospel. Unto this gospel he was set apart (Rom. 1:1) and made a minister according to the grace of God (Eph. 3:7). His special sphere of action was the Gentile world (Rom. 16:16; Gal. 2:7).

Since Paul accepted the gospel as a sacred trust (Gal. 2:7), it was necessary that in the discharge of this obligation he speak so as to please God rather than man (I Tim. 2:4). The divine commission had created a sense of urgency that made him cry out, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (I Cor. 9:16). For the sake of the gospel Paul was willing to become all things to all men (I Cor. 9:22-23). No sacrifice was too great. Eternal issues were at stake. Those whose minds were blinded and did not obey the gospel were perishing and would ultimately reap the vengeance of divine wrath (II Cor. 4:3; IIThess. 1:9). On the other hand, to those who believed, the gospel had effectively become the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16).

Evangelism is more than telling people that Jesus loves them or that He died for them. It is telling people that they have offended a Holy God and stand before Him as condemned sinners. It is sharing with them that the good news, the best news of all, is that Jesus died for that very type of person. Jesus died to reconcile those condemned individuals to this God of justice. It is sharing with people that through faith they can be saved and can avoid an eternity of suffering for their offense to God. The Good News can only be understood in context of the bad news. If people do not understand the bad, if they do not realize that they are repugnant to God, befouled by their sin, they can not understand just how good the Good News is!

Outreach

Unlike evangel, the term outreach is not found in the Bible, though the idea certainly is. Outreach implies action more than message. Perhaps it is best defined as a business term: an act of reaching out, bringing an organization’s services or products out into the community. When a church engages in outreach, it is reaching out to the community in order to meet needs or to let people know of its existence. The Salvation Army is an excellent example. When tragedy strikes, especially in the case of natural disasters, the Salvation Army is often on the scene, providing food, clothing and other necessities. My local church has some excellent and exciting outreach programs.

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