“Evangelism: The Latest Cool Thing"
Award of Outstanding Merit - $1,000
Taryn Hutchison is the author of “We Wait You: Waiting on God in Eastern Europe,” which has also been translated into Romanian; three short stories published in Chicken Soup and Cup of Comfort books; numerous articles; and a blog called “Waiting on God” (http://tarynhutchison.authorweblog.com/). After graduating from Salisbury University on the Eastern Shore of Maryland with an Art degree, she joined the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ. During her 21 years with “Cru,” she moved to four universities throughout the U.S. and two countries in Eastern Europe. After a decade abroad, Taryn returned to the States, married, left Cru staff, and has worked at Golden Gate Seminary and now Lenoir-Rhyne University as an administrative assistant.
Today, on college campuses across the country, evangelism is on the rise. That's right. Evangelism. And I don’t just mean Christian students engaging their classmates in discussions about the good news of Jesus.
Secular companies are now using a tactic they call “brand evangelism” to promote their product, with the aim of turning lost students into customers.
Roughly 10,000 college students have been hired by various companies as so-called “brand ambassadors” or “campus evangelists” on hundreds of American campuses. Their job is to create a buzz about their product, ranging from setting up a table in the Student Union to discreetly asking a fellow ambassador, in earshot of other students, where they got their cool shirt.
The New York Times ran an article last month entitled “On Campus, It’s One Big Commercial.” The reporter followed students at UNC Chapel Hill during move-in day. Students dressed in matching American Eagle Outfitters T-shirts cheerfully helped freshmen unload their cars and haul their belongings up to their dorm rooms, while doling out coupons.
Target sponsored a huge welcome dinner for freshmen. Afterward, they shuttled students to a nearby Target superstore for late-night shopping.
According to Mr. Youth, the Manhattan marketing agency behind this phenomenon, “It’s not enough for brands to have a message. They need to start a conversation.” The company believes in the power of word-of-mouth and personal testimony.
These strategies sound strangely familiar to me. During my years ministering at several universities across the country, on the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ, we were always present to offer a helping hand to freshmen as they moved in. Our goal was to get to know them and invite them to our events.
We trained students to take the initiative to begin conversations with their friends, teaching them how to steer the talk to spiritual topics. Personal contact was the key to success.
However, I’m surprised that secular companies actually use the word “evangelism.” I thought it was a dirty word. But evangelism simply means “bringing good news.”
This new craze tells me two things. First, people aren’t really afraid of evangelism. They only fear evangelism gone wrong. It’s natural to run from those who use high-pressure tactics, forcing others to listen while they do all the talking.
Second, evangelism can be effective. It works when it’s done sensitively, when it’s part of a mutual conversation. By building authentic relationships, we can genuinely listen to the other person’s issues and show we care about their needs.
Who doesn’t like it when someone takes the time to focus on you and ask your thoughts? In my experience, people respond to that. They open up. A conversation ensues.
When the time is right, we need to be ready to tell how and why we gave our lives to Christ. No one can argue with your own personal experience. It’s helpful to think it through ahead of time to be clear and concise.
For those of us who have a personal relationship with Christ, withholding the good news from others is the equivalent of knowing the cure to cancer and keeping it to ourselves.
Peter tells us to always be “ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” (I Peter 3:15.)
We should take a tip from the brand evangelists. We don’t need to shy away from starting conversations and building relationships any longer. After all, American Eagle and Target do it.
And their product doesn’t bring lasting joy, peace, and fulfillment. Only Jesus does.
Printed November 4, 2011; The News Herald; Morganton, NC.
« back to top