To get started in open-air evangelism, keep in mind that you are desperately needed to “go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15), so don’t listen to your fears; just do it. If you have ever felt the joy of sharing the gospel with someone who is genuinely listening to every word you are saying, multiply that by 30. That’s a good open-air session. There’s nothing like it when you have a good heckler, and a crowd of people listening to the words of everlasting life.
“If you have ever felt the joy of sharing the gospel with someone who is genuinely listening to every word you are saying, multiply that by 30. That’s a good open-air session.”
If you’re fearful about testifying open-air for the first time, practice at home before doing it “live.” Go over the gospel in your mind until it’s second nature—no, until it’s first nature. When you are alone, preach it. (In the shower is a great place to practice.) Go through a few anecdotes. Get used to the sound of your own voice. Pretend to engage a heckler. Invite some friends over to role-play with you—and practice what you preach.
If you are afraid of looking foolish if you mentally draw a blank while speaking, have a backup plan. Keep a New Testament with you and if you freeze up, say, “I would just like to read something to you.” Read John 3:16–18 and conclude with, “Thank you for listening.” Just knowing that you have that option will dissipate the fear.
If someone asks you a question that you don’t know how to answer, simply say, “I’m sorry, I don’t know the answer to that, but I will try to find it for you, if you like.” There’s nothing wrong with a humble admission. In fact, it may speak volumes more to your hearers than an eloquent answer.
Location, Location, Location
A good open-air setting is anywhere people gather where they’re not in a hurry—beaches, parks, or waiting in line. Select a place that has plenty of foot traffic, away from the noise of the street, a fountain, or machinery. It is ideal to have somewhere that will acoustically hold your voice, and where you can be slightly elevated. You shouldn’t have problems speaking in public places in the United States; it is your First Amendment right to speak on American soil.
I typically keep going back to the same area as long as people will listen to the gospel. This is because it is good for regulars to hear the gospel more than once. You will find that you can befriend these people, and some may even seek you out with questions. Another reason I stick with the same place is because of the old adage, “If it’s not broke, why fix it?” This is also true when you find an effective fishing hole for handing out tracts and witnessing.
College campuses are wonderful places to witness because there are often large groups of students sitting between classes or gathering in common areas for lunch. Young people are often more open to discuss the things of God than those who have become hardened in their philosophies. Also keep in mind that you will be speaking to future doctors, lawyers, and politicians—society leaders, those who could greatly influence the future. Just one word from you that God uses could change many lives. If you don’t bother to reach out to them they will become steeped in the errors of humanism, atheism, and evolution. So take courage—call or go to your local college or university, tell them you’d like to come and speak, and ask for their requirements. They may let you speak with or without amplification. You may need some sort of insurance, or they may want to restrict you to a certain area. If there is a Christian organization on the campus that invites you, that usually gets around any red tape.
Fear in Perspective
You can do this! Don’t listen to your fears or discouraging thoughts. The time will come when your spirit will be willing but your flesh will be weak because you are old and feeble. Imagine sitting in a convalescent home, thinking about how you wasted your youth pursuing your own pleasures when people were going to Hell. We often apply the verse “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1) to the ungodly, when we should apply it to ourselves.
“Imagine sitting in a convalescent home, thinking about how you wasted your youth pursuing your own pleasures when people were going to Hell.”
Always keep in mind that you will never be free from fear, especially just before you get up to speak in the open air. Overcome it through thoughts of the fate of the ungodly, the sacrifice of the cross, and the fact that God is watching you. I have known men who said that it was less fearful for them to skydive for the first time than to open-air evangelize. So think of the worst-case scenario if something goes wrong with both. In skydiving, if the parachute fails to open or becomes twisted, you fall to an unspeakably terrifying death. In open-air witnessing, you may make a fool of yourself and dent your ego. There is no comparison. So just do it, and God will be with you.
Let Love Be Your Motive
You will also need to continually check the spirit in which you speak. Be careful of sarcasm, condescension, or a self-righteous spirit. It’s easy to react in a sinful manner when people call you names, cuss at you, say things that aren’t true, talk over you, and twist your words. The key is to always let love be your motivation. We don’t like rejection or humiliation, and it’s only the love of God in us that can give us the grace to handle such things.
It is a sad testimony to our lack of love that we had to be commanded to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). It reveals something about our sinful character. When we are held captive to our fears it reveals our lack of love. What would you think of a doctor who had a cure to cancer in his hand, and had to be commanded to take it to his dying patients? Imagine if you asked him why he was hesitating and he said, “I’m afraid they will laugh at me” or, “It’s not my gifting to take it to them,” or, “I don’t know what to say to them.” As Charles Spurgeon said, “We must be ashamed at the mere suspicion of unconcern.” So if we lack enough love to witness or we lack love when witnessing, we need to get on our knees and ask afresh for the help of God.
“It is a sad testimony to our lack of love that we had to be commanded to ‘preach the gospel to every creature’ (Mark 16:15).”