Published on December 6th, 2013 | by Josiah Batten
Evangelism and Literature Distribution
A while back I spent a little time studying why Islam is outgrowing Christianity in the West. There are, of course, many factors, including the immigration of Muslims into Western nations. But I was primarily concerned with what factors were most important in people who grew up non-Muslim and later decide to become Muslim. I essentially found two common factors as I read through testimonies and looked through articles:
1. People who converted to Islam typically had a Muslim friend or acquaintance. It could be a co-worker, a classmate, a neighbor, or a variety of other things. But as I studied why people were converting to Islam, most of the converts had a Muslim friend. This fact, of course, is hardly surprising. We consider more seriously what the people we know and love say. We are skeptical of exaggerated claims on an advertisement, but we put much trust in a personal recommendation from a friend. We talk to friends about our deepest questions, and those questions include things like belief in God, meaning, destiny, and origin.
2. People who converted to Islam were typically given some type of Islamic literature. This most often came from the friend, but some people might have other organizations send them a Koran or something. Often the literature was related to a specific conversation the person had with their friend. If, for instance, they discussed the origin of the Koran, the Muslim friend might leave their friend with a pamphlet (or what we would call “tract”) on the topic to read and discuss further at a later date.
A few points are in order here:
First, Christianity is a verbal religion. In the beginning was the Word (John 1:1). We are sent out to proclaim the Gospel message (Matthew 28:18-20), we are to preach and preaching is necessarily verbal and word-based. This makes literature a very effective means for presenting the Christian faith, literature is completely consistent with what we as Christians are, people of the Word.
Second, many of us have a bad taste in our mouth when we hear terms like “literature distribution” or “gospel tracts,” and this has nothing to do with a distaste for the Gospel itself. We dislike Gospel tracts because the tracts are so often distasteful. Or they are distributed distastefully (on the back of public toilets, left on a table in place of a tip).
Third, Muslims are outpacing us in terms of quality (though I don’t yet know in terms of quantity) when it comes to evangelistic literature. I ordered a great deal of Islamic literature to compare it to Christian literature. The fact is, there was no comparison. I got a complete Koran, two decent sized booklets, and several four-fold pamphlets/brochures completely free of charge. Additionally, the quality of this literature was much better than the quality of most Christian literature, both aesthetically and in terms of substance.
For example, Gospel tracts are often really cheesy. They have poor clip-art designs and borders. They have cartoon characters and are written at the reading level of a four year old. They also often fail to recognize we no longer live in the 1950s. They are also very short, a fraction of a sheet of paper or something.
In contrast, the pamphlets I got from Islamic organizations were incredibly aesthetically attractive, they were well-designed and had up-front titles (like “The Islamic View of Women” or “What is Sharia Law?”). They contained no cartoon characters engaging in forced and unnatural dialogue (who actually talks like the characters in tracts do?), but unashamedly addressed substantive topics in well-written essays. They were also longer, often 8 and a half by 14 sheets folded into four panels.
Why does this matter? Because literature distribution is still an effective means of presenting the Gospel if it is done appropriately. It is also an effective means of presenting false messages when done appropriately. But good Christian literature is hard to come by, we hardly have any tracts comparable to the Islamic literature I examined. And this is not because we have an inferior message. I think we’ve made two mistakes. One, we’ve relegated tracts and literature distribution to a by-gone era. This is a mistake, because literature distribution is working for Islam in the modern day. It’s also a mistake because publishing the Gospel by all means is biblically necessary. Two, those who do still use tracts have no idea how to make effective literature, literature with content fit for thinking people and with aesthetic appeal fit to match the content.
If we could produce and distribute effective literature I believe we could see Christianity grow substantially in our day and reach many people who we otherwise would not.
Soli Deo Gloria,