While some tend to see outreach and evangelism as the same thing, we think it’s more helpful (and more biblical!) to see them as two distinct (but related) tasks. So what’s the difference? Simply put: outreach is the process of drawing unbelievers into contact with the Body of Christ while evangelism is the actual process of proclaiming the gospel. To put it differently, outreach is the prelude to evangelism. It prepares the ground for the seed of the gospel by communicating the love, care, and compassion of Christ to those who are “far off”. This can happen in a whole range of ways, from chatting with your coworker, to inviting your neighbor over for a meal, to volunteering in the community. Outreach is about intentionally seeking relationships with the lost as a way of life. If we expect the world to flock to us then we’re out of step with the Scriptures. We must follow the command of Christ in Matthew 28 and the example of the Apostles and the early church in the book of Acts and “go into all the world”.
But it’s important to recognize that simply doing these things is not the same as doing evangelism. It can sound like an obvious point, but we must never forget that the gospel hasn’t been proclaimed until the gospel has been proclaimed. At its core the gospel is a message (i.e. the Good News!) and so it’s not something that can merely be lived or demonstrated. For all the talk one hears today of “living the gospel” or “being the gospel” a more biblical way of speaking and thinking is to “live in light of the gospel”. The gospel is not a way of life, it is a message that brings us into a new way of life. Thus, our evangelism must involve the verbal communication of the Good News of Jesus Christ (Romans 10:14-17).