What is pre-evangelism? If evangelism is planting seeds of the Gospel, then pre-evangelism is tilling the soil of people’s minds and hearts to help them be more willing to listen to the truth (1 Corinthians 3:6). Tilling the soil is important because sometimes the ground is too hard, making it more difficult to plant the seeds of the Gospel in people’s hearts (1 Corinthians 2:14). Any farmer knows that before he plants the seeds, he must look at the condition of the soil. Because of the kind of world we live in today, we may not be able to plant the seeds of the Gospel until we work the soil of people’s minds and hearts. Failure to prepare the soil may lead to closed doors for planting seeds today and a reluctance to consider the Gospel message in the future. There are also times when God may use more than just our words to till their heart and mind through pre-evangelism. He can also use the witness of our life.
In reality, we must do more than soften the soil; we must change the condition of the soil so that the soil becomes “good soil” (Mark 4:8). Many things can contribute to us developing good soil in the lives of our non-Christian friends. If we live godly lives and go out of our way to really love nonbelievers (John 13:35), this contributes to cultivating good soil. The witness of our godly life can help dispel the negative stereotype of the hypocritical Christian who preaches one message but lives another. We also contribute to the development of good soil when we see hearts soften rather than harden (Jeremiah 17:9; Ephesians 4:18) as a result of our prayers for people (James 5:16).
But there are other ways we can help create good soil, some of which we normally don’t associate with evangelism. In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13), Jesus points out that “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart” (Matthew 13:19 ESV). If someone has a distorted perspective about themselves, about God the Father, and about Jesus Christ, this may prevent us from cultivating good soil in that person’s life. As a result, they may not understand the Gospel message and know that there is an all-powerful Creator who made all of us and holds us accountable to measure up to His standards, not our own. They may not appreciate what God did for us in the person of Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, there are some (primarily in the East) who may even believe that mankind’s problem is that we have forgotten that we are ourselves god rather than we have fallen short of the standards of a holy God. Some may have a hard time seeing themselves as a sinner if from their point of view there is no God and therefore no sins to forgive. Some may have deluded themselves to believe that Darwin’s theory of evolution makes belief in God unnecessary. Others see no difference between Christianity and any other religion, and so they conclude there is nothing special about Jesus that demands our undivided loyalty.
When I (David) lived in Asia, I found that many weren’t really motivated to hear what I had to say about Jesus because they didn’t see any difference between what they believed and what I believed. In both the East and the West, in places where Christianity is more acceptable, I’ve discovered that some are under the impression that if they go to church, then they must be a Christian. They may even “believe that” Jesus is the Messiah, but they have never really “believed in” Him (see Matthew 7:22-23) and don’t see the need for radical change. Certainly in the US we need to cultivate better soil in the lives of our non-Christian friends, especially since they believe they have no sins to forgive.
So if we can help people to better understand the misconceptions they have about themselves, God the Father, and Jesus Christ, this contributes to cultivating good soil so that we can plant the seeds of the Gospel in their hearts and see more fruit (Matthew 13:23). After all, wasn’t this part of John the Baptist’s ministry—to prepare people for the Messiah by getting them to acknowledge that they are sinners and fall short of the standards of the holy and righteous God who created them (Matthew 3:1-12; John 1:6-8)? Can we afford not to be involved in similar pre-evangelistic activities today?
Our deep conviction is that once we understand the times we live in, we will cultivate this fine art called pre-evangelism to create more open doors for direct evangelism. Pre-evangelism must become an essential part of the evangelism training in our churches, seminaries, and mission organizations for us to more effectively reach people for Christ in this new millennium.
 Norman Geisler with Geisler, Conversational Evangelism: Connecting with People to Share Jesus (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2014).