Evangelism vs discipleship: The difference & how they work together

Many Christians struggle to understand the relationship between evangelism and discipleship. Some believe they are synonymous—just two different words that describe talking to people about Jesus and helping others become more like Him. Others struggle with evangelism vs. discipleship because, though they wouldn’t say it, they almost see the two practices competing with one another. This group often believes either discipleship or evangelism is of more importance than the other. 

The reality is that while evangelism and discipleship are different practices, they are meant to complement, not compete with, one another. To pit evangelism and discipleship against each other is a false dichotomy. It is important to understand how these two important aspects of discipleship are alike, different, and how they relate to one another.

Evangelism and discipleship defined

What is evangelism? 

Evangelism is the process of sharing or preaching the gospel message, or the “good news” of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection to save God’s people. In most Christian circles, the focus of evangelism is sharing the gospel among those who have either never heard it or are not believers yet. 

What is discipleship? 

Discipleship is best understood as mentorship or training in the truths and real-life application of the gospel. Jesus called twelve men who spent several years walking, talking, and learning from Him how to be mature disciples. Similarly, the process of discipleship today is to lead people in the lifelong process of achieving Christian maturity and becoming disciple-makers themselves. 

Evangelism vs discipleship: A key misconception

There are many misconceptions about the differences between discipleship and evangelism that run rampant among Christians and non-believers alike. Perhaps the most common, beyond that they compete with one another, is the idea that not all Christians are responsible to evangelize or disciple.

The simple fact is that all Christians are called to share the gospel and make disciples. 

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Matthew 24:14

And he said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” Mark 16:15

Nowhere does the Bible say that only pastors, mature believers, or evangelists are called to share the gospel, or “evangelize.” It’s the job of all Christians to share the good news as well as train our brothers and sisters to love God and become more like Christ.

The book of Acts is full of examples of Christians sharing the gospel with people. Here are just a few:

Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans. Acts 8:25

When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch. Acts 14:21

And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Acts 16:10

Neither Jesus nor the scriptures make any distinction between evangelism vs. discipleship. The two are woven together and are both responsibilities of true disciples of Jesus Christ.

But how do they fit together? Scripture is clear on this as well. Let’s take a look.

The discipleship process: Where evangelism fits

Jesus provided us with the perfect example of the relationship between evangelism and discipleship. Before ascending into heaven, he left his final command for all of his disciples to go into the world preaching the good news, baptizing new believers, and making disciples.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18–20

This is the Great Commission, and both discipleship and evangelism are woven within it. Christians cannot make disciples of all nations and baptize those disciples if the gospel is not first preached. 

Discipleship is a natural outworking of evangelism. The gospel is preached (evangelism) and when the people who hear the gospel believe the good news they are baptized and trained to live a Christian life that reflects Jesus (discipleship). Acts 2:42–47 gives us a beautiful picture of this in the early Church:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Evangelism and discipleship are both meant to be a part of the daily lives of Christians. These two Christian imperatives are not at war with each other. Evangelism is a key part of the disciple-making process, and intentional discipleship first requires evangelism. 

Billy Graham once said, “Only God knows when the alarm will sound, ending the work and ministry of evangelism as we have known it.” 

Until our Lord comes back, our calling is to evangelize and disciple.

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Chris Martin, Guest author

Chris Martin is author of several books including The Wolf in Their Pockets and Terms of Service: The Real Cost of Social Media. He serves as editor of BibletoLife.com and content marketing editor at Moody Publishers. Chris lives outside Nashville, TN with his wife and two children.

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