I have struggled with this subject because there are so many angles to it, and if we don't clearly define the fine lines, this could be misunderstood.
This subject is hard to tackle, in some ways. It ties in with 'friendship evangelism' which many throw the baby out with the bath water.
Let's start with some questions first. Is it wrong to have a Thanksgiving outreach from your church where you serve food to needy people? Of course it isn't. The Bible tells us to do this. We are to take care of those in need (This is different than allowing needy people to manipulate the church. Another subject for another time)
Is it wrong to have an event where elderly people are served by those in the church taking the task of fixing up their homes and repairing or upgrading their houses, where the owners are not capable of doing? Nope. It is a good thing to help those who are older, especially widows. Again, we are to help those in need.
What is the problem then with doing these types of activities? There is nothing wrong with them and Scriptures tell us to help those in need.
The problem comes when we call these types of activities 'evangelism'. Where do I begin in explaining this?
Evangelism is the work of those in the church who share the Gospel message with others. Evangelism is related to preaching the Gospel to those around us. A couple of problems exist with evangelism. One is, that many times, we know the seriousness of doing evangelism. But we lack the power to do evangelism, or, we do evangelism in our own strength without the right motives.
First, we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit in order to correctly do evangelism. That doesn't mean that God can't use someone's message if it comes out of Scriptures, but God will come upon us and give us the power to evangelize properly. He will give us the words to say. He will give us wisdom as we dialog with people about the Gospel. I believe this is seriously lacking in our churches today. We see people try to do the work of the Holy Spirit by coming down hard on sinners or people making themselves out as if they are God Himself. Some of this is unintentional. Some is ignorance. A lot of this is due to the fact that pastors are just not teaching their people the need to trust God's power for evangelism.
Second, our pride is in the way, many times. God gives boldness to those who ask for it. There are professing Christians who admire those who do evangelism. They try in their own strength to do evangelism and it just doesn't work. They do not have a bigger picture of the kingdom of God and the real reasons why we do evangelism (or why we should do evangelism). Many of these people simply have not encountered God in a strong way. They have a shallow view of who He is. But they want to be credited in doing evangelism. This is what I think is the main crux of the problem. They want to be known by others as evangelists, yet they have no depth in their spiritual understanding of the greatness and majesty of God. So, they resolve themselves to doing works of service and participating in church outreaches in order to tell themselves (and others) that they are involved in evangelism. It is a form of pride, and it is deceptive as well.
Church leaders, as well, need to be careful to not call these acts of service 'evangelism' as well. Sometimes, terminology gets mixed up and church outreaches and acts of service can end up in the same category as evangelism, when they are really acts of service (which are necessary) and should be in the category of service.
If we are not careful, doing evangelism can lead to pride. Even in some churches today, people are still patting themselves and others on the back when someone 'wins' another person to the Lord. Somehow, in some evangelism circles, this is a badge of honor that should be recognized. But really, it is not us who lead people to the Lord, ultimately. It is the Holy Spirit who makes God real to people and brings them to Himself. Only God can bring a person to Himself. No human being has the capability to do this.
This whole subject is interesting because everything ties in together. We have people who are called to share the Gospel message. Some are called to serve. Others are called to do both. (Actually, we are all called to share the Gospel, and we are all called to serve). Some will be more focused on evangelism, while other are called to specific serving tasks.
Our church has a program called, 'Neighbor to Neighbor' where volunteers go to specific homes of elderly people and widows who need home repairs done. They spend time in the homes of these people. Some are people in the church, while others are names given by the county, of people whose houses need repair work or lawn care that they are no longer able to do themselves. This is a great service of the church. Those who do this are to be commended. But, this is not evangelism. This is serving. But how this can work with evangelism can be very effective.
Let's say that one of the families whose house is being repaired is an elderly couple. If the church has been doing evangelism as the Bible commands, then hopefully this elderly couple has heard the Gospel somewhere. The people who come to their house to serve, by painting or fixing broken windows, are demonstrating the Gospel. This will be an open door for people who are being served to have an inroad to a safe place called the 'church'. Perhaps they heard the Gospel, but never had anyone to ask further questions. Now is their chance to learn that there is a safe place they can be part of where they can learn the most important things to know; how to have a relationship with God, and, how to grow spiritually in a dark and dying world.
This is how the body of Christ works. There are different parts to a human body, and there are different parts in the body of Christ. The arm is not the same as the eye. To call the arm, the eye, is wrong. To call people to serve in the church, evangelists, is not correct. But both are important. We need a demonstration of the Gospel and a declaration of the Gospel. People can serve in both capacities but they are still two different categories.