If you had asked me as I was graduating from seminary, “How many people do you think you will meet that can say they came to Christ through a gospel tract?’ I would have answered, “None.” I had no confidence they were effective in evangelism. Since then, I have met so many people who came to Christ through tract evangelism, I distribute them at every opportunity – usually weekly, sometimes even daily.
So, why would I write something on, “What I hate about gospel tracts”? Because while they are extremely effective, evangelism tracts are often used improperly. And while God can use anything and everything He wants to for His glory, we owe it to ourselves to ask, “Is this the best way to do share the gospel?”
Here are six ways I have seen tracts used that – in my opinion – need to be carefully examined.
Clouding the gospel with unclear tracts
God makes the plan of salvation so simple. We come to Him as sinners, recognizing that Christ died for us and rose again, and trust in Christ alone to save us. I read some tracts that make the gospel unclear, confuse entering the Christian life with living it, and use terminology that is so unclear when it comes to what constitutes saving faith. The Bible uses the word believe (John 3:16) meaning “trust”. Phrases like “invite Christ into your heart”, “give your life to God”, and “accept Jesus” are not only not used in Scripture but do not depict what the Bible means by believe. There is no need to make salvation confusing when God makes it so simple.
Using tracts as an excuse to not talk to people
There are those who will distribute tracts at a parade, put them underneath the windshield wiper of a car, or place them in a bathroom, who will never talk to a person about the Lord. Tracts then become an excuse, not a witness. I have the same impatience for someone who will lie down in front of an abortion clinic protesting the destruction of a fetus but will not walk across the street and tell a neighbor about Christ. How does that honor the Lord?
Leaving tracts in lieu of a tip
When tracts are left with a generous tip and a kind note of thanks on the back, they can have a great impact. I have had waiters and waitresses say to me, “Thank you so very much. I’ll read this today.” On a few occasions I have had them ask if they could talk to me for a few moments right there. But when a tract is left instead of leaving a tip, tracts are an insult. In essence that is saying to a lost person, “Let me share something since you are worth nothing.” How would you like that if someone did that to you?
Taking a hit-and-run approach with tracts
I was going through a toll booth with a Bible college student. As he got up to the toll booth, he paid the toll then carelessly threw a tract into the face of the woman inside the booth saying, “Here read this” before speeding off. I immediately found myself thinking, “Oh Lord, don’t let her think that is what all Christians are like.” Do you realize how easy it would have been for him to say to her, “I don’t think people like you get thanked enough for what you do. I am sure that job can get very tedious, but you do the public a great service. Because I appreciate you, may I share something with you that has meant a lot in my life. You can read it later. I think you will enjoy it.” I always receive a smile and a thank you with that kind of compliment.
Settling for tracts that look cheap because they are cheap
Before someone reads the inside, they see the outside of a tract. A cheap tract conveys a cheap message. Salvation is free but it is everything but cheap. It cost God His own Son. We simply receive salvation as a gift because His Son already paid the price. A tract that is attractive conveys, “This is something that cost us to get printed, but it is worth it because it conveys a very important message.”
Forcing a tract on someone without their permission
Gospel tracts are meant to be shared out of compassion for the unbeliever by a believer who wants to communicate. Communication requires a person who wants to talk and a person who wants to listen. A “may I share approach” makes a big difference. If the unbeliever is not willing to receive what we have for them, it shouldn’t be forced upon them. Give God time to soften the person’s heart and make them receptive to spiritual things. Even when they are willing to receive such a tract, keep in mind that there are times as you interact, that you have to listen and let them talk.
Also, there are times we get calls here at EvanTell when the owner of private property has been offended because tracts were left on his property without his permission. While trying to win someone to Christ, how are we building our witness when we offend the owners of that private property?
Many need to rethink tract evangelism. The bottom line is that tract paper is cold; you make it warm. They are so effective when accompanied with words such as, “May I share something with you that has meant a lot to me? I think you will enjoy it.” Even if I leave one on the table for a waiter or waitress, I leave a generous tip with a note saying, “You are the greatest. Thank you for your kind service. Hope this is an encouragement to you.” I could keep you all day long (and I sincerely mean that) telling you stories about what has happened when they have been used properly.
Tracts can honor Christ and be greatly used in the lives of others. When used improperly, they can do significant harm. Perhaps a rule of thumb should follow the same golden rule we all already know: do unto others as you would have them to do unto you. (Matt. 7:12)
When distributing a tract, ask yourself, “Am I sharing this in a way that I would like someone to share it with me?”