A Trip to the Store
You realize you have everything you need for dinner–everything but that one critical ingredient. You look at the clock. You look at your counter with an open space where that missing ingredient should be. You look at the clock again. You snort, grab your keys, walk out the door, and head to the car. You’re sure you can get to the store and back in time to prepare and have dinner on the table by the time the last family member walks in the door.
You decide to set aside your beliefs in absolutes and see the Vehicle Code as a document of relativity. Stops and speed limit signs are not emphatic, but merely suggestions for preferred driving patterns. You pull into the parking stall at the grocery store not unlike Jimmy Johnson driving down pit road and hitting his mark for a pit stop. You jump out of the car, rush in the store, and head directly to the aisle and shelf where the ingredient awaits you. After all, you are a professional.
You’re firing on all domestic cylinders, dodging single men wandering like zombies through the store–men who have spent so much time in mommy and daddy’s basement playing video games they will likely starve before determining what to buy for dinner. You make your way to the “six items or less” express line and, much to your amazement, the few people in front of you actually know how to count.
You head to your car, confident dinner will not only be on time, but that none of the family will even be able to sense there was a disturbance in the culinary force during the preparation of dinner. You hop in your car, toss the grocery bag on the passenger seat, buckle up, put the key in the ignition, and start the car in one seamless motion. Oh, yes. You are good–very good.
But then, as you put the car in reverse, looking around with your head on the swivel so as not to run into any carts, cars, or pedestrians, you see it. You see that thing! It’s a card, an advertisement, a flyer, a brochure–a paper hindrance to your perfect trip to the store. You stop the car and throw it in park as if what was happening was your transmission’s fault.
You roll down the window and reach out the window and onto the windshield. You stretch to the point of almost dislocating your shoulder, but you can’t reach the piece of paper strategically placed just out of arm’s reach, under your windshield wiper. “Grrr. I hate it when they do that!”
Now, with smoke coming out of your ears, you open the car door, but you forget to disengage the seat belt. You almost “clothes line” yourself. You unbuckle the belt, climb out of the car, and grab the piece of paper from underneath your windshield wiper. Without giving it so much as a glance, you rip it in pieces, toss it to the ground, get back in your car, and drive home.
While the above might be a bit of a hyperbolic dramatization, we’ve all been there. Haven’t we?
Don’t Give Up the Ground!
As Christians, it really bugs us when inappropriate material of various kinds or material from false religions is left on our cars. So, we respond by committing never to put something on someone’s car. We convince ourselves that an invitation to church or a gospel tract left on someone’s car won’t be read. It will simply be discarded in a huff. And, in doing so, we effectively eliminate a legitimate and easy form of evangelism. We concede fertile evangelistic ground to worldly companies and unholy religions.
Sadly, this is par for the American Evangelical course. Evangelicals shy away from open-air preaching because there are some really bad preachers out there bringing a reproach upon Christ. Christians shy away from door-to-door evangelism because Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are most noted for the activity. And Christians shy away from distributing gospel tracts for a number of reasons, including not liking it when someone leaves something on their cars.
Be that as it may, it is never a good idea to give up evangelistic battlefields to the enemy, whether secular or religious. As one Christian apologist was fond of saying, “Are [Christians] willing to do for the truth what cults are willing to do for a lie?” In every area of evangelism, Christians need to be committed to proclaiming the truth louder and more often than others proclaim lies. Let good preachers outnumber bad preachers. Let Christians knock on more doors than Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. And let Christians use literature, like well-written gospel tracts, to distribute the gospel more than vendors, conspiracy theorists, political activists, and cultists use literature to distribute worldly, temporal, and/or false information.
I can speak authoritatively regarding the negative feelings many Christians have regarding leaving gospel tracts on parked cars. The reason: up until a couple weeks ago, I had nothing but negative thoughts about leaving gospel tracts on cars. That is, until my good friend, Jeff Sherfey, snapped me out of it.
Jeff is passionate about living a godly life and reaching the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ, through biblical evangelism. In fact, Jeff is so passionate about evangelism that he will soon join the Cross Encounters Ministries team to lead a new outreach. More about that, soon.
Jeff and I meet most every week for fellowship, discipleship, and mutual encouragement (oh, and Starbucks coffee). One of Jeff’s favorite ways to distribute gospel tracts is by leaving them on parked cars. A little over a week ago, after downing a couple iced coffees together, we quickly placed tracts on about 100 cars in the shopping center parking lot. It took just several minutes.
Instead of placing the tracts on the windshield, the least favorite place for motorists to find material on their cars, we placed the gospel tracts on the driver’s door window of cars. This way, the first thing the person sees when they approach their car is the gospel tact. This is better than seeing the tract after they’ve sat down in their car, only to have to get out again to retrieve the tract.
While leaving a tract on the driver’s door window instead of the windshield does not guarantee the person won’t simply throw the tract to the ground without reading it (an unavoidable possibility when distributing gospel tracts in any context), removing the probable frustration of having to get out of their car to get the tract from the windshield, might invoke a less antagonistic attitude toward the tract. Additionally, if the person’s keys are not in his hands before he arrives at his car, he will retrieve them from his pocket when he arrives. The motion of retrieving keys from one’s pocket while picking up the tract off the driver’s door window with one’s free hand is a natural one, and a motion that is more likely to lead to the person putting the tract in his or her pocket, instead of throwing it to the ground.
It’s not uncommon to meet people in the parking lot, as they return to their cars. Don’t avoid handing a tract to someone sitting in their car or someone arriving at his car. Avoiding people in parking lots can be seen as suspicious behavior.
If you do approach someone who is either arriving at, entering, or sitting in his car, it is important NOT to approach the person from behind. I made that mistake twice today while distributing tracts and gave two ladies quite a start. Of course I apologized, explained what I was doing, and gave them each a gospel tract. But I felt terrible that I had startled them.
Approach people from the front, so they can see you coming from a distance.
Make sure your hands are visible.
Hold up the tracts so that they are easy to see.
Let the people know as you approach (before you get to their cars) that you are distributing gospel tracts. Give them your name. And assure them you do not want to sell them anything. These basic pieces of information should help to alleviate the understandable tension and uneasiness people often feel when begin approached at their cars by strangers.
People are quite vulnerable when entering and exiting their vehicles. Theft, robbery, assault, carjacking, and other crimes often take place in or near the victim’s car. Most people are aware of this, and most people are wary of strangers approaching their cars. So again, it is critically important to let people know, if you approach them while they are near or in their car, who you are and what are your intentions.
Distributing gospel tracts is NOT soliciting!
According to the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), in an article titled “Sharing Your Faith/Witnessing,” the distribution of gospel tracts is NOT soliciting. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
“‘Am I soliciting when I hand out religious literature and share my faith?’
“No! Giving away free Gospel tracts and talking to people about salvation are not the same thing as soliciting. The Supreme Court has held that there is a difference between soliciting and leafleting. In United States v. Kokinda, 497 U.S. 720 (1990), the Supreme Court permitted the postal service to enforce a rule against asking (soliciting) for donations on postal property. However, the Court suggested that it would reject a rule that banned free distribution of literature on such properties, stating:
‘As residents of metropolitan areas know from daily experience, confrontation by a person asking for money disrupts passage and is more intrusive and intimidating than an encounter with a person giving out information. One need not ponder the contents of a leaflet or pamphlet in order mechanically to take it out of someone’s hand, but one must listen, comprehend, decide and act in order to respond to a solicitation.’
“Id. at 734 (plurality).
“In ISKCON v. Lee, 505 U.S. 672 (1992), and Lee v. ISKCON, 505 U.S. 830 (1992), the Supreme Court considered a restriction on leafleting and another restriction on solicitation of donations in airport terminals. The Court concluded that solicitation is separate from literature distribution and that, despite the fact that the airport terminals were nonpublic forums, a regulation barring the distribution of free literature in the terminals was unreasonable and unconstitutional. Accordingly, while a city official may, in some instances, not allow solicitation, such a regulation may not be broadened to include literature distribution. As long as you are giving away your literature for free, and not asking for donations, you are engaging in the most protected form of speech.”
So, the next time someone like a security guard or police officer tells you that you are not allowed to solicit, politely and respectfully assert: “Yes, sir. I understand. But I am not soliciting. I am leafleting.” It might also be helpful to copy and paste the above information into a document, and then print several copies to have on hand, in the event you are accused of soliciting.
Become Familiar with the Law
The parking lots associated with private businesses, stores, shopping centers, and malls–like the properties to which they are attached–are generally recognized as private property that is open for public use. Business have a legal right to establish “time, place, and manner” rules for the exercise of free speech, which includes leafleting, on their property.
If a business owner, property manager, or security guard asks you to stop distributing material on the property, politely and respectfully ask to see the business’s “written policy regarding the time, place, and manner for the exercise of free speech and leafleting.” Unless you live in one of the few states, like California, where many business have submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in “Pruneyard Shopping Cener v. Robins,” the likelihood the person with whom you speak will have no idea what you are talking about. However, “Pruneyard” is the law of the land regarding free speech in malls, shopping centers, etc.
It’s also important to note that law enforcement or other government entities cannot stop you from leafleting because some of the people receiving the literature might throw it to the ground and litter. In the case “Lovell v. City of Griffin,” the court said, in part:
“Mere legislative preferences or beliefs respecting matters of public convenience may well support regulation directed at other personal activities, but be insufficient to justify such as diminishes the exercise of rights so vital to the maintenance of democratic institutions . . . We are of the opinion that the purpose to keep the streets clean and of good appearance is insufficient to justify an ordinance which prohibits a person rightfully on a public street from handing literature to one willing to receive it. Any burden imposed upon the city authorities in cleaning and caring for the streets as an indirect consequence of such distribution results from the constitutional protection of the freedom of speech and press.”
For more information about what to do if you find yourself being spoken to while “car tracting” or engaging in any form of evangelism while in a public place, please read my helpful article titled: “Hello Officer.”
Giving Spurgeon the Final Word
Christian friends: as I have often said, the gospel is a communicated message, either in verbal (Romans 10:14-17) or written (1 John 5:13) form. And it is the gospel ALONE that is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). A well-written, biblical gospel tract is an effective way to communicate the gospel for the simple reason that it contains the gospel. No further defense ever needs to be made for the distribution of gospel tracts.
Furthermore, there is not an easier way to engage in biblical evangelism than the distribution of gospel tracts. If you need more encouragement to start distributing gospel tracts, please read my article on the Christian Apologetic and Research Ministry website.
But, I will give the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon the last word on the subject.
“When preaching and private talk are not available, you need to have a tract ready . . . Get good striking tracts, or none at all. But a touching gospel tract may be the seed of eternal life. Therefore, do not go out without your tracts.”