Tracts: How to share Jesus with handouts.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 February
TRACT trækt noun. Short written work in pamphlet form, typically on a religious subject.

By “tract” I mean any booklet, broadside, brochure, card, handout, invitation, flyer, pamphlet, or poster, which introduces the gospel to people. And there’s nothing wrong with using ’em to share Jesus.

Certain Christians object to tracts. Commonly because of the contents of the tracts themselves. I’ve seen plenty which are ridiculous, inaccurate, or even offensive. I certainly don’t wanna hand out those types of tracts; I don’t wanna be associated with foolishness, error, and slander, or make people think Christ Jesus has anything to do with such things. Plenty enough of that in Christendom as it is.

One argument I’ve heard against tracts, is they’re impersonal. These folks claim the way to share Jesus is to make personal connections with fellow human beings, then introduce them to the person of Jesus. But a tract does no such thing. It kinda reduces a living relationship with our awesome Lord… to an advertisement.

These are valid concerns, so I’ll deal with ’em.

Ridiculous tracts.

There are a lot of stupid tracts out there. No, seriously, a lot of them. Certain Christians think that’s the way to get people to read ’em: Be funny, be silly, or be shocking.

But not every tract-writer has a good sense of humor, and the end result is a groan-worthy tract which isn’t funny, or full of stale and overworked jokes, or makes light of all the parts we probably shouldn’t trivialize. Or they try to use wordplay and sarcasm, but they do it in a way where only they seem to get the joke, and everybody else who reads it is simply confused.

And not every tract-writer knows how to make a good-looking tract. They can’t spell, or have poor grammar. They can’t design, so the text is too small or too large, or they put it on top of an image… but it’s nearly the same color, so you can barely read it. They can’t draw, so the images are childish. Or they pulled their images off the internet… and didn’t pay for them, so you can still see the watermark in all the photos. And of course they don’t know how to resize the images, so they’re all stretched and squashed.

Sometimes it’s much worse. Dark Christians love to make tracts, and of course they don’t present the good news; it’s all bad news. It’s all about how we’re dirty sinners, going to hell, and nothing can save us but the sinner’s prayer. It’s not about speaking the truth in love; Ep 4.15 they really don’t have love to give.

Many a dark Christian tract begins by bashing something. Certain sins which offend ’em, Hollywood and the media, politics, other religions, even fellow Christians who worship too differently. While this sort of tract definitely appeals to dark Christians, it’s wholly inappropriate for sharing Jesus. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people of sin. Jn 16.8 Not ours. He convicts ’em in the right way—in a kind way. Whereas dark Christians don’t do kindness either.

Trendy tracts—cards with a pop star or images from a movie or TV show on the front, and the gospel on the back—become out-of-date awfully fast. (Especially since the tract-makers are usually behind the times anyway.) Unless you evangelize teenagers, or parents of teenagers, the percentage of people who are actually up on the latest trends is quite small. I don’t bother with trendy tracts either.

And let’s not forget the deceptive tracts. There’s a tract I came across which, no foolin’, looks like a folded $100 bill. People grab it because they think it’s money, and surprise!—not only isn’t it, but it rebukes you for desiring something as fleeting as money, when you can have eternal life with Jesus. You do realize there are evil people out there who will try to give these tracts instead of tips, and think they’re being righteous. Don’t encourage such behavior.

Don’t use bad tracts. Pick ’em carefully. I prefer any tract which presents the gospel in a straightforward way. I don’t wanna waste people’s time with provocative tracts—with something which appears to be about one thing, and surprise!—it’s religious material. I’ve seen pagans straight-up flinch at such things, and throw them away in disgust. I don’t want that reaction. I want it nice and obvious, on the cover, what this is—because many people will throw out handouts unread, and if I’ve wasted the cover on a hook instead of the gospel, more fool me.

An impersonal handout?

When someone on the street hands me a flyer, I glance at it. I keep it if it seems interesting, and put it in the trash if it doesn’t. Most of the time that’s exactly what people do with a tract. Most of the tracts you hand out will do nothing. Same as any advertising.

In a Christian-majority country, you’re gonna give a lot of tracts to people who already consider themselves Christian. They’ll throw ’em out because they figure they’re good. The rest of the folks: Most don’t care about religion at all, and don’t care to be converted. A small percentage will actually bother to read your tract. A much smaller percentage might allow themselves to be affected by them.

So lots of folks justify tract-passing for this very reason: If they hand out a thousand tracts, and one person comes to Jesus, it’s worth it. And okay, I can’t disagree with that. One person’s eternal life is worth a billion tracts.

But still: Isn’t there anything we can do to improve these statistics any?

And of course there is: Make it personal. When you stand on the street handing out flyers, engage people. If they’re not trying to rush past you, see if you can stop ’em briefly and say, “Do you have a minute?—can I share something with you?” Then share the tract with them. Read it to them. Or, if you have it memorized, tell them the story as they read the flyer. Give them some actual human contact to associate with your tract. Give ’em an experience they can connect with, rather than just a handout which they may or may not read.

If you find out they’re already Christian, see if you can get ’em to pass the tract forward to someone else. If they’re not interested, then okay they’re not interested; you did your job and shared.

But that’s how you improve a tract’s effectiveness. And improve your effectiveness as an evangelist, for that matter.

Free tract!

If you’re wondering, “What’s an example of a good tract?” here’s one I’ve used quite a lot—and not just ’cause I used to work at the ministry which makes ’em. It’s a pamphlet produced by Barnabas Missions Unlimited called “Our Spiritual Journey Together.”

It’s set up so that you can print it on both sides of a sheet of paper, cut it in half, and fold it. You can download the PDF free, in English or Spanish, put your church’s name on the back, and distribute as many as you like. There are directions on their site on how to present it in greater detail at Barnabas Missions’ website.

Likely you’ve seen other good tracts. Most “Four Spiritual Laws” tracts or “Romans Road” tracts are good; and of course there’s no reason you can’t create your own. In fact, if you have created your own, let me know so I can put it on a resource page.