What is the difference?
As there is misunderstanding and misuse of the words proselytism and evangelism in the world today, World Evangelical Alliance wants to share an official definition of these words.
WEA strongly rejects proselytism but supports full religious freedom according to the United Nations declaration of Human Rights (Articles 18 and 19). That freedom will give people of every religion the right to share their beliefs and allow everyone the freedom of conscience to believe as they choose.
According to the World Evangelical Alliance to proselytize and to evangelize are not synonymous. Citing Dr. John R.W. Stott, “The best way to distinguish them is to understand proselytism as ‘unworthy witness.’ The World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church produced a helpful study document in 1970 titled ‘Common Witness and Proselytism’. It identified three aspects of proselytism.
What we DO WANT to do is build relationships with people. As those relationships develop, we take any opportunity to have discussions about what individuals believe and what we believe about Jesus.
We DO NOT want to force a discussion or make someone feel that services are contingent upon conversion. Any sort of "physical coercion, moral constraint, or psychological pressure" on the client is considered proselytizing and not evangelism.
Proselytism takes place:
(1) whenever our motives are unworthy (when our concern is for our glory rather than God’s)
(2) whenever our methods are unworthy (when we resort to any kind of ‘physical coercion, moral constraint, or psychological pressure’)
(3) whenever our message is unworthy (whenever we deliberately misrepresent people’s beliefs).
In contrast, to evangelize is: (in the words of the Manila Manifesto) ‘to make an open and honest statement of the gospel, which leaves the hearers entirely free to make up their own minds about it'. We wish to be sensitive to those of other faiths, and we reject any approach that seeks to force conversion on them.”
[Definition from Rev. Gary Edmonds, Secretary General for the World Evangelical Alliance]