I was wondering if you could let me know how shall I describe someone who tries to convert people to another religion. The only word I know is "missionary" who attempts to invite people to a specific religion. So I would say something like:

  • He / she is a Christianity / Islam / Judaism missionary

I need to know how natives would say such a thing?


4 Answers 4


These answers are all focusing on particular words without answering the OP's question about grammar. To address that, you could write

  • He is a Christian [missionary/evangelist/proselytizer].
  • He [evangelizes/proselytizes] for Christianity.


  • A missionary is someone who proselytizes professionally, and likely moved far from his own home specifically to do so.
  • Proselytizing can carry a negative connotation.
  • The term evangelist is often used in contemporary business; for instance, someone may have a job as a "Brand Evangelist," which would mean that they promote a company's product the same way that an evangelist promotes his religion.
  • Thank you very much, Daniel. I wonder if you also let me know if it is possible to say: "He is a Muslim / Jewish [missionary/evangelist/proselytizer]."? --- Also: "He [evangelizes/proselytizes] for Islam / Judaism."?
    – A-friend
    Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 5:52
  • 3
    There's nothing wrong with the grammar. Technically both "evangelism" and "proselytizing" are specific to Christianity, but of course nowadays you can "evangelize for Coca-Cola" so it could be acceptable to use the term informally. Religions also have their own terms for their own conversion activities that could be used, e.g. "dawah" in Islam, "soul-winning" in certain protestant sects, etc. It depends on the context. Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 6:02
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    Note that "evangelist" is a much more common term today than "proselytizer".
    – jpmc26
    Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 15:25
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    Well, "evangelist" is more commonly used with a positive connotation. "Proselytizer" is still used quite often with a negative connotation. Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 16:23

The specific title evangelist is often used to refer to one person: John the Evangelist. In modern Christian usage, there's also the problem that one denomination/strand within Christianity is known as evangelism, so if you say "He's an evangelist" people might think you mean "He's an evangelical Christian".

A more generic word, which can apply to any religion, is proselytize.

Collins gives

to convert (someone) from one religious faith to another

However, it also acknowledges that even an unsuccessful attempt to convert someone counts as proselytism:

If you proselytize, you try to persuade someone to share your beliefs, especially religious or political beliefs.

A person who proselytizes is a proselytizer. A newly converted person, by the way, is a proselyte.

  • 10
    Hmm, it's certainly true that "evangelical" has come to refer to a particular strand of Christianity. But I've never heard the word "evangelist" used to refer to members of that strand. They're called "evangelical Christians" or "evangelicals" for short.
    – Jay
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 14:14
  • I don't know why @Max deleted his answer citing proselytism (which I must admit I'm only familiar with as the adjective or abstract noun proselyting, invariably used pejoratively). But noting the significant shift in usage patterns, it probably wouldn't be understood by many people anyway. So perhaps it's not the best choice for OP today (but it is right! :) Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 14:30
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    This may well depend on what denomination one belongs to, but if someone in my church said, "the Evangelist" with no context indicating who, I can't imagine that anyone would assume they mean John. The term "John the Evangelist" is used to distinguish the writer of the Gospel of John from John the Baptist and other Johns mentioned in the Bible, but I've never understood it to be a title specifically applied to this one man. Rather, it's a title used to distinguish among several people named John, and is only really meaningful in that context.
    – Jay
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 14:37
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    @FumbleFingers - That decline you show is for an lesser-used variant form of the verb. Have another look. Also, I've seen/heard proselytizing used in secular contexts as well, such as the PC vs Mac debate (scroll down to the last paragraph), and even as a byline in this whiskey blog.
    – J.R.
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 15:35
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    I'm a college-educated native speaker, and I've never heard of "proselytize". So just beware, it's not a common word. Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 22:02

Such a person could be called an evangelist...

Evangelism is the preaching of the gospel or the practice of giving information about a particular doctrine or set of beliefs to others with the intention of converting others to the Christian faith.

Although the above Wikipedia definition specifically limits usage to the Christian faith, it's by no means impossible to refer to an evangelistic Buddhist, for example.

  • 2
    You can also use evangelist for secular endeavors, like innovation evangelist, or some-shiny-new-tech evangelist. It has connotations that might be tricky though.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 13:59
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    @ColleenV True, but I think that usage is a metaphor from the Christian usage. Use of "evangelist" to describe Christian preachers goes back hundreds of years. Use to describe advocates for a new product is pretty recent.
    – Jay
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 14:10
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    @A-friend I think the common wording would be, "He is evangelizing for X", or "he is evangelizing people to X".
    – Jay
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 14:29
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    @FumbleFingers Maybe this is a regional difference. In the U.S., to "evangelize" means to attempt to convert someone to your religion. It doesn't imply that you succeed. No one would blink at a statement like, "He's been evangelizing for 20 years but has never converted anyone." It doesn't indicate that you convince that person to become an evangelist himself, just a believer in your religion.
    – Jay
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 14:40
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    @FumbleFingers I don't doubt that "evangelize" has negative connotations to atheists and extreme secularists in the U.S., but to most I think it's a pretty neutral word. But atheists here -- and your comments imply this applies to atheists in the UK also -- often take the view, "You are free to believe anything you like, as long as you agree that only my beliefs may be spoken in public."
    – Jay
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 14:44

"Missionary" is generally used to mean someone who has made converting others to his religion his life's work. The usual connotation is that this is his job: he is supported by a church or missionary organization or some form of contributions from others. If he does have a regular job to support himself, he views this as secondary: his job is a means to support his mission work, and not something he does for itself. (Missionaries who support themselves are often called "bivocational missionaries".

"Evangelist" is very similar in meaning to "missionary". In Christian circles, I think the word "missionary" is used for people who go to a foreign country or another culture, while "evangelist" is used for those who try to spread the faith at home. Like speaking as someone from the U.S., a person who toured the U.S. preaching Christianity would be called an "evangelist", while someone who went to Kazakhstan to spread Christianity would be called a "missionary".

"Proselytize" is a verb meaning to try to convert others to your religion. The dictionary gives "proselytizer" as the noun form, but I think that's very rarely used. "Proselytize" tends to have negative connotations. If you resent someone else trying to convince you to change your religion, you might say "he's trying to proselytize me". But a religious group would be unlikely to say, "Hey, let's go out and try to proselytize a bunch of people".

In conservative Christian circles, it's common to refer to people trying to convert others to Christianity as "witnessing", and to a person who engages in such efforts as "a witness". As in, "Bob is trying to be a witness at his job", meaning, Bob is trying to talk about Christianity and convert others at his job. I've never heard this term used for other religions: I don't think anyone talks about a "Muslim witness" or a "Buddhist witness" in this sense.

There's also the general word "preacher". A "preacher" might be trying to convert people. But he also might be trying to teach people who already share his faith more about that faith, or encourage them to practice it more faithfully, etc.

Anyone who talks a lot about his faith might be called an "outspoken X", that is, an "outspoken Christian", "outspoken Muslim", etc.

  • 2
    Literally a "missionary" is someone who is sent. Broadly all missionaries are evangelists, but not all evangelists are missionaries. Both terms are traditionally exclusively Christian. All (Christian) preachers would also be evangelists, as they are spreading the Good News. None of the terms imply a specific intent to convert - only to teach/inform.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 17:03
  • I think proselyte and related terms are traditionally only associated with Judaism (which doesn't actively seek converts, and is historically viewed negatively), being the only other religion English-speakers would largely come into contact with, and we already had the Christian-specific words.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 17:03
  • @OrangeDog I agree with your evangelist/missionary distinction. I don't think "missionary" is exclusively Christian: people talk about "Muslim missionaries" and "Buddhist missionaries". Evangelist comes from the Greek for "tell the good news", "good news" being the Gospels, so I don't think it's strictly applicable to other religions, but if you talked about a "Buddhist evangelist", people would surely know what you meant.
    – Jay
    Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 4:11

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