Evangelistic conversations can be tough. Really tough. They can be so tough and discouraging that, after having a few, many people give up and never try again.
However, there are things we can do to allow a tough situation to become enjoyable—and more importantly, effective.
So, what’s a good way to engage in an evangelistic conversation?
Before any evangelistic conversation, ensure that you are prepared. Have a strategy for how you desire conversations to run, and rehearse and practice exactly how you will present the gospel. Most importantly: pray! Pray for opportunities to talk about Jesus and your faith, and pray for fertile soil in the hearts and minds of those you will speak to.
The most effective way of introducing the gospel into a conversation is by trying to have an existing conversation veer into spiritual matters. This might occur in any number of ways, but you can nudge it in the right direction by talking about church, Bible study, prayer, religion in society, or any other topic where spirituality is relevant.
If the person you’re speaking to seems interested or open, it’s time to ask questions. These questions perform a variety of functions: they display your interest in the other person (people love talking about themselves!), they act as a spiritual diagnostic so you can ascertain where the other person is at with God, and they also act as a funnel to more specific gospel questions.
Good questions you might ask could be: Did you have a religious or spiritual upbringing? Is your family religious/spiritual? Did you grow up going to church/mass/mosque? Did you attend a Christian school? Do you send your kids to a religious school?
After they’ve answered, don’t stop there! Ask more follow up questions, such as: What was that like? Did you enjoy that? Did the spiritual teachings play a big part in your life?
All of these questions are leading onto giving you the opportunity to ask more direct and pertinent evangelistic questions. After establishing your interest in their spiritual background and perspective, it is time to ask questions directly related to the gospel. In other words, questions you yourself will answer later in the conversation, that act as a funnel into your presentation of the gospel.
Good examples of these questions are:What would you say the main message of Christianity is? Who do you think Jesus is? Why did Jesus die? Who killed Jesus?
At this stage, it is very important that you actually listen to what they say. Their answers will reveal what parts of the gospel they do not comprehend. Generally, people will expose a tragic ignorance as to the main message of who Jesus is, and what he did. Rarely, they will get the questions exactly right and yet still not be believers—in which case it’s worth pressing into their answers to get them to flesh out exactly what they’re not saying.
At this point, you’ve proven that you’re interested in their perspective. In most western cultures, you’ve also given yourself permission to answer the same questions that you’ve asked—a fairly standard social norm (e.g. “What did you make of the footy on the weekend?” “Oh, I thought the Roosters were terrible.” “Are you kidding? I thought they were great!”)
What I do at this point is say something like: “That’s really interesting. What if I was to tell you the Bible actually says something that’s completely different to that—could I tell you what the Bible says?”
I generally ask permission to continue: primarily it shows them that I’m not interested in merely preaching at them, but also it tends to show that I’m very keen that they’re listening.
It is crucial that you go into this privileged position with a plan as to how you will present the gospel. It is important that you don’t only discuss its ramifications (i.e. you can go to heaven if you just accept God’s love) without explaining exactly what the gospel is.
So, what is the gospel?
A summary you might find helpful is:
I never say the summary in an evangelistic conversation: it is a checklist to make sure I’m presenting the gospel faithfully.
There are several helpful gospel presentations available. Two ways to live is excellent, as is The bridge method. My personal preference is called The book, taken from Christianity Explained. Whatever presentation you use, the better you know it, the more effective it will be. Practice it on your own so you are ready when God offers you opportunities.
Once you’ve presented the gospel, ask them if they have any questions or thoughts. This doesn’t need to be overly complicated. You might say: “What do you think about that? Do you have any questions—does that make sense?”
Once you’ve finished, it is important to not let the conversation meander to another topic or fizzle out. Instead, if your listener engaged with you and seemed to understand what you said, take this opportunity to challenge and call them to faith.
You could say something like: “The thing is: knowing all of this about Jesus is a challenge for us to only have our faith in him. Do you have your faith in him? Would you like to put your faith in him?”
In my experience there are some people who put off becoming Christians because they just don’t know how to become a Christian—and some people become Christians without realizing it’s actually happened!
If the person has said they would like to put their faith in Jesus, take the opportunity to explain how you become a Christian. I take them to Mark 1:15, and explain repentance and faith.
If the person desires to become a Christian and has understood the gospel and the concepts of repentance and faith, I then lead them in a prayer.
I will often explain the prayer by saying something like: “We’re now going to pray to God, telling him you believe in what Jesus has done, and asking him to forgive you for your sin. This isn’t Harry Potter: these words aren’t magic. It’s just two ordinary, sinful people talking to the God who made all things, and loves you.”
You should then lead them in a prayer of repentance and faith.
If this has happened—as it does, all over the world, every hour of every day—praise God! But your job hasn’t finished, it’s just beginning. Make sure they have a Bible, or give/lend them yours. Arrange a time to meet up with them in the next week. Invite them to church, and meet them out the front.
If they haven’t become a Christian—praise God for the opportunity to proclaim his gospel! Try and arrange a time to meet up in the coming week to continue the conversation, invite them to church—or your church’s upcoming evangelistic course.
If your conversation follows the above format, wonderful! However, it is not always—or even usually—this straightforward. Often the people you’re talking with will become uncomfortable with the conversation, or try to derail or shut down what you’re saying. If this happens, it is important to remember that you’re trying to win the person for Christ, not win an argument. If it becomes clear that they’re not interested, or uncomfortable, then feel free to pause what you’re saying and try to re-engage them. Return to asking them questions about their opinion of what you’ve said, or other questions. If, after that, it becomes clear that they’re not interested, respond with patience and graciousness: thank them for listening to you, and tell them how much you enjoyed hearing their opinion and thoughts. It’s important that they leave with a positive impression, that you’re not just interested in preaching at them: this will make things easier for you to pick up this line of conversation later.
As evangelicals, we often believe in a God who can save people… but usually won’t. But God can, he does, and amazingly he uses broken vessels like us to reach others. Let’s get to work with him!