Reading the Bible with a non-Christian

  • Thomas Bielenberg
  • 2 February 2017

I have just been reminded of the great power of God’s word. I’ve been meeting with one particular guy for four years. It has been a long process, with some discouragement and breaks between meetings, but we have persevered. Today I was planning on taking him through the gospel message and asking if he wanted to believe in Jesus. He indicated while we were chatting that he already believed in Jesus; I was blown away! I later asked him when he had decided to believe. He said he didn’t know exactly, it was ‘more of a journey’, but sometime at the start of this year. Praise God! How did it come about? Through reading God’s word together.

The reality is that God’s word is powerful. Hebrews 4:12 says it “is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”. But how do we bring God’s word to non-Christians so they can decide to follow Jesus? One way is to read it with them one-on-one or in a small group. Here are some ideas about how to do this with a non-Christian you know from your work, church or social scene.


We must pray. No matter how hard we try we cannot make someone become a Christian. We might plant, and another water, but it is God who gives the growth (1 Cor 3:7). Pray for the person you want to invite to read the Bible with you. Pray that God would prepare his or her heart to hear the good news—to prepare the soil for the seed (Matt 13:1-23)—and that they’d be ready to meet with you to read the Bible.


Six Steps to Talking about Jesus includes helpful ‘practical tips’ about evangelism that can be translated directly into inviting a non-Christian to read the Bible with you. Tips include planning to invite your friend and talking confidently when you do, using attractive, positive language. Introduction phrases I like include “Have you ever read the number one international bestseller?”,1 “Have you investigated Jesus for yourself as an adult?” and “Let’s catch up for a coffee and see what the Bible has to say about the most influential person in history”. Work out your own wording, but invite them. They may say yes—and you should not be surprised!

Once someone says yes, make sure you are clear on what will happen next. It is important to agree on a time, a place, and a duration before catching up again. You might like to meet at your home, a coffee shop, or even McDonalds, though it is best to meet in a public place. The meeting should be no longer than one hour. If you have time during your initial meeting, read a few verses together to show them how easy it is. Ask whether they have a Bible. If they do, ask them which translation. If they don’t have a Bible you should provide them with one when you next meet, using the same translation that you have.

You might not be that great at inviting others. Team up with someone who is and they can help you—do it together. But it is best if you offer the invitation because you are the person with the relationship.

Meeting up

The first time you meet:

  • Ensure you’re using the same Bible translation (I like to use the ESV or NIV), even the same edition. Having exactly the same Bible means that you can tell them what page number to go to so that they don’t feel lost or embarrassed looking up a passage. If they ask a question about the different translations, explain briefly why different translations exist.
  • Introduce the book of the Bible you are going to read from (see below for what to read). I like to explain where it fits in the Bible. For example, if we read John’s Gospel I say that it is an eyewitness account of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and that it is in the New Testament, which is the second part of the Bible.2

Here are some practical tips for the structure of your regular meetings.3 Pick what is suitable to you and run with it.

  • Try to meet weekly or fortnightly. Meeting less frequently than fortnightly means that if you miss one meeting you will not meet for a month. That kind of break will mean you lose momentum, and reading the Bible will start dropping off your friend’s radar.
  • Each day pray that God would open your friend’s heart to hear and respond to the good news of Jesus. Pray before each meeting.
  • Prepare for your meeting well; make sure that you have read the passage and have good questions to ask.4
  • Be early and expect your friend to be on time. This is very important. If you are meeting somewhere public, leave plenty of time to get there and to pay for parking, etc.
  • I’ve found, when meeting with students, that they sometimes just don’t turn up. This can be frustrating, but I encourage you to persevere. It helps to contact them the day before to remind them of your upcoming meeting. That way they have an opportunity to let you know if something else has come up. If they don’t turn up, phoning them to see if everything is all right will show your care for them. Remember that them being late and you being on time isn’t a surprise for God—perhaps he just wants to give you more time to read his word!
  • Turn your phone to silent—with no vibration—so you aren’t distracted during your meeting. You could also ask your friend to turn his or her phone to silent. I do sometimes use my phone to look up a passage during the meeting—don’t get tempted to look at your notifications.
  • Make your friend feel welcome. If I am meeting at my home in the evening I make sure I leave the outside light on.
  • I greet the guys I meet using a firm handshake and a smile. I thought this suggestion unnatural at first, but it works well with most of them. Women may want to consider a hug, depending on the relationship. If meeting at your home, ask if they would like tea or coffee.
  • Make sure you love them. At the start of the meeting quickly catch up to see how they are doing. From your previous discussions about them, ask how their latest activities are going, such as work, family or social events. Share how you are going personally and what God is teaching you from your own Bible reading—which means you need to be doing it! Don’t spend the bulk of your time together on catching up though.
  • Sometimes I ask my friend to check me on a few of my latest scripture memory verses.
  • Read and discuss the passage (see ‘Asking and answering questions’ below).
  • Stick to the time limit you agreed on for the meeting. If you are going longer, you can continue the conversation next time.
  • Be sure you encourage them to read ahead for the next week, so that they have time to process it, which makes for a better discussion.
  • Agree on the time and place for your next meeting.
  • In the same way as you welcomed them, farewell them confidently and warmly.

What do we read together?

We want to point people to Jesus, to see who he is, what he has done and what he wants from us—so the eyewitness accounts of the Gospels are the best place to start. The book One-to-One Bible Reading has some great questions to ask when reading through Mark’s Gospel, or Living Proof has a suggested Bible study for John’s Gospel. These aim to have people discover for themselves answers to the questions “Who is Jesus?” and “What does that mean for me?”, and both books have helpful hints for spending time in God’s word with others.

You could also just read a section of Scripture and ask questions about the passage. The most common style of this inductive approach is known as the Swedish Method, and is described in One-to-One Bible Reading. After reading the passage aloud, you look back over the passage for three things:

  1. A light bulb: Anything that shines out in the passage and draws attention…
  2. A question mark: Anything that is hard to understand…
  3. An arrow: Anything that applies personally to the reader’s life. (p. 44)

This method, while being simple, is also very helpful.

You will likely know much more than your friend, and you have probably read the passage a number of times. But one thing I have had to learn is not to painstakingly go through every detail of the passage. Let God’s word speak for itself; you do not want to scare them off with a mini-sermon. If they only take one thing away each time, that’s great.

Asking and answering questions

I often have trouble with asking good questions to encourage conversation. Make sure that you don’t ask ‘closed’ questions that have one-word answers such as ‘yes’ or ‘no’; avoid questions that start with ‘is’ or ‘does’. Ask open-ended questions that require thought. Starting a question with ‘so’, ‘who’, ‘why’, ‘how’, ‘what’, ‘when’ or ‘where’ will often help with this. If they still have a one-word answer, try “Why do you think that?” Make questions concise, ask only one question at a time, and don’t make your questions leading questions such as “Jesus was angry with the Pharisees, wasn’t he?”. The Navigator Bible Studies Handbook and Leading Better Bible Studies both have sections on asking questions for observation, interpretation and application.

Are you afraid that you will be asked a question you don’t know the answer to? Don’t be. We can’t know everything. If you know that you are a Christian you know enough for someone else to become a Christian. You most likely know much more than your friend and can answer from your own knowledge, but if you don’t know an answer simply say “That’s a great question. I’m not sure of the answer, but I will get back to you.” Be sure that you do get back to them. However, encourage them to look for an answer themselves so they don’t learn to overly rely on you. They need to check everything against what the Bible says, not to what you say.

Make it reproducible

The aim of reading the Bible with non-Christians is for them to see Jesus and to come to know, love and trust him. If they become Christians, don’t stop meeting with them but help them be disciples of Christ. Get them involved quickly after they are converted by showing them how to read the Bible themselves and then with others so that they can plant the seed in someone else. Jesus trained his disciples and told them to do the same (Matt 28:18-20) and they transformed the world. Paul trained Timothy (2 Tim 2:2) to reproduce generationally by teaching faithful men and women.


Many people these days have never read the Bible before, let alone gone to Sunday School or the like. Therefore it may take quite some time for them to believe. As I mentioned, I met with one guy for nearly four years before he believed, so I encourage you to persevere, keep praying, keep calling and keep meeting up. Most importantly keep sharing God’s powerful word.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isa 55:10-11)

Note: My thanks to Grant Dibden, Phil McMaster and Robin Dennis for their comments and suggestions.One-to-One Bible Reading

1. From Bringing Others To Jesus, Bible League Australia & New Zealand, p.2.

2. Later on you can help them understand the Old/New Testament division, that there are about 40 different authors who wrote 66 books over a period of about 1500 years, and show them the structure of the books (such as poetry, history, eyewitness accounts). Be sure to say that the Bible covers all history and shows us God’s plan for rescuing his people. Explain how chapters and verses help us to find the sections we want to read. Note that the headings used in some Bibles are not in the original text (except some such as in the Psalms where it says ‘of David’ etc).

3. Most of these tips come from the late Jack Griffin, an Australian Navigator.

4. Try Colin Marshall’s Growth Groups for preparing on a book or passage for study, but remember to not overwhelm the non-Christian.