For many people, the most difficult part of sharing the gospel with someone is starting a conversation. If you are a Christian, you probably know enough about the gospel to lead someone to Christ. Therefore, the problem is not that the gospel is hard to explain, but the problem of starting a conversation that gives most Christians trouble. Let’s go back to the basics and make evangelism easy. Basically, an evangelistic conversation is made up of 5 stages.
1. Warm Connection
2. Mutual Interest
3. The Shift
4. Gospel Presentation
5. Questions and Answers.
In this post, we will direct our attention to these stages and explore how they work together.
Stage 1: Warm Connection
When attempting to share the gospel with someone, you should try to begin with a warm connection. I’m sure you have heard the popular business line, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This is not only true when interviewing for a job, but is also true of evangelism. A warm initial contact may by used by God to crack open the door of a gospel conversation. Our society is becoming increasingly self-centered. Few people give a wave of thanks when another person stops the car to allow him to cross the street. Seldom does someone make an effort to help another person in need. Simply put, people are usually more concerned about themselves than about others. Therefore, a warm connection is as easy as committing a simple act of friendliness. How is your day going? Has the store been busy today? Do you have any weekend plans? These are simple examples of how you can begin opening the way for the gospel.
A good first impression will accomplish a number of things in preparation for a gospel witness. It can grab the person’s attention. Your hearers may quickly recognize the difference between someone who is indifferent and someone who is generous and outgoing. Your attitude toward people will leave a lasting impression which may be the encouragement they need to consider what you say about Jesus. In addition, if you make a habit of handing out gospel tracts as you go about your day, the way you treat people may make an impact on whether or not lost people read your material. Logically, a non-Christian is much more likely to read a tract given by a warm person than one given by someone with a cold, unfriendly disposition. Remember, evangelism is a joyful privilege given to us by God Himself, and we can approach it with sincere joy.
Stage 2: Mutual Interest
After making a positive contact, the second stage in an evangelistic conversation is finding mutual interest. You may not realize it, but all people have things in common with each other. We all have a hometown, a daily routine, and family or friends. Through mutual interests people relate to one another. In an evangelistic conversation, this is important as you prepare for the 3rd stage, The Shift. This can be done simply by asking the other person a question or two about himself. These questions should be simple and down-to-earth. Showing genuine interest in the life of another person is a great way to reveal the love of Christ. And recognizing your mutual interests is necessary to build a healthy relationship through which you may share the gospel. However, always remember that the goal of evangelism is not to build relationships, but to share the gospel. Our objective should be to take the first reasonable opportunity to share Christ with others. Many people make a mistake by thinking that they have to build an in-depth, long-term relationship with someone before sharing the gospel. This is not true. In fact, some Christians spend so much time building relationships that when the time comes to share the gospel, they fear damaging the friendship and shrink back from proclaiming the good news. We should make it the goal of our lives to share the gospel with everyone as soon as possible. You never know when an evangelistic opportunity is a person’s last opportunity to hear the gospel. You can begin a relationship with someone by asking him about his family, where he lives, where he went to school, or how long he has lived in the area. A moment of kindness is all it takes.
Stage 3: The Spiritual Shift
So far, we have discussed how to make a positive first impression and how to build a basic relationship with a lost person. Now we turn our attention to Stage 3, The Spiritual Shift. In every witnessing encounter, there comes a time when friendliness becomes evangelism. This happens when you shift from the natural to the spiritual. The “natural” consists of common ground conversation topics we discussed earlier. The “spiritual” consists of spiritual conversation topics that lead to the gospel. In order for a conversation to be evangelistic, you must learn to shift from the natural to the spiritual. This stage in a conversation may provoke you to fear and worry. After all, this shift in conversation is important. Without the shift, you are nothing more than a friendly person. However, you do not need to fear this part of evangelism. If you have done some preliminary work to make a good first impression and establish common ground, the shift from natural to spiritual will be fairly easy. There are many ways to shift a conversation from small talk to spiritual talk. We just need to keep our eyes open for opportunities. Though the possibilities are virtually endless, let’s discuss a few examples.
If someone is wearing a cross, you have an excellent opportunity to begin talking about spiritual things. You could draw attention to the cross, ask what it means to the person, and then explain what it means to you. That’s it! In one brief moment, you will have shifted from something natural like an article of jewelry to something spiritual, the cross of Christ. Another opportunity to shift a conversation toward the gospel is by discussing current events. For instance, you might shift the conversation from a discussion about a war to a discussion about what happens when someone dies fighting for his country. What awaits a soldier after death? As you can see, the logical conclusion is a discussion about eternity. The great preacher D.L. Moody is considered one of history’s greatest evangelists. Shortly after becoming a Christian, Moody committed to never let 24 hours pass without sharing his faith with at least one person. Speaking of Moody, his good friend R.A. Torrey wrote this:
Another night, Mr. Moody got home and had gone to bed before it occurred to him that he had not spoken to a soul that day about accepting Christ. “Well,” he said to himself, “it is no good getting up now; there will be nobody on the street at this hour of the night.” But he got up, dressed and went to the front door. It was pouring rain. “Oh,” he said, “there will be no one out in this pouring rain. Just then he heard the patter of a man’s feet as he came down the street, holding an umbrella over his head. Then Mr. Moody darted out and rushed up to the man and said: “May I share the shelter of your umbrella?” “Certainly,” the man replied. Then Mr. Moody said: “Have you any shelter in the time of storm?” and preached Jesus to him. Oh, men and women, if we were as full of zeal for the salvation of souls as that, how long would it be before the whole country would be shaken by the power of a mighty, God-sent revival?R.A. Torrey
Another way to shift a conversation from the natural to the spiritual is by asking someone a simple spiritual question. A great question to ask is “Do you belong to a local church? I love my church.” Most people, even if they don’t attend, have a sneaking suspicion that they should be involved in a local church. Asking this question will usually open the door to ask another spiritual question like, “what kind of spiritual beliefs do you have? What do you think awaits us after death? What is required to know God? What do you believe about God? Before you know it, you are enjoying an interesting conversation about the Savior.
Finally, there may be instances when you don’t have much time and need to cut right to the gospel. For a long time, I thought this was impossible without offending people or turning them off. You may be hindered by this same fear. If so, there is no need. Have you heard the phrase, “it is not what you say, but how you say it”? This is quite true! Let’s say you want to ask someone flat out, “if you were to die today, are you 100% sure you would have eternal life in heaven?” You might hesitate to ask this question because it seems a bit awkward and crazy. Well, you are right. To come right out and ask a question like this would be a bit awkward. However, this does not mean you cannot ask someone about his eternal destiny. Instead, it means you need to prepare the person by saying something like, “I know this may sound crazy, but I want to ask you a serious question. If you were to die today, are you 100% sure you would have eternal life in heaven?” You see, by showing the person that you know such a question is rarely asked, it does not seem crazy at all. If you prepare someone for a strange question, they will be likely to consider your question and continue the conversation. All lost people care about eternity at some level and will appreciate the fact that you are willing to be honest and open about spiritual things.
Stage 4: A Gospel Presentation
The fourth stage in an evangelistic conversation is a clear gospel presentation. This stage is the most important of all. Romans 1:16 explains that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of salvation for those who believe. Remember, if your conversation does not reach this stage you have done nothing evangelistic. Since this stage is so important, let’s take a moment to consider what a clear gospel message includes.
Basically, the gospel message can be broken into four parts; God’s Purpose, Man’s Problem, God’s Solution, Man’s Response. Since before time, God’s desire has been to gather for Himself a people for His own possession. Being a compassionate and personal God, He hardwired us to live in joyful fellowship with Him. Man’s problem is Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God by willfully breaking His commands. This rebellion, known as sin, has been passed down to all people, leaving us at odds with our just Creator. As a result, each person is in danger of being punished for his sin. Knowing that we are incapable of finding our way back, God decided to provide a solution to our terrible predicament. In the greatest act of love ever shown, the God of this universe sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to live a perfect life, die a costly death, and miraculously rise from the dead. All of this was done to accomplish what no man or woman could accomplish. To this day, God is offering to the world the free gift of eternal life. This gift is received by those who respond to God’s offer by placing their faith in Jesus Christ alone. Through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, peace with God can be found. After someone comes to Christ, his life begins to change as he is conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.
The gospel is a very simple message of good news. While the depth of God’s goodness will never be fully plumbed, the message of salvation in Christ is not difficult to understand. Often, we become nervous when thinking about sharing the message of Christ with others, but we need not be nervous. If you are a Christian, you know enough to lead someone to saving faith in Jesus. However, it never hurts to review the message in hopes of sharing it more clearly in the future. To learn more about how to clearly share the gospel with a lost person, read through the other articles provided here.
Stage 5: Questions and Answers
The 5th and final stage of an evangelistic conversation concerns questions and answers. As you clearly share the gospel with others they will usually respond with questions about the Bible, the world, and salvation. Throughout God’s word, we are encouraged to be ready for these questions. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Since most people know very little about the gospel, they will ask questions about God, Christ, sin, forgiveness, judgment, creation, heaven, hell, other religions, etc…Though, we may not have all the answer, it is our responsibility to do whatever we can to be prepared with clear, concise, and helpful answers. In theological circles, the act of answering questions about the gospel is called “apologetics.” Basically, apologetics involves giving a defense for what you believe. A few examples of questions that could come up are, “If God created the world, who created God?,” “If salvation is only found in Jesus, what happens to someone who never hears about Jesus?,” “If God is all-good, does evil exist in the world?,” “How do you know the Bible is true?,” and “Don’t all religions lead to heaven?” Trying to answer these questions may seem a daunting task. These are good reasons to know what we believe and how we know the Bible’s answers are true. Since our goal is equip Christians to share the gospel confidently, we must be ready to provide clear answers to these and other questions. If you run into any troubling questions as you witness, please let us know so we can help you and others be prepared with good answers.
Finally, always remember that if you don’t know how to respond to a question, the best answer is, “I don’t know, but I can try to find an answer.” Don’t ever make up an answer! If people find out that you just make up answers to hard questions, they will question whether you can be trusted. Lost people will appreciate your honesty when you admit that you do not have all the answers. Some of the most irritating people are those who act like they know everything when they really don’t. Even if you do know everything, remember that humility honors Christ while arrogance brings reproach to His name.
Well, now you know all you need to know in order to begin and end a productive conversation about the gospel. All that is left is for you to begin putting these principles into practice with God’s gracious help.