Mark Vowels, CGO Director
Why don’t we typically excel at sharing the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ? There are a variety of reasons for our frequent failures, ranging from a lack of clarity about our own relationship with God to a paralyzing fear about being rejected by others. But one of the reasons that we often give is that we just don’t know what to say to start a gospel conversation. That’s what I want to discuss in this blog post.
On one level, it is helpful to simply learn how to be friendly and conversational. My own natural tendency is to be an introvert. Left to myself, I’m the guy at the party who stands alone in one corner. It doesn’t come naturally to me to be the one who starts a conversation with a stranger. Once a conversation is initiated, I’m usually good, but my personality is to wait and let others talk to me. I realized a long time ago, however, that my personality and my desire to share the gospel did not work well together. So I just had to learn to start conversations and push myself to be friendly. Believe me, I still need to push myself, but I have found that most people enjoy someone being friendly to them and never realize that for me it doesn’t come natural.
So what will you talk about? Well, some topics are easy, like the weather or some major current event, or whatever the particular situation that has brought you together (travel, shopping, waiting in a line, etc.). Most people also like to talk about family, what they do for a living, their ideal vacation spot, or anything they might find to be fun and interesting. Be observant and talk about something that seems to be important to the other person. Once I was on a cross-country flight seated next to a man covered in tattoos. I have nothing in particular against tattoos, but I have never gotten one, so I said to the man, “I’ve never thought about getting a tattoo, but you’re deeply invested! Can you tell me about your tattoos?” And he did! For more than an hour! But then when he finished, he asked me, “So what are you into?” And I told him about the gospel. On another occasion I met a guy with a huge blue mohawk, so I just asked him, “Why blue?” and that started a conversation which eventually led me to tell him about Jesus.
My point is that learning to have conversations with people you don’t know is a skill that can be learned through practice. I often say in class, you can’t make disciples without relationships, and you can’t make relationships without learning to have conversations; so if you hope to evangelize and make disciples, you have to learn to talk to people.
Once you have started a friendly, non-threatening conversation, think of some way to introduce a spiritual element to your interaction. I know some people who ask, “If you were to die today, do you know where you would spend eternity?” That’s actually a really good question and forces people to think deeply about their lives, but in today’s world it will strike most people as very abrupt and rather offensive. When we hear about threats from active shooters and terrorists, I’m not sure that asking somebody about how ready they are to die works as a non-threatening way to deepen the conversation.
Here are a few of my favorite questions to ask:
The nice thing about these types of questions is that it really doesn’t matter how people answer. Be polite and listen to whatever they have to say. Most people, however, will intuitively look at you after they have responded and ask, “so how would you answer that question?” Even if they don’t ask, it is easy to say, “Would you mind if I gave you my answer to that question?” Some people will not allow the conversation to turn to spiritual things, but many will. Your role as a Jesus follower is to tell them good news, not to convert them. Conversion is the job of the Holy Spirit. Your job is to give them information that brings understanding and leads to conviction. So even though many conversations will not progress beyond this point, some will, and you can begin to discuss what the Bible says is true about our relationship with God and how we can find salvation through Christ.
Another idea is to ask what author Rico Tice calls “pain-line questions.” Pain-line questions ask hard questions at people’s point of pain. To the person with chronic physical pain, you might ask, “What if this pain never goes away?” Or to the person whose life is defined by their anger or bitterness, you might ask, “Why are you so angry? Does being angry help the situation?” In other words, rather than try to move away from talking about pain points, gently ask questions that make the person face what they wish to avoid. Then give them the gospel hope.
One last idea to help start gospel conversations is to use a great free phone app called “Questions in a Box.” It is a lovely little tool to help you think of something to start or move conversations along, divided into categories ranging from “We Just Met” to “Big Picture” questions. Take a moment to download it from your app store and try it out. Let me know what other apps you have tried or what other conversation starters work for you. We can all continue to learn how to ask good questions, be good listeners, and give people good news about our hope in Christ!
 Rico Tice and Carl Laferton, Honest Evangelism (New Malden: Good Book Co, 2015), p. 62.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.