The idea of stepping out in faith to engage in one-on-one personal evangelism can be daunting. Often we are afraid of rejection, worried about achieving results, or we don’t want to feel as if we are imposing our beliefs on others. But if what we believe is true, we have the light and the truth to share with a lost and dying world. Here are some practical tips and key concepts to remember.
Remember what interests people
Most people love to talk about themselves, their families and their own personal interests. This can be a natural way to start a conversation. When we share with someone about things that interest them, we show that we care about them as a person and not just an impersonal goal or objective of what we are trying to accomplish. People have opinions on almost every subject, and they love to share them. Value their opinions, even if they do not appear to line up with what we know to be true scripturally.
Realize that questions are non-threatening
When we ask questions about how others feel about items of current interest and listen to their opinions with respect and tolerance, it is hard for them to feel threatened, especially if they are doing most of the talking. If we start out by telling someone what they should believe, many people will become defensive and will not be open to the gospel. Questions are a natural way to engage the listener’s emotions and imagination. They can lead to further questions, whereby we can gently steer the conversation to areas of spiritual significance.
Start with their need
Our best example of effective methods of evangelism is Jesus. He always met people where they were and ministered to their physical and social needs before addressing the needs of their soul or spirit. Cases in point include his first miracle, turning water into wine, as well as the multiple events of feeding the crowds of thousands of men, women and children. In general he calmed the storms, healed the sick and raised the dead before he ministered to people spiritually. In the course of a conversation, specific needs may come to light such as the loss of a job, a sick child or other family member or a struggling relationship. Offer to pray for the need, without specifically asking if they want to receive Christ. Few people will refuse an offer to be prayed for.
Focus on Jesus
Once the conversation has turned to “spiritual” things, we need to focus on Christ and the cross. We need to understand that it is useless to get drawn into a debate about areas for which there are no clear-cut answers or theological fine points. The message of the cross is powerful and gives life to those who are open and seeking the truth, but it is foolishness to those who are perishing and have no desire for the truth. Paul the Apostle actually tried it both ways: when he first went to Corinth, he was involved in debates with Jews, Greeks and Epicureans, trying to convince them of the truth of the gospel (Acts 18:1-4). But by the time he wrote 1 Corinthians Chapter 2, he made it clear that he had not come with eloquence or human wisdom, but that he had resolved to know nothing while he was with them except Christ and him crucified.
Say it in their language
Avoid “Christianese” catch phrases and buzzwords that many people do not understand such as justification, redemption, propitiation or even “born-again.” It is better to use words that speak of a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, freedom from guilt and shame and assurance of eternal life. Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but not everyone understands how to get there.
Go to where they are
Many people would not be comfortable about attending a structured church service, even in an informal contemporary setting. Sometimes it is better to invite someone to lunch or meet for a cup of coffee. Often a home Bible study setting can be less stressful to a non-believer than attending a church meeting. The more spontaneous and unstructured the setting is, the more likely the person is to respond positively.
Be led by the Spirit
We need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and recognize divine appointments that have been set up for us. The conversation is a three-way communication with the Holy Spirit actively participating, and we need to listen to the Spirit as well as to the other person. Don’t be afraid to pause and let him do his work in their hearts and minds, as they have been prepared ahead of time for the encounter.
Know your material and your objective
Have your own Bible marked up with the guideposts of the “Roman Road” whereby you can show point by point their need of salvation and the gift offered by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. If they appear to respond, be ready to pray with them to receive Christ.
Bob Woods is a Senior Project Manager at AECOM Technical Services and a published Christian