Starting Up Conversations

with Nonbelievers


by CHARLIE H. CAMPBELL
Director of The Always Be Ready Apologetics Ministry
© Copyright 2000–2014


Author of
Scrolls and Stones: Compelling Evidence
the Bible Can Be Trusted

 

Have you ever longed to share the gospel with someone but wondered: Where do I start? How should I go about this? Should I just go up to them and tell them, "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life?" Should I just go up to them and say "Jesus loves you, and died on the cross for you?"

Starting out a conversation like that, cold turkey, with somebody is pretty awkward don't you think?  I've done it. And I have found it to be an uncomfortable situation, for both me and the person I was talking to. So, what can we do to present the gospel in a more natural, conversational way?

Let's talk about that.

How many of you have discovered over the years that the favorite subject of conversation of most people is themselves? Yeah. That's true for most people. That's the way we are.

Most people love to talk about themselves, their hobbies, their interests, their job, their family, their history, their dreams.

This being the case, I think one of the best ways to get to the gospel in a natural kind of way is to start out:

ASKING FRIENDLY QUESTIONS

Questions are good for a few reasons:

1. People have opinions on almost every subject, and they love to share them.

I know this is true. When I was the college pastor at Calvary Chapel in Vista, California, we used to take the college group out witnessing once a month or so. We would just go up to people on the street and start sharing with them. And we had some success. We definitely had the opportunity to pray with people to receive the Lord.

But our typical opening line would go something like this:

"Hi, my name is so and so, and this is my friend so and so, and we're with such and such a church and we're telling people about Jesus, mind if we talk to you for a few minutes?"

Most people (I'd say about 85%) would say something to the effect, "You guys are weird. No thanks!"

After a couple of years doing it this way, we decided to try a different approach. We decided to do on the street surveys. And everything changed. We started going up to people and asking if they'd like to take part in a survey and about 90% would say yes.

In that survey we would ask the person a series of questions related to current events (Do you think marijuana should be legalized? Do you think the legal age for drinking should be lowered to age 18? Etc). And then we would end the survey with two spiritual questions:

1. If you could ask God one question what would you ask Him?

2. If God was to ask you why He should allow you into Heaven what would you say?

Then we would go on to share the gospel with them after the survey was over.

As I mentioned, about 85-90% of the people who we walked up to on the street wanted to take part in the survey.

WHY?
Again (point number one):

1. People have opinions on almost every subject, and they love to share them.

A second reason why questions are good:

2. Questions are non threatening.

It's hard for an unbeliever to feel threatened, when he/she is the one doing most of the talking.

3. Questions help a person lower their defenses.

If you start out telling a person what to believe, many people will become defensive of their own views.

4. Questions allow you to control the direction of the conversation without you putting your friend on the defensive.

5. Questions help to communicate humility.

6. Questions lead to questions in return.

Most mature listeners, after being asked several questions about themselves or their views, sense that it’s only fair to ask a question or two in return.

Questions like, "What about you?" or "What do you think?"

7. Questions can help a person to discover truth for themselves.

I haven't done a survey in a couple of years now. I sort of abandoned that approach for a couple of reasons:

A. It looks a little odd approaching a person carrying a clipboard and pen (it looks a little too official for me).

B. When I didn't have a clipboard and pen on me (which was often) I sort of assumed I was unable to witness.

So here's what I did. I held on to the IDEA behind the surveys

--the fact that people like to talk about themselves and even spiritual issues (if you ask for their opinion and have a conversation rather than share a monologue)

and decided to just start asking people the kinds of questions that used to be on the clipboard.

This approach works like the surveys, but you can do it anywhere and you don't have to look like a scientist walking around with a clipboard and pen.

Let's look at a list of some sample questions that I came across that you can ask that will help steer a conversation towards the gospel.

I found these in a fantastic book by Tim Downs called, Finding Common Ground. He suggests four categories of questions that I thought might be helpful to you:

A. Questions about the Listener's Background

These are some questions that you might just ask a person about their history. These aren't any particular of order.

~ What was it like around your house growing up?
~ What things were important to your parents?
~ Did you get in trouble a lot growing up?
~ What did you get from your family that you want to pass on to your kids?
~ How do you want to do things differently in your family?

Keep in mind that you'd only ask a couple of these. This isn't a list to go through with a person.

~ What are your brothers and sisters like? How are you alike/different?
~ Did you grow up going to church? Did you enjoy it? (Of, if the person didn't grow up going to church ask: Do you wish you had?)
~ Do you think you'll have your kids go to church someday?

B. Questions Asking for the Listener's Opinion or Advice

Many people will be shocked that anybody cares about their opinion and actually wants to hear it.

~ I see you've got cable. What do you let your kids watch?
~ What do you think of all the junk that's on the internet?
~ Did you see What Dreams May Come? Incredible effects! What did you think of the way they pictured Heaven?
~ How do you celebrate Christmas at your house?
~ What do you think about the cloning issue?
~ Dr. Kevorkian is in the news again. What do you think of him?

There are endless topics and current events that an ambassador can bring up to lead into a meaningful conversation.

C. Questions that Involve the Listener's Imagination

These questions call on the listener to put himself in a certain situation and imagine what they'd do. This kind of  "role-playing" can allow you to talk beyond the monotony of day-to-day concerns.

~ Did you hear about Mary's diagnosis? What would you do if you found out you had cancer?
~ If you had plenty of money and could do anything you want for a living, what would you do?
~ What would you do if you found out your parents were planning to get a divorce?

D. Questions that Ask for the Listener's Emotions

~ How do you feel about all these hate crimes? [or the war, the abduction of that 11 year old girl in Florida, etc.]
~ I have a friend whose husband has just been told he has three months to live. How would you feel if that were you?
~ What do you think about the cloning issue?
~ How would you feel if one of your kids really began to rebel?
~ How would you feel if your house burned down and you lost everything?

So we ask a question or two (or maybe a few) like those above, and then we listen closely to the person's response.

What do we do next? The goal is to steer the conversation to the gospel, right? So, in the midst of the conversation we insert a question that very naturally shifts the conversation from the natural to the spiritual.

What question is that? (These questions are from a book I highly recommend by William Fay called: Share Jesus Without Fear).

Jot it down on a piece of paper (You're going to want to memorize these five questions!)

1. Do you have any spiritual beliefs?

Guys this is a fairly easy, very non-offensive way to move from the natural into the spiritual arena. I have asked a lot of people this question and I am yet to meet a person that has been offended by the question. Not once have I ever had anybody say:

--"How dare you ask me that!"

--"My beliefs are none of your business!"

Never!

Why? You're not forcing any of your beliefs upon them. You're just asking them a friendly question about themselves. You're showing interest in them. After you ask this question, you just sit back and listen to what they have to say.

Now, the person might say something as short as, "Yes, I do." Or they might tell you about their beliefs for 20 minutes. Their beliefs may include some crazy things about goddesses, angels, gurus, spirit guides, Buddha, etc. They may even say "Absolutely not, I'm an atheist."

Regardless of HOW long they go, or WHAT they say, you just say:

"Hmmmmmm."

That's pretty easy isn't it?

Student: "Well what do you mean Charlie? Shouldn't I jump in there and correct them, or tell them what's wrong about their view?"

I wouldn't.

Why? It is too easy to get entangled or caught up in a debate about some peripheral issue that you never get to share the gospel.

My uncle is in town right now. He and his wife have been missionaries in Ireland for the past 10 or so years. He was over at my mom's house for dinner. He got in a conversation with my younger brother who has largely turned his back on God and ended the relationship he once had with the Lord. Well, my brother did exactly what I was hoping would not happen. He drew my uncle into a long drawn out conversation about whether or not animals will be in Heaven, and whether it's right or wrong to eat meat. That is a peripheral issue that really doesn't matter a whole lot. And my uncle never had the time to get on to issues that were more important.

So we want to be careful not to get entangled in issues that people might mention or bring up that might rob us of the opportunity to get to the heart of the matter, their standing with God, and the GOSPEL message.

So, there you are. You've asked a person an ice breaker question or two about themselves. They answer. Then you ask, "Do you have any spiritual beliefs?" Let them go through their response.

When they are done answering that question, ask them another question:

2. Who is Jesus Christ to you?

And then let them answer. They might say:

--"Jesus is the Son of God" or
--"He's a man who died on the cross" or
--"He's God's only begotten Son."

Those are correct theological statements aren't they?

Should we assume that the person is saved? I wouldn't. Notice how impersonal those answers are. If I were to ask you that very same question you'd probably say something like,

--"He's my Lord and my Savior."

That answer helps demonstrate to me that you have a genuine relationship Jesus, not just a religious knowledge of Him. There is a chance that somebody who says, "Jesus is the Son of God," or "A man who died on the cross" is not saved. They may just have some religious background or upbringing. Jesus said that there will be many who refer to Jesus as "Lord" in this life to whom Jesus will say on the day of judgment, "I never knew you" in Matthew 7:23.

So tune in to the person's answer. It may help you diagnose where a person is at spiritually. Unless you are absolutely convinced that the person is born again, your response should be:

"Hmmmmmmm."

Student: "But what if they say, that they think Jesus never existed?"

"Hmmmmmmmm."

Student: "What if they say, that Jesus was only a good teacher and philosopher?"

"Hmmmmmmmmm."

We're just taking their temperature.

We're trying to find out what's happening in their heart. The goal here is not to correct them. After you say "Hmmm," you lovingly ask them a third question. Ask them:

3. Do you believe in Heaven or Hell?

What's your response? "Hmmmmmmm."

Student: "What if they say, 'Absolutely not!'?"

"Hmmmmmmm."

Student: What if they say, "God would never send people to a place like Hell."

"Hmmmmmm."

Just let them share with you. What are we doing? We're taking their temperature. We're not debating. We're not arguing. We're allowing them to share their beliefs.

Then you ask them the fourth question:
4. If you were to die, where would you go?"

And again, you just sit back and listen.

Student: "What if they just told you they don't believe in Hell, do I still ask them this question?"

Definitely. You'll be surprised that even those who say they don't believe in Heaven or Hell, will still tell you that they will go to Heaven when they die!

Amazing hunh?

(Now, if they tell you that they would go to Hell, I would simply ask them, "Would you rather go to Heaven?" If they say "Yes" you will go on to share with them the verses that we are going to talk about in next week's class. If they say "No," do nothing. Just look at them in astonishment.)

If, and when they say they would go to Heaven, and most people will, follow up with part two to this question:

(pt. 2) "Why would God let you in?"

And let them answer.

Most people will typically say that they are

-- basically a good person,
-- they go to church,
-- they were baptized as a child, etc.

And then what do we say?

"Hmmmmmm"

After you say "Hmmmm" ask one final question"

5. If what you are believing is not true, would you want to know?

This is a crucial question. Jot it down.

Now, there are really only two possible answers to this question:

"Yes" or "No."

What do you think most people will say to that question?

Ninety nine percent of the people wills say, "Yes."

If the person says "Yes," then you have their permission to go on to the next phase (which we'll look at in next week's class).

If they say, "No," what should you do?

Nothing.

Bill Fay says in his book (
Share Jesus Without Fear) that he has been asking people this question for over 16 years and has never heard a "No" that stuck. So you just look at them.

Often they'll realize what they've just said, and realize that their "No" answer sounds really stupid!

When they say "Yes" they have just given you permission to share with them.

Has there been any fighting or arguing taking place? None.

Has the person been offended by anything you've said? Nope. In fact, they've probably thought the conversation was a rather pleasant talk, (they've been doing all the talking!) and they are probably blessed that you have been interested in them and their opinions!

Using this approach will help you avoid all kinds of

-- arguments
-- disagreements
-- and entanglements with a person's intellect,
-- discussions about world religions
-- etc.

I just had the opportunity to ask these questions to a woman named Cindy two days ago. She called the church and wanted to know about the drug and alcohol ministry and when they met. I told her some of the details.

And then I asked her these questions,

1. Do you have any spiritual beliefs?
2. Who is Jesus Christ to you?
3. Do you believe in Heaven or Hell?
4. If you were to die, where would you go?
5. If what you are believing is not true, would you want to know?

I listened to her answers, and then I took her into phase two (sharing the Word of God, the gospel)  with her and then had the privilege of praying with her to receive Christ. Give this approach a try sometime. I pray that the Lord uses you mightily!

 

charlie_campbell          

ABOUT CHARLIE H. CAMPBELL

Charlie Campbell is the Director of the Always Be Ready Apologetics Ministry and a popular guest speaker at churches and conferences. He is the author of numerous articles, books, and DVDs, including:

•  Scrolls & Stones: Compelling Evidence the Bible Can Be Trusted
•  Evidence for the Existence of God
•  One Minute Answers to Skeptics
•  Archaeological Evidence for the Bible
•  The End Times: Ten Upcoming Events in Bible Prophecy
•  The Case for the Resurrection

•  Teaching and Preaching God's Word

His DVDs and books have been endorsed by Norman Geisler, Charles Colson, Chuck Smith, Ed Hindson, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Jeremy Camp, and many others.

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