“Evangelism!” For most Christians, that word has a powerful and polarizing effect, inducing either feelings of guilt and fear or igniting energy and enthusiasm.
Sometimes when we talk about evangelism, it can feel like we’re talking about selling something rather than introducing people to relationship with Jesus. Being a salesperson trying to tout the “commodity” of Christianity makes evangelism transactional. It may create a few “conversions,” but it lacks power and rarely leads to living relationship.
What if evangelism was invitational instead? Embedded within the good news of Jesus Christ is an invitation from a loving father to his orphaned children to come home. Evangelism is about adoption; it’s the simple the task of discovering lost children and inviting them home.
So, how do we discover them? How can conversations be used to invite them home?
One of our missionaries, whose work includes invitational evangelism and encouraging others to passionately follow Jesus, has assembled some great ideas about how to get started. If you could use some new ideas of how to engage with people about spiritual things, this is for you. These ideas aren’t confrontational. Instead, they provide simple steps built on a readiness to share in spiritual conversations and an open heart to listen for the Holy Spirit speaking in everyday life.
When you’re following Jesus, inviting people into his family can be a natural part of life.
Are you in? Let’s check out three tips from Alastair, a “regular Joe” who’s also a CRMer based in Northern California...
Tip #1: Experiment to find out if a person is willing to go deeper.
One way to recognize that a person is ready to talk about spiritual things is if they are willing to go beyond a superficial conversation—when a conversation moves from superficial to meaningful to spiritual. I have been experimenting with how to gently lead a conversation in that direction by asking leading questions. In doing so people are either willing to “go there”…or they’re not.
My car was at the auto shop the other day and the woman at the front desk offered to give me a ride home. On the way I asked her if she’d lived in the area for long, then how she’d seen the city change over those years. It was clear she had a positive view of the changes, so I affirmed her positive outlook on life (encouragement is a very powerful tool!). I asked what she thought made her so positive. Her answer led us away from meaningful conversation and back into superficial conversation. She wasn’t ready to “go there” with me. So I let it go and continued the superficial conversation.
Other times, I have experienced these conversations guided by kind, thoughtful, sincere questions get meaningful and spiritual very quickly.
For example, one time my friend and I were out prayer-walking downtown. A man came up to us and asked if we were praying. We told him what we were doing, and asked if he’d like us to pray for him. He shared his sordid life story with us, told us about his relationship problems and asked for prayer. As we prayed, the Lord highlighted certain truths about the man, which we spoke into the prayer to affirm his identity. He was very encouraged and brought up a scripture he knew—the story of the woman at the well—where Jesus affirmed the identity of the woman. I pulled out my phone and looked up the scripture. Reading it aloud, I asked him what else it told him about God and about people, and if there was anything, through the passage, that he felt God was asking him to do. He became aware through that interaction that his attention had been focused on himself and his problems, and that God was inviting him back to a life of worship.
Tip #2: Be open about your own spiritual story.
To effectively share our own story in a spiritual conversation, we first have to be aware of how God has met us in it. With that in mind, we are able to reflect back in conversation how God has impacted us, and invite them to discover more about him. Doing this uses “the power of the testimony” (Revelation 12:11)!
Here’s one example from my own life. There are a handful of scriptures that have really helped me through difficult times in my life, or have particular meaning for me. One example is Psalm 91—I felt like I lived that psalm when I was in isolation in a hospital room for cancer treatment. My life’s cry echoed the Psalmist, “You are my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” And I lived into the security of being covered by his feathers, of being delivered from the deadly pestilence, of being unafraid of terrors at night that tormented other patients in the ward, of his life satisfying me.
When I’m having a conversation with someone, and it’s moving in the direction of being meaningful, they might share their pain with me. At this point it’s easy to share with them how God met me in that season of pain and fear (cancer, isolation in hospital), tell them about living out Psalm 91 and ask if they want to discover more about God by looking at the Psalm together.
One time I was taking a class at a local community college and it played out that way. A single mom and I read this Psalm together. She was weeping as she heard the scripture, saying she never knew God was like that, that he was so loving!
Tip #3: Watch for God’s Spirit to open doors supernaturally.
Sometimes the Holy Spirit gives us information about a person we’re with (this is known as a word of knowledge) and we can use it to encourage them. That encouragement leads to being able to share in the ways I mentioned above.
One example of this happened last week. I was running in the park and a man ran quickly past me. I knew he couldn’t keep up that pace, and that I’d catch up with him soon enough. When I did, I offered that we could run together. As we ran I noticed his shoes, Vibram foot gloves (I think the Holy Spirit highlighted them to me…plus they’re kinda weird looking!). He chatted about yoga, about how he quit it because he wasn’t getting what he was looking for. His shoes reminded me of a running book I had read which mentioned them. He had read the book.
These simple things led to a point in the conversation when I sensed that the Holy Spirit was highlighting the word “authenticity” to me. I commented to my running companion that I could see he was a man of great authenticity who was looking to live authentically. I pointed out his shoes, yoga and the book as being expressions of authenticity. He agreed emphatically. Then the Lord brought to mind how I find authenticity by gazing into Jesus' face every morning during a time of silent prayer. I shared this, and the runner resonated with it. He began telling me about his two Christian brothers (he himself wasn’t a believer). It could easily have led into a deeper conversation, if we’d had more time. Being attentive to what the Lord is speaking to us about the people we’re with leads to wonderfully rich, spiritual conversations.
Another immediate spiritual conversation starter is healing. Boy, this makes a “person of peace” (someone open to receive the gospel) out of anyone! Healing is often linked to words of knowledge. Through experience and practice, I’m learning to recognize the moments when the Holy Spirit is inviting me to pray for healing. And when I respond to that invitation and the person is actually healed, they’re very open to hearing more about Jesus!
Try It Out
Here are some practical steps to apply the three tips that Alastair mentioned:
Make a list of the places you run into people who may not know Jesus: the grocery store, your workplace, the park. Be intentional about visiting those places, invite God to help you, and be willing to take a few risks.
Examine your own story. What are some moments where God really made a difference? Are there specific scriptures that have become your own? What situations do people go through where hearing that would resonate?
Both Jesus’ ministry and that of the disciples were marked by miracles that revealed the presence of God’s Kingdom. Would you like your life to display God’s power in a similar way? Learn more about ministering in the supernatural on this blog.
This post is part of a series designed to give “average people” tools to effectively share Jesus with friends, neighbors, coworkers and family members, and to partner with God in bringing a movement of the gospel to your area.
Read the first post in the series, an illustration from Alastair on the basic building blocks to bringing your city to Jesus.
Next up is a mini-series on how to start and lead a Discovery Bible Study, a simple way to help non-believers find Jesus and begin to follow him.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alastair Rundle and his wife Catherine spent their last six years living and serving among the poor in downtown Los Angeles with their two children. They recently moved to Redding, California, where they are working to bridge strategic discipleship with the power of the Holy Spirit, in order to see a movement of God sustained and cities transformed.