Over the last several weeks, students at the Abbey have been brainstorming, synthesizing, and testing evangelism tools. As part of the curriculum of Worldview at the Abbey, students go out and witness to people as part of the practicum element of our Apologetics and World Religions class, and part of that is class formulating and testing an evangelism tool.
All of the tools are based around a question or two to prompt deep discussion. Some are blunt and straight to the point, and some are more subtle, designed to get people talking, with typically a follow-up question or two built into the design to get conversations going deeper.
As I’ve watched this process happen over the last three years, I’ve noticed some interesting trends in success of these tools and in the ability of the students to actually have good conversations from them, and I think they can be boiled down to three ingredients that can be taken and applied to almost any conversation anywhere, regardless of the starting question.
• Interest – Every person wants someone to be interested in him or her. Some are much more nuanced in what they want to be noticed for, but everyone wants it. And almost every person is open to whatever it is that they love being discovered. So the first step for the person from the outside, is interest.
It begins with a handshake, eye contact, and a question. First base – check. The next step is typically what separates the experienced or the naturals from everyone else though. The tone of voice used to express genuine interest, the body language of leaning in to listen to what someone has to say, and questions asked that show that conversation has been heard, processed, and followed are what keep the door open to go deeper.
• Empathy – Empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another” according to the almighty Google. Whether in a one-time encounter on the street or through the building of a life-long friendship - caring and understanding can never be replaced by trying to “show” understanding and caring. You care about someone and your questions and conversation flow from trying to gain understanding of the person in front of you out of love and genuine interest, or you don’t.
I had the opportunity to tell students in class a couple of weeks ago to guard their empathy. In a program of books and intellectual theories, the easiest thing to forget when talking to someone that disagrees with you is their humanity. I have seen students both in our program and at Worldview Academy Summer Camps come back from evangelism and discuss the conversations they’ve had with atheist as if they were interesting math problems, not souls. Empathy will help people open up to deeper levels of conversation, and it will also help Christians remember that there is an urgency to the message we have.
• Courage – Of all the tools I have seen used over the years, courage is truly the most important one. All the intellect and answers in the world won’t help if someone isn’t willing to get past discussing the weather and their team’s latest sports statistics. Every conversation has the opportunity to be taken to a level of things that matter to the core of a person if only the courage is had to take it there. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “Courage, dear heart.”
Our prayer at Worldview at the Abbey is that students would have these elements in every conversation in their most true and genuine form. Sometimes the format is different – from a one-time encounter sharing with college students on sidewalks to building relationships with adults in the city. But every time - with interest, empathy, and courage – by incorporating the above elements we not only create opportunity to share the Gospel, but we embody Christ-likeness in the effort.