“How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?… Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Rom 10:14, 17)
How often do we consider the urgency of Paul’s words here? In 2017 McCrindle Research did a nation-wide study of faith and belief in Australia. It found that at least 1.5 million people don’t know a Christian. In fact, 1 in 29 people have never heard of Jesus. But the survey also found that 10 percent of Australians—that’s 2.4 million people—are interested in having a conversation about Jesus.
I once had no Christian friends or family, and I first heard the gospel from a stranger while I was pumping fuel into her car (I worked at a petrol station). She was an older lady who I had nothing in common with, but she understood the urgency of Paul’s words in Romans 10 and trusted in the power of the gospel to save.
For many years now, I try to set some time aside every couple of weeks to walk up to strangers and share the same powerful gospel that saved me.
Many Christians want to do this but lack confidence. So here are some practical tips from my own experience of sharing the gospel with a stranger.
Before your conversation
- If possible, arrange to go out with others so you can keep each other accountable.
- Read a passage in one of the Gospels before going out (e.g. Luke 18:9-14).
- Pray that God would lead you to his elect and that he would help you to be intentional in bringing up the gospel in the conversation (Acts 18:10).
- Prepare your testimony to share if they ask how you came to believe in Jesus.
During your conversation
- In the first five seconds tell them who you are, where you’re from (i.e. if you’re from a particular church/Christian organisation) and why you want to talk to them.
- After making your intentions clear, try to build rapport by taking a genuine interest in them, asking them what they do or what they’re up to that day. (If you’re door-knocking you could make a nice observation about their house.)
- Make sure you bring it back to Jesus. Ask them “Who do you think Jesus is?”.
- As you have your discussion, ask open ended probing questions/statements to get them sharing their world view: “What led you to that conviction?”; “So that means you’ve weighed up the different religions; why did you find atheism most convincing?”; “No worries, I love chatting to non-religious people, I used to be non-religious myself.”
- Also ask diagnostic questions to help see the importance of the gospel like: “If you were to die tonight, where would you go?” and “When you die, why should God let you into heaven?” and “Do you have certainty that you will go to heaven?”
- Share Two Ways to Live with people—especially when you’re unsure of what to say.
- Focus in on the particular box of Two Ways to Live that you think they have an issue with.
- People often have a false understanding of the Scriptures and of God. Read with them a passage from the Scriptures and ask them what they think it means.
- Ask the question “According to what standard?”. This forces people to acknowledge that ultimately, there is no other universal standard by which they can make any objective truth claim other than God. This may also reveal inconsistencies in their worldview.
- Be careful not to self-censor when it comes to more awkward topics like hell and sin.
- Don’t talk endlessly about historical reliability or scientific plausibility—these topics may remove stumbling blocks but can never save. Remember that the unbeliever is not neutral but committed to sin leading to hostility to God in their thinking, and a suppression of the evidence God has given them (Rom 1:18-25, 1 Cor 2:14, Rom 8:7). Only the hearing of the gospel can bring about faith leading to a true, God honouring interpretation of the evidence about God (Ezek 36:25-29, John 6:63, Luke 16:29-31).
- If they head off on a tangent, try and answer their question within 30 seconds and conclude it with a direct refocusing in on the gospel—this is where you want to keep the conversation.
- If you don’t know the answer, be honest with them and tell them you will research it and get back to them.
- Use the law to convict people of their sin and their need for Jesus (Rom 3:20 cf. Matt 5:21-22, 27-32).
- Always leave people with further opportunities to investigate the claims of Jesus in the Bible, perhaps with a tract or a copy of a Gospel or an offer to meet up again to go through something like You, Me and the Bible.
- Leave your phone number and name in any tracts or Gospels that you hand out so the person can get back in contact with you.
- Leave them with a challenge. For example: “If there’s a possibility that it could be true, isn’t it worth a little of your time to investigate the claims of Jesus in the Gospels?”
After the conversation
- Finish by praying in confidence that God would use his word to accomplish his purpose, even through weak people like us (Isa 55:10-11).
- Remember, God’s word works powerfully through weak messengers (1 Cor 2:1-5).