One night I was walking through downtown Orlando with my friends on our way to a restaurant. It was a weekend, so the sidewalks were full of people dressed up for a night out at their favorite bars and clubs. As we crossed Pine Street, a man with a megaphone started shouting at us, telling us to repent, that we were sinning and needed to come to Jesus or burn. When we passed by, he turned his megaphone to the next approaching group and yelled at them.
There was no attempt at conversation, no desire to get to know us or hear our stories. He wasn’t talking with us; he was talking at us. He had the right message — that we’re all sinners and need a relationship with Jesus to be saved — but the wrong delivery. His approach didn’t make people want to listen. To be honest, I was embarrassed and hoped my friends didn’t think he represented all Christians.
The man with the megaphone means well. He wouldn’t spend his free time standing on the street if he didn’t care about the people he was trying to reach. But he doesn’t understand how to make the Gospel appeal to his audience.
Most of us don’t stand on the street corners with megaphones yelling at people, but do we follow the same tactic? Nabeel Qureshi was a Pakistani-American who grew up a devout Muslim before converting to Christianity. In his book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel talks about how turned off he was by the way most Christians talked about their faith:
Nabeel eventually came to change his beliefs and accept Jesus as savior after becoming best friends with a Christian and having faith conversations together over a period of several years. “Effective evangelism requires relationships,” Nabeel writes. “There are very few exceptions.”
How people want you to talk about Jesus
While leading the City ministry of Cru, Charmaine Lillestrand conducted audience research to find out what non-Christians are interested in discussing with Christians. They don’t want to talk about the church, the core tenets of Christianity, or Christian stances on hot-button topics like abortion. They do want to talk about Jesus, but only if the conversation is handled a certain way.
In an article for the MissionHub blog, Charmaine lays out five behaviors that people want you to have if you’re going to have a faith conversation with them.
Be fully present.
Don’t make a speech. Don’t memorize a Gospel presentation and lay out your facts without thinking about the other person. Treat it like a normal conversation. Listen to what your friend has to say. Follow the conversation naturally and listen with empathy.
Find common ground.
What are the things you and your friend have in common? If you don’t know, a good way to start the conversation is to find out. Use your common beliefs and values to build a relational bridge.
Walk in the other person’s shoes.
Every person has a story and every story matters to God. Do you know your friend’s story? Don’t assume you do. Ask about her story and hear it straight from her. Listen with empathy as you try to understand your friend — what are her struggles, what brings her joy? How can God use you to speak to those specific issues?
Talk like a real person.
We use a lot of “Christianese,” terms that make sense to us but mean nothing to those who are not in the faith. Things like “doing life together” and “fellowship” sound weird to your friends, but they might get the gist of what you’re saying. If you start talking about “the Great Commission” or “the Body of Christ,” you’ll definitely lose her. She has no idea what those terms mean.
The same goes for terms that are actually real words but not easy to understand, such as defining God as “omniscient” or “omnipresent.” Even if she understands what those words mean, it’s hard to wrap your head around the concept if you’re not part of the church. You don’t want your friend to feel stupid or confused, so be aware of terms that wouldn’t make sense and avoid them.
Create a better story.
Most of the people interviewed understand that a decision needs to be made about weather or not to follow Christ. What they don’t understand is why it would be worth it. This is where your testimony comes in. You should be able to share what it’s like following Jesus, how your life has changed, and what it’s like to have an ongoing relationship with God.
If you do those five things, your friend will be much more open to having a faith conversation with you.
Knowing your audience
One of the reasons the guy with the megaphone was ineffective was because he didn’t know his audience. In fact, he didn’t even try to. If you’re sharing something on social media without thinking about the people who will see it, you’re sharing like Megaphone Guy. If you’re walking up to strangers on campus and giving them all the same Gospel presentation, you’re acting like Megaphone Guy. For any message to be successful, it must be tailored to the audience. The Gospel message is no different.
In marketing, personas are used to help understand a target audience. Personas are basically fictional characters who communicate the primary characteristics of your audience. You can use our Persona Creation Kit to craft personas of the people you want to reach. If we’re talking about your friends, you don’t necessarily need to create elaborate personas, but at a minimum, you need to ask a few questions:
- What do they care about?
- What are their interests?
- What motivates them?
- What is their current understanding of /relationship with Christianity?
If you can answer those basic questions about your friends, you can do a much better job of sharing the Gospel in a way that speaks to them.
Barriers to faith
Some people will accept Jesus as savior the first time you share the Gospel with them. Most won’t. That’s because most people have barriers to faith that must be addressed. Author and attorney Anna Rapa recently made a video series for Indigitous explaining the three primary barriers to faith and how to combat them.
Someone with rational barriers to faith has barriers “based on intellect or logical discussion,” Anna says. They have rational questions about Christianity and need rational answers. Gospel presentations like the Four Spiritual Laws and books on apologetics like Josh McDowell’s More Than a Carpenter address these barriers well.
People with spiritual barriers don’t want to give up control and rely on God. They don’t want to admit that they’re lacking and need anyone. A good rational argument for Christianity won’t help with such a person, because their barrier is spiritual. “It takes a work of the Holy Spirit to put us in a position where we’re ready to accept that God does for us what we’d prefer to do ourselves,” Anna says. Prayer is the best thing you can do for someone with spiritual barriers to faith.
A person may have an emotional barrier to faith because they were hurt by their former church. Or maybe they’ve felt judged by Christians in their life and feel that nothing they do can be acceptable to such a judgmental God. For some, the concept of hell could be an emotional barrier; they can’t imagine following a God who would damn their friends and family just because of their beliefs.
To overcome emotional barriers, your Gospel message needs to be authentic and vulnerable. Be honest about what your life is like, let them into your own life and your own struggles. And most of all, it takes time. Emotional barriers can only be overcome over time through an authentic relationship.
How to present the Gospel
Eventually in your conversations there will come a time to actually explain the Gospel, to explain what the Good News of Jesus is. But how do you explain it?
How do you think of the Gospel message? Is it about how we are all guilty of sin and must be forgiven by God? Or is it about we have dishonored God by seeking our own glory and must turn away from seeking our own honor and trust God? The answer depends on your culture.
The Gospel message is the same in either case, but it’s framed in different language to speak to different cultures. If you’re speaking to someone from an honor/shame culture, you can use a tool like the Honor Restored Gospel presentation in your conversations. If you’re speaking to someone from a guilt/innocence culture, you can use a tool like the Four Spiritual Laws. The GodTools app puts both of them at your fingertips.
The medium: Where to share the Gospel
Sarah, a young woman in the Middle East, loved Facebook. It’s where she went for escapism, living vicariously through her friends. Her own life was a mess. She had been forced to marry a man who was a member of a terrorist group. Her husband treated her like property and wanted to use her to recruit more fighters to the group.
In her country, there are no churches; no stores carry Bibles. But one day when she was scrolling Facebook, she saw a post that mentioned God — not the one her husband claimed to follow, but a God who loves her just as she is. She started chatting with a man on Messenger, who introduced her to Jesus and explained the Gospel. Over time, she came to accept Jesus as her savior, borrowed some money, and fled the country to live somewhere where she can safely live out her new Christian faith.
Facebook was the perfect place to reach Sarah because she could only be reached online, and Facebook happened to be where she liked to hang out.
The best medium for your Gospel message depends on your audience. Think back to your persona. For the person you’re trying to reach, how does she like to communicate? How does she spend her time?
A social media pastor
Dave Adamson is the Social Media Pastor for Northpoint Ministries, a church in Atlanta, Georgia. His job is to teach the Gospel on social media. “Whenever I tell people that I’m a social media pastor and that I use platforms like YouTube and Instagram to teach the Bible, I always get weird looks,” Dave says. But to him, being a pastor means reaching people wherever they are, and where they are is on social media.
Through Instagram Stories and Reels, YouTube videos, and more, much of Dave’s audience is able to engage with the Gospel without ever setting foot in his Atlanta church. “If the current coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that teaching the Bible in person is just one of the tools at our disposal.”
In her book From Social Media to Social Ministry, author Nona Jones suggests that every church have a social media campus with its own pastor and staff. The goal of the social campus is not just to keep people engaged from Monday through Saturday, but also to reach the people who never come to the physical church building on Sunday. “Dying churches see their target population as the people in their pews. Thriving churches see their target population as everyone else,” Nona writes.
As a Christian, you’re part of the global Church. Have you ever thought about being an unofficial social media pastor? Could you be the person that someone like Sarah meets on Facebook? Being active on social media with a message of love and hope can have a profound impact. It can even save someone’s life.
A life saved on WhatsApp
Baako wasn’t searching for God when he received a WhatsApp message that would change his life. The WhatsApp message was part of a campaign by a student ministry in Ghana to reach students using clips from the JESUS film and the Walking with Jesus series.
During follow-up discussions with a missionary, Baako asked if there are any videos on suicide. “For the past four years, I have been contemplating suicide,” he said. The missionary and volunteers continued to exchange messages with Baako, who came to accept Jesus as savior. He later said that it was only those conversations that prevented him from committing suicide at the time.
Eventually, ministry volunteers were able to visit Baako and go through the Walking with Jesus series, answering his questions and helping him grow in his new faith. Feeling more assured of his salvation in Christ, Baako has joined a local church and plans to get baptized.
Communicating without arguing
Unfortunately, social media communication can very easily get toxic. Have you ever looked at the comments under a YouTube video? Even been part of a flame war in a forum or Twitter thread? Even when my favorite baseball team wins a game, most of the comments under the team’s post are of fans criticizing the one or two players who hadn’t played well. For whatever reason, social media tends to bring out the negativity in people.
If you’re going to share the Gospel on social media, don’t let it turn into an argument that you have to win. This isn’t about winning. Again, remember the importance of listening with empathy, understanding your audience, and overcoming barriers to faith. All of those apply on Facebook, too.
If you post about the Gospel on social media, people are going to disagree with you. People are going to criticize, say you’re wrong, argue with you, and perhaps even purposely offend you. But as a Christian called to reflect the person of Jesus, you must remain above that. In From Social Media to Social Ministry, Nona provides the following advice:
Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. (Habakkuk 2:2)
- Choose a person or group that you want to reach and determine the best way to reach that person.
- Using empathy, get to know that person and build a relationship.
- Look for an opportunity to share the Gospel in a relevant way.