The data across North America suggests that while churches often talk about evangelism, very few are actually doing it. But where would a church start in order to change this? Why not try some experiments!
In our September, October and November issues, Institute of Evangelism director Judy Paulsen will propose an experiment to help churchgoers share the faith with their unchurched or de-churched friends, neighbours, or colleagues. Each experiment should first be grounded in prayer, as we learn to trust God to help us join in His work of drawing new people to Himself.
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Gospel Conversations – Conversations that make stories from the Gospels accessible to seekers, explorers, and the somewhat curious
Having a conversation over a cup of coffee or tea is a familiar way for people to meet with friends or colleagues in our culture. As restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic have started to relax, small personal gatherings like this have been one of the first forms of social interaction to return. For people who might be hesitant to attend a more formal expression of church held within a church building, a simple conversation focused on some of the stories from Jesus’s life can be a way for them to talk about their own perceptions of Jesus, to learn more about him for themselves, and to voice some of their own spiritual questions and longings.
These sorts of personal conversations also offer an environment of simple hospitality and friendship to which Christians may find it easier to invite their unchurched or de-churched friends, neighbours, and colleagues. While the data on Canadian spirituality suggests fewer people are going to church, it also indicates that many believe in God, pray regularly, and have spiritual questions they can’t readily discuss with anyone. In such an age, it is going to be critical to equip all Christians to be the transmitters of the gospel message. And for that to happen we’ll all need to engage with the people around us in a context that they are comfortable with. A conversation over coffee may just be a simple yet profound way through which someone you know starts to consider the person of Jesus for themselves.
- Begin with prayer. Ask God to bring to mind someone in your life who doesn’t have any church connection. This could be a family member, friend, neighbour, colleague, or even a new acquaintance. They might be someone who once was part of a church but drifted away, or someone who has never been connected to a church. Then, ask God to give you an opportunity and the right words to invite them to have these conversations with you.
- Try this experiment with some others in your church so you can pray for each other as you have these conversations with unchurched or de-churched people.
- Invite the people God has brought to your mind.
Here are some examples of invitations:
“Our church is hoping to learn to talk with people beyond our congregation about spiritual issues. Would you be interested in meeting a few times over coffee with me to explore some passages from the earliest biographies of Jesus?”
“Our church is trying something called Gospel Conversations, where we meet over coffee with a friend or neighbour to discuss three different stories from the life of Jesus. I’d love to hear your views on these encounters people had with Jesus. Would you be interested?”
“Hey _____________, along with others in my church I’m trying to learn how to talk with other people in my life about questions of faith. Would you be interested in meeting over coffee a few times to discuss some passages taken from the Bible about the life of Jesus?”
Or, if you think a small group discussion would be less threatening than a one-on-one conversation, you might like to invite a couple of friends to join you. Perhaps these are people that share a hobby with you or are members of some sort of group that you belong to. For such people you could use this sort of invite:
“Hey, would you be interested in being part of a small discussion group that explores some of the stories from Jesus’s life found in the Bible? My plan is pretty low-key; just to meet for a coffee and chat together, meeting two or three times. What do you think?”
- Pray again as you select three passages to discuss together in your Gospel Conversations. What passages might especially resonate with the person you will meet with? Here are some examples to choose from:
- John 4:5–42 [Jesus talks with a woman at a well]
- John 3:1–21 [Jesus talks with Nicodemus, a religious leader]
- Luke 19:1–10 [Jesus engages Zacchaeus, a tax collector for the Roman Empire]
- Luke 10:25–37 [Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan]
- Luke 24:1–12 [The resurrection of Jesus]
Some suggestions as you begin to meet
- During the conversations let the following questions be a guide, but don’t feel bound to them. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide the conversation.
- What words or phrases stand out for you?
- What do you think this passage tells us about the culture of the day?
- What do you think this passage wants us to know about Jesus?
- Do you see any connection with our lives today?
- Don’t worry if they have questions that you don’t know how to respond to. Simply admit that you don’t know, and let them know that you’ll ask someone who might be able to address the question they’ve raised. Perhaps that will be your pastor, or another member of your church. Remember, this is a conversation, and conversations are different from a Q and A session.
- Be ready to suggest a possible next step if they seem open to continue exploring questions about Jesus, Christianity, or faith in general. Are you willing to keep meeting? Is there a book you could read together and discuss? Would they like to meet over coffee with you and your pastor? Would they like you to pray for them? Test these waters gingerly, but don’t be shy to encourage them to keep exploring.
- Enjoy your conversations! Be open to where God may take them. Perhaps you will have simply planted a seed that will germinate much later. Perhaps you’ll meet regularly. Perhaps you’ll invite them to Dinner Church, or a book club, or some other “easy access” event or program at your church. Above all be genuine, and love them as Jesus would have you love them.