Disciple-making includes evangelism, and let’s be clear—nobody likes evangelism. Christians don’t like it because they think it requires them to stand on busy street corners and yell at people, “You Need Jesus!” Non-Christians don’t like it because they don’t want to be yelled at, and they don’t want to be somebody’s project. Let’s try a new strategy. Let’s get to know people and build relationships, even if they never believe in Jesus.
This article offers three surprisingly simple ways to get to know people, including “not yet” believers—non-Christians you hope will one day follow Jesus. But the heart of this message is to be real with people. If you follow Jesus, see people as individuals God loves, not projects. Commit to investing in others because God put them on your path or your heart, not to fulfill a Bible study assignment.
I love being around non-Christians. It has always been easy for me. I did not grow up in church culture, so after surrendering control of my life to Jesus, it was natural to bring Jesus into my world. I didn’t have to enter an unknown world—I already lived with and around people who did not believe as I did.
Commit to investing in others because God put them on your path or your heart, not to fulfill a Bible study assignment.
My life as a pastor did not negatively impact my interaction with non-yet believers. While employed at a church, I still lived a “normal” life by regularly interacting with neighbors and friends I knew through sports or comedy clubs (I like to laugh). But then I moved to Long Island, and my life changed.
Great Parking…No Neighbors
I moved into a parsonage (church-owned house) on the back of a church parking lot. Suddenly I was not surrounded by neighbors; I was surrounded by parking spaces. Instead of bumping into people walking to work, or while riding the elevator in my apartment building, I was driving alone from my home to a church event.
Initially, I found creative ways to interact with the “real world” by participating in community sports leagues like fast-pitch softball, where swearing was more than an art, it was a second language. But then I developed back issues, and my athletics became more solitary: swimming, trail running, biking. I got relationally lazy. But I don’t want to anymore.
Do you want to be real with people? Do you want to strengthen your relationships with others and, ideally, develop relationships with “not yet” believers?
#1 Go where they go (within reason)
Stating the obvious: just because your friend invites you to a strip club (no, they are not “gentlemen’s clubs”), it does not mean you join him. But otherwise, hang out where he hangs out. If he invites you out for a drink, and your conscience allows for that, say yes. Look for opportunities to care about the things he cares about.
Relationships grow stronger when each person puts the other first or is at least aware of what the other person values. Get an advanced degree in “hanging out.” You don’t have to have lots of time. But when you do have time, look for an opportunity to connect.
#2 Become a Jedi question asker
Take an interest in who they are and the types of things they do by asking lots of questions. Don’t be annoying—every person’s question threshold is different—but do more listening than talking.
Google has loads of free resources. (200 questions categorized by depth and 55 questions to break the ice) If you want to grow as a leader and a master question asker, Slingshot group offers a terrific online resource in their IMPROVleadership course.
Important: If your new friend trusts you and opens up, sharing meaningful information, follow-up in the next few days and ask for an update.
#3 Be a strategic inviter
The more you listen and get to know your new friend, the more he or she will have questions for you. Tell your story, and don’t be afraid to invite them to church or a small group, if appropriate.
However, if someone has spent lots of time telling you how much they hate church and don’t believe in God, the appropriate invite is to a movie or dinner at your house—not to a church service. But you also might invite them to a game night or a ball game or picnic with some of your church friends.
The keyword is strategic. Invite them to things but consider who you are inviting and what you’re inviting them to.
Bonus: Be a friend.
You need to be OK with developing a friendship with someone who may never go to church or be interested in Jesus. That’s called friendship. If not, you’re manipulative, or you’re not a good friend. Plus, the Christian life is one of adventure. You cannot make anyone follow Jesus. Only God can do that. But you can show friends what life as a Jesus follower looks like.
You don’t live in the neighborhood you do or work where you work (or attend the school you do) by accident. God is at work in your life and those around you. Love him and others by being real with people and developing healthy relationships.
QUESTION (leave a comment below)
What’s another simple way to get to know people?