I cringe at the evangelism models that literally scare the hell out of people. "If you were to die tonight, do you know where you would go?!!!" "Well, you make hell sound really bad. So I guess . . . heaven?"
My Irish friend Robert Millar has helped me process helpful ways to engage non-Christians. He's the director of Young Life College - St. Louis. We're writing a book . . . someday. Before that amorphous date, here are six general things I lift up for your consideration.
Build Relationships: You have an extensive network of relationships - family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. Just like a fingerprint, no one has your exact network of relationships. See this network as the first place that God has sent you. Invest in those relationships. If you don’t know any non-Christians, then join your neighborhood association, volunteer with a non-Christian non-profit, join your local fitness club. Join a book club at the library.
Earn the Right to be Heard: Don’t talk until you've earned the right. Don’t talk until you've done a lot of listening. Don’t speak until you've been asked to. If you speak too quickly, you’ll fall right into the stereotype of every pushy, judgmental, arrogant Christian they've ever met. But once they trust you, your words will carry power.
Be OK with Questions: This is hard for me. I feel the need to have a neat, tidy answer for every question. But the quick, canned answer that we recite off the laminated cheat sheet comes across as demeaning and condescending. No one likes the kid who knows it all. Instead of just preaching the answer, wrestle through it with them. You don’t have to be immediately defensive. God can defend himself. Taking someone’s question seriously means than you take the person seriously.
Get Ready to Talk about Yourself: Not in an arrogant or self-centered way. In business, the best advertisement is personal customer satisfaction. Referrals are huge in business. You trust your friends and their experience. In sharing your faith with a non-Christian or unchurched person, you don’t have to spew statements or recite talking points. There will be a time for further explanation. But first, tell your own story. They really want to know. What compels you about this Christ? Why do you follow Jesus? What has God done for you? If you don’t have a good reason, they won’t either.
Pray. No, Really, Pray. No, seriously. Pray.
Know that God uses weak things: You might feel weak, foolish, or like a failure. You might feel absolutely inadequate to talk about what you believe with someone. Will they judge me? Will they question core convictions? What if they ask a question I don't know the answer to?
Remember that the cross looked like a failure. When Jesus died, it looked like God lost. Paul says, “God chose what is foolish to shame the wise. God chose what is weak to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised, and the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are” (I Cor. 1:27-29). Paul said that the Lord told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (II Cor. 12:9).
I'm confident that you're sent by God to specific people. I'm fairly certain that you're sent to bring them the love of God you've come to know. And I'm sure that you can do it because God uses weak things for powerful purposes. God will do powerful things in and through you.