I became a Christian twenty-four years ago. Of course this miracle was the work of God’s Spirit but what made me consider turning to him and asking him to make himself known to me was because of the conversations I had with Christians. I went from being a New Ager who practised Reiki, kinda believed in reincarnation and thought God was everywhere, to holding a biblical view of God and accepting Jesus’ work on the cross for my sin. Prior to this, I had expunged the word “sin” from my vocabulary after a Catholic upbringing which had made me cynical about the truth and value of the Bible.
When I look back at those conversations about truth, meaning and faith, the Christians didn’t actually talk that much about what they believed. I don’t remember an explanation of penal substitutionary atonement, or even an explanation that my deeds were evil (and they were). What I do remember is how the Christians I knew made me feel. When I was in the presence of the Christians I knew I felt seen, cared for and valuable. They made me laugh and feel happy and safe. I remember having dreams about how safe and good and whole I felt when I was with them. I’m grateful for the time they spent walking or driving me home, involving me in conversations or buying me laksa when I had a cold.
The Disconnect Between Church Evangelism and Our Friends
A lot of church evangelism seems to centre on running a course or event for church members to invite their non-Christian friends to. Even when I was a relatively recent convert and my church worked hard to preach the gospel, it became more and more difficult to invite friends to these events. They seemed disconnected from the actual conversations I was having. The events seemed either too far along the road towards Jesus or just not interesting enough for them.
Twenty-three years on, a lot of pastors tell me they find that their congregations don’t really have anyone they could invite to their evangelistic events, special services and courses. They need to actually build relationships with people outside of the church, or grow the ones they already have to be ready to bring up the Bible, God or Jesus. A lot of work is needed before thinking about running evangelistic events.
Sam Chan explains the reason why it never seems like the right time to invite our Christian friends to an event or course. Sam’s diagnosis is that we need to build more “social capital” with those around us, as well as understand how much capital you need to bring God into a conversation. If we aren’t having conversations about God then invitations to church or events will feel strange and awkward, both for you and your friends.
So how can we build social capital? What leads our friends to being open to having a conversation about God? Well, the rules of reciprocity work here. If they talk for twenty minutes, you get to talk for twenty minutes. If you go to their things, they’re more likely to go to your things. If you are interested in learning about their beliefs, likely they will be more keen to hear about yours.
Another useful tool for building social capital starts with understanding the “layers” in a conversation. People take time to warm up to those profound and deep conversations that are normal and common for us.
The interests, values and worldview framework not only gives us tips for how we can deepen a conversation, but it’s a helpful diagnostic. If you’re still talking about sport, your favourite music or the benefits of lattes over flat whites, you may not be in a deep enough friendship to take things too far yet. But having strong relationships in the Interests layer is a basis for seeking to bring up themes like truth, love, beauty or grief from the Values layer.
If you are starting to talk about the themes of justice related to a news item, or ‘the spirit of cricket’, then you might be in the Values layer with your friend. This is a special place where you can ask questions like “How did that make you feel?” or say “That’s so interesting, can you tell me more?” Your friend trusts you enough to share these things with you.
The other trick with the Interests–Values–Worldview framework is that when you do enter the Worldview layer and start talking about God, faith and truth, it may still not be time for that “Two Ways to Live” presentation yet. This is a space to explore your friend’s worldview some more and give them the space to think about what is important to them. You may be one of the few people they have to explore this with, and it’s important to honour their views.
Have Spiritual Conversations
If you have a friend you would love to introduce to Jesus, it is a good start to aim to have some spiritual conversations with them. Having a spiritual conversation means that you have landed in that Worldview area. It doesn’t mean that you will have those conversations every time you see your friend, or that you need to rush through Interests and Values to get there. But just keep it as a goal, pray for it and ask that God will help your friend feel your concern for them.
The beauty of spiritual conversations is that it lowers the bar for evangelism in everyday life. A spiritual conversation is a way that you can show your friend you care. It’s a way of bringing the sacred into everyday life and it’s on the road towards sharing the good news of Jesus. To encourage exactly this kind of thing, this September, City Bible Forum is running a challenge called Dive Deeper. We’ve provided some free resources, a motivational quiz and a conversation tracker. We’ll be seeing how many conversations we can have together, across Australia.
Depending on the people you know and the discussions your friends like to have, you might find your conversations get spiritual when you watch a movie together. If you and your friend often discuss frustration and futility, you might ask how they get through the day when things are hard, and see where that goes. If you have a bushwalking buddy, looking at nature together could get spiritual too. We’re hoping and praying that Christians deepen their friendships with people around them, whatever that looks like. I’ve had my first two spiritual conversations, one about the Matildas and one about mental health. Both people thanked me for the conversation, we were both enriched and blessed. Approach God in prayer and ask how you can bless your friends through a deep, caring, spiritual conversation. We’ll be praying with you.
This article was first published at TGCA (The Gospel Coalition Australia) website.
 In How to Talk About Jesus Without Being That Guy (11) Sam explores how he is able to invite so many people to church. He has a lot of conversations that build relational capital before discussing values and worldview concepts like God and other spiritual ideas. Then he finds that when he does invite people to church, they are more willing to go.
 Sam Chan introduced the concept of the “conversation concentric circles” in his book Evangelism in a Skeptical World (49).
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