Growing your skills in relational evangelism depends on authentic friendships with non-Christian friends.
Active involvement in the life of non-Christians will allow you to be in a place to give a personal invitation to church or listen for spiritual thirst or even share a part of your personal testimony.
Though those evangelism habits can be done with complete strangers, your influence will have a greater long-term impact in the context of your existing relationships.
When you are actively involved in the life of non-Christians, you’ll begin to see connections between their needs and opportunities to share the gospel.
You might see places where a sermon series might connect with the life struggles of your friend.
You might find some wisdom in the Scripture that will allow you to speak the Bible’s wisdom directly into the life of your friend.
Do you have non-Christian friends?
Who do you know that is unchurched?
Many Christians who want to start new personal growth in relational evangelism begin to realize they have a problem:
I don’t have any unchurched or non-Christian friends.
When I give relational evangelism training seminars around the US and Latin America, I ask people to give me the names of 3 people they are close to who do not go to church and who do not have a relationship with Jesus as best they can tell.
I get lots of blank stares and empty faces from those who have walked with Christ for years.
The answer is often zero.
- I don’t know anyone I can invite to my church.
- I don’t know anyone I can put on my prayer list of friends who need Christ.
- I’m surrounded by Christians all the time.
- I work for a church or Christian ministry full-time, so I don’t have any non-Christian contacts.
- I work from home as a solo entrepreneur and have no co-workers to influence.
Are you in a Christian cocoon?
I recently did an evangelism workshop on personal evangelism with nearly 80 people in attendance. All had known the Lord for at least 15 or more years. There wasn’t a new believer within the last 15 years in their midst.
I once preached in a church and asked: Where are the new believers? The church members suddenly realized they didn’t have any non-Christian friendships.
This is a common description of many Christians who have been walking with the Lord for many years.
It is the outgrowth of an accidental drift into a Christian cocoon – away from non-Christians and into a Christian-exclusive bubble.
A Christian without an unchurched friend is like a dash of salt in the ocean: it doesn’t do anyone any good and, frankly, no one even knows it’s there.— Bill Tenny-Brittian, Hitchhiker’s Guide To Evangelism
Pastors drift too
When I served my local church as their pastor, I found myself spending way too much time in the office.
I was surrounded by church people, called on by church people, and calling on church people for visitation.
My time that I did not spend in the church office was spent in the car driving family members between church events, doing supply runs for church events.
Even much of my non-church time was spent doing life errands like grocery runs, car repairs, or stay at home activities.
This drift happens gradually
Adults and older teens who have a conversion experience usually have an initial sphere of influence with unreached or unchurched people.
Over the course of their Christian growth, change happens.
Their worldview changes with their newfound faith. New relationships form in the church. Personal values change through Christian maturity. Social networks change.
This is a natural process of Christian growth and discipleship. It is a slow drifting away from the world and its influences and sinful tendencies.
The obvious downside is that one may forget to maintain the prior relationships with non-Christian friends and come to the realization of living in a Christian cocoon.
Intentional or accidental?
Some Christians hold that we Christians are to separate ourselves from the influence of the world.
To avoid the spiritual contamination that could happen, they hold up the importance of surrounding ourselves only with Christian believers and Christian influences.
- Christian social networks.
- Christian business.
- Ssee only Christian movies.
- Listen to Christian radio.
- Attend the local coffee house when a Christian band is playing.
That’s intentional isolation.
There is also accidental isolation via the Christian activity treadmill.
It’s pretty easy to do over the course of time.
We get busy with activities in our highly programmed church, attending Bible studies, and choir practice.
If we are in church leadership, there are all the preparatory meetings for these events on top of the event themselves.
Our social calendars fill up by default, with good things to do, but the accidental result is all our friends are in our church.
Am I judging them?
Any time one starts to take inventory of their non-Christian relationships, one question that often comes up during some thinking like this:
Who am I to judge if they have a relationship with Christ?
Are you making a claim on their private spirituality?
Here is what I do when I’m looking for names to add to my prayer list:
- I look for evidence of a relationship with Christ.
- I look for the spiritual fruit of living for God.
- I look for the transformation of the Spirit.
I simply evaluate criteria to determine if I might have a role to play in them finding faith and becoming a follower of Jesus Christ.
If there is no evidence, am I judging them? I think I am evaluating the evidence but not passing judgment on them.
You likely have some non-Christian friends
When first taking an inventory of non-Christian friends, you might think you have none.
But I have found that taking a moment every so often to do an intentional inventory reveals a list of people you can begin to influence.
I use a few different tools to help you develop a list of people you likely already know who may not have a relationship with Christ.
Here are two:
Let me give you two more ideas:
5 Practical Steps to Get Beyond Zero
Bill Tenny-Brittian asks five practical questions/steps to help you think through this.
1. Pull out your calendar. On what two tasks or chores have you spent the most time over the past two months? How does that make you feel: satisfied, justified, horrified, embarrassed, happy, sad?
2. How much time have you spent with an unchurched person? With unchurched people?
3. Who do you know that you could “get to know better” over the next two months? List at least three people. (Note: you may not yet know their names.)
4. List five things you can do to get to better know at least one of the above-listed people. Make sure you include appropriate ways both to meet them more formally and to move past casual introductions.
5. Grab your calendar again and calendar a deadline for meeting and doing something with (or for) this person.Source: Bill Tenny-Brittan, Hitchhiker’s Guide to Evangelism ,2008.
Another practical exercise
Take a moment to look at your significant relationships. Think of people you choose to spend time with on somewhat of a regular basis.
Make a list of friends who immediately come to mind. Try to name as many as possible in the next 60 seconds.
Write those names down.
Now look over the list.
- Who goes to church with you? Cross them off this list.
- Who attends another church regularly? Cross them off.
- Who shows evidence of a relationship with Christ? Cross them off.
- Who is left?
- Do you have anyone left on the list?
Were you surprised by the results quick little exercise?
What will you do about it?
If you have plenty of non-Christian and unchurched friends, what do you do to maintain those relationships?
If you have few such relationships, what will you do this week that can start to change that?