“Preach the gospel at all times; use words when necessary.” This erroneous idea of evangelism has become quite prominent on my college campus, yet it is not found anywhere in Scripture. In fact, it is antithetical to Paul’s declaration in Romans 10:14–15, 17:
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”… So, faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of God.
For many Christian students that I have encountered, they understand the “why” behind evangelism, yet they run into difficulty with the “how.” My hope is to provide a road map for transitioning into gospel conversations.
First, however, I want to encourage you to pray! Psalm 37:5 states, “Commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him, and He will act.”
As you are preparing for a conversation, approach the throne of grace with confidence, asking boldly that the Lord would bless your conversation and “that [He] may open to us a door for the Word, to declare the mystery of Christ” (Colossians 4:3).
It is paramount to pray before, during, and after a conversation, but for now, let us investigate how to transition conversations into the gospel.
One of the most effective ways to engage in a gospel conversation is by sharing a meal. Sitting down one-on-one with another person offers uninterrupted time to begin asking intentional questions and getting to know the image-bearer you are sitting across from.
When sitting down for a conversation, think about it in terms of a funnel, going from external conversation (the wide part) to internal conversation (beginning to get narrower) to eternal conversation (the narrowest point).
At the beginning of your conversation, take a genuine interest in who that person is and what they are passionate about. Try and ask as many questions as you can and make connections if possible! The goal is to ask broad, open-ended questions to get the student talking.
Some examples of questions to ask could be, “What were you involved with in high school?” “What classes are you taking this semester, and how are they treating you?” “How do you plan to get involved in college?” “What do you enjoy doing in your free time?”
As the conversation progresses, you want to begin asking questions with more substance and depth. The internal conversation moves from the outside world to the heart.
Some examples of questions to ask in the internal portion of the conversation could be, “What do you want to do after college? Why?” “What are you passionate about? Why?” Was there any impactful event that occurred to you while you were growing up? What was that like?” “What was family life like for you growing up?” “What is your relationship like with your parents?”
Be genuinely curious, interested, and loving when beginning to dive into deeper issues. If people feel threatened by your questions, they will immediately put walls up. Communicate gratitude for them if they share parts about their life that seem impactful or heavy to them.
Transitioning the Conversation
When I am entering into an eternal question, I will ask, “Is church something you and your family did growing up or was it not really a big deal?”
By asking about the church, you are opening the discussion to their past church experience, where they are at now, and if the church is still a priority in their life. By adding “or was it not really a big deal” you are able to avoid coming across as threatening and allow them to feel comfortable regardless of their answer.
Following their response to your question about the church, begin to ask a lot of descriptive questions in order to help you better understand their worldview. If they respond “no” to having grown up in church, ask them if they ever think about spiritual things and who God is.
If they respond “yes” to your question about the church, begin asking them about their experience in church and whether going to church is something they are hoping to continue in college.
We have waded into spiritual conversation, but we have yet to truly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ with the person we are sharing with. To initiate explicit gospel conversation, I rely heavily upon one of the questions crafted by Evangelism Explosion, an evangelistic movement that started in the 1960s. I will typically preface the question with, “I was asked this question my freshman year of college to help me think through spiritual things. Do you mind if I ask you too?”
From there, I will ask, “If something were to happen to you today, and you were to stand before God, and He asked you, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’, what would you say?” The ultimate purpose of this question is to determine where the student’s confidence lies for salvation; who or what is their ultimate hope?
After they conclude their answer to this question, share with them your personal testimony. As Paul outlines in Acts 26, his testimony includes what he was like before Christ, what he came to realize about Christ and the gospel, and how his life has changed since. Then take the time to explicitly communicate the gospel.
Concluding the Conversation
After sharing your testimony, ask them if they have any questions or comments about what you have talked about. When you are finished responding to their questions, invite them to a personal study of Jesus with you; a favorite of mine is studying the Gospel of John.
As you leave, pray for the person you just met. If they are not a believer, plead with the Lord to bring them from death to life by his grace. If they are a brother or sister in Christ, rejoice and ask the Lord to send them as a laborer out into the harvest field. For, truly, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:37).