Five full days of street evangelism! Under normal circumstances, if someone had suggested this idea as a potential evangelistic pursuit, my response would have been, “No thanks! Not for me!” However, here I was in a large van heading to the big city. My husband, Troy, and I were the designated leaders, no less, for a dozen or so college-aged students. And we’d be standing on a street corner in no time at all, attempting to get into deep spiritual conversations with all kinds of scary strangers.
The first day went by much as I expected. Many were closed to hearing about the Lord, a few were willing to get into a discussion and most walked by completely indifferent. That week on bustling city streets was quite the adventure, arming us with stories and experiences that still effect our approach to sharing the gospel when time is short.
Even if you never participate in street evangelism, it’s good to be prepared for the moment when you have a quick opportunity to share the Bible’s message with a passing stranger. Your brief opportunity may come while sitting in front of your hairdresser, or with the salesperson at the door, or while you’re passing time in a waiting room. No matter the scenario, there are certain common obstacles that brief interactions present, as well as good ideas to navigate those obstacles.
Obstacle #1: Getting people to talk. If you are out on the highways and byways, this will always be the first hurdle. It can be difficult to know how to bring up topics relating to the spiritual. How does one go from being complete strangers to talking about the deep, soul-searching topic of one’s eternal destiny?
Obstacle #2: We couldn’t assume anything! I conversed with a woman who was very open to everything I had to say. It seemed as though she was agreeing and believing everything I explained. But a little digging revealed that she was heavily into witchcraft. Her view of who is God was seriously warped. We were certainly not discussing the same being when we spoke of “God.” She agreed that she was sinful; in fact, she enjoyed a lot of her sin. It really wasn’t a problem in her eyes. She thought it was great that God loved her; why wouldn’t he? And Jesus dying on the cross? Well, that fitted into her worldview in a way that was definitely not biblical.
You see, upon first contact, I was encouraged that she seemed to understand and believe the truths I was sharing. But as she opened up more with me, I realized that on almost every important topic we touched, we were actually using two different dictionaries! I couldn’t assume anything. In fact, I needed to start at square one with her.
Obstacle #3: Time was limited. When we could get someone to stand and talk at length with us in a busy city environment, we had to talk quickly and with clarity. But we also needed to listen and figure out what the person believed and how they thought. Often, we felt like we’d just got an inkling of what they knew about God and had barely started with the gospel before it would be time for them to move on. Opportunity passed.
The same thing applies in a waiting room scenario. The person may be called in to his or her appointment at any time. Or take the telemarketer. Often they are instructed to shut down a conversation if it derails from the product they are selling.
We realized we needed to be more targeted in our questions, so we could both assess the worldview of the person we conversed with, while at the same time pique their interest to hear more.
Obstacle #4: Sharing an incomplete gospel. More often than not, we were unable to share the complete gospel story. We’d only make it partway. We knew we could consider ourselves to be “seed planters,” but even then, we wanted to make sure we were doing a good job of planting that seed so that we didn’t leave our listener confused.
In the end, we felt that we needed to focus on the foundations on which the gospel is based. If we got farther than that, great! But if not, at least those foundations were in place. So we decided that we needed to make sure we spent more time sharing specifically about who God is and the problem of sin. Only a person who views himself as lost will see the need for salvation. And if they know about God and his character, then they know which direction to go in their search for that salvation.
Obstacle #5: Finding good, clear literature to give away to those interested. There were a few occasions when we found ourselves in incredible conversations with individuals. They seemed to be searching, longing to know “the Truth.” But in each case, we knew that our short time with them was simply not enough to connect all the dots in their minds. We felt we were so close, yet so far away in leading them to Christ.
The Worldview Survey
The first night, as Troy and I walked back to our van parked many blocks away, we had a long conversation which touched on all these obstacles. Thankfully, a solution began to crystallize in Troy’s mind. Back in the van, he had a book by the name of And Beginning with Moses. The book had a lot of practical advice on sharing the gospel clearly. And in that book was a list of nine questions titled the “Worldview Survey.” The goal of the questions was to determine how much knowledge one’s student had about the Bible and where one needed to start in his explanation. Troy felt that the survey would be a vital tool for us over the next few days.
The Worldview Survey
A. About God
i. When you hear the word “God,” what comes to mind?
ii. What would you say God is like?
iii. Where did you get your ideas about God?
B. About Man
i. Why does man die?
ii. What happens to man when he dies?
iii. Where did you get your ideas about man and his future?
C. About Right and Wrong (sin):
I. In life, what is right and what is wrong (sin)? Name a few examples of each.
II. Are there any consequences for doing wrong (sin)? If so, what would those consequences be?
III. If someone says you are wrong about what is right and wrong—who decides who is right?
Here’s how the survey helped us with street ministry and how it can help you in your brief interactions with those you meet.
Troy quickly made copies of the Worldview Survey for both of us to use. The next day, we found Obstacle #1 (getting a conversation started) largely addressed. We simply asked passersby if we could do a short survey with them. Many were amenable and stopped.
While that approach worked well for us in street evangelism, it wouldn’t be quite so conducive to most other scenarios. In most other cases, you’ll need to have a different plan in place. You will need to be purposeful in your interactions with those you meet, being intentional to create opportunities. Here are a few ideas of how you can bring a conversation around to spiritual things:
Consider bringing your Bible or other clearly religious reading material (a physical copy, not a version on a phone or tablet) with you. Sometimes having such material with you can spark an interesting conversation along spiritual lines.
If you’re able to get into a little small talk, start asking questions about the person’s life. How many children do they have? Where do they work? What are their hobbies? Occasionally, people will reveal real deep struggles with complete strangers, simply because they feel a certain freedom they don’t feel with family and friends. This opens the door for you to speak about God’s Word.
Other times, you’ll find your questions returned. When asked what you enjoy doing, you could answer, “I like to explain the Bible’s message to others.” A follow-up statement could be the “the Bible is considered one of the most influential books in history, yet so many people know very little about it. I think that one should always be informed about something before they make up their mind to accept or reject it.” Most thinking people would agree with that logic. Utilizing these simple lines, numerous people have seen their listeners willing to have deeper discussions, accept gospel materials or even join a Bible study group.
Do you have a story to tell? In other words, have you gone through a difficult circumstance in life that others can relate to (such as a medical crisis or death in the family). Often when we talk about these serious experiences, it naturally leads to speaking about eternal issues. You may need to be very purposeful in your conversation to get to that topic, but once you are able to share a little about how the Lord helped you in your difficulty, you often have a moment to present real spiritual truth.
Overcoming the obstacles
Once you get into a spiritual discussion with someone, you will likely run into some version of the those five obstacles. Here’s where the Worldview Survey can help you.
During our week of street evangelism, Obstacle #2 (not assuming a certain level of Bible knowledge) was addressed as we asked the Worldview Survey questions. With just the first couple of questions, we had a very good idea of what our new friend knew about God and the Bible. It would be good to get several of the questions from the survey firmly planted in your mind so that you can quickly recall them when needed. When you are able to steer a conversation to a more serious subject, gently slide a question or two into your conversation. This will serve both to move the conversation further down the spiritual path, as well as give you an idea of what your listener believes about spiritual things.
The targeted questions also helped us move on to the main points quickly, addressing Obstacle #3 (limited time). With just a few questions, we had a pretty good snapshot of our listener’s worldview and knew where to start. Not only that, the questions naturally helped propel our conversation in the right direction. If nothing else, they were thought-provoking, likely causing many to consider things they had never thought of before, even if we were only able to converse for a few minutes.
As our listener revealed more and more of his or her belief system and areas of confusion, we knew where to focus our time, addressing Obstacle #4 (sharing an incomplete gospel). The Worldview Survey questions gave us an easy road map. We knew we didn’t want to jump ahead to Jesus’ saving work on the cross, if they first didn’t understand their need for a Saviour. During our brief stint as street evangelists, we found ourselves spending a great deal of time layering down truths about who God is and man’s sin problem, getting those issues clear in our listener’s mind. We trusted that the seed was well planted and watered and would be used by the Lord.
As that second day wore on, many in our group saw how helpful the surveys were in our conversations, so they began making their own copies of our Worldview Survey. In the days ahead, most of us relied heavily on those nine questions to guide our conversations.
In the same way, consider making a copy to keep in your Bible, in your Be Ready Box or on your smartphone, available for those unexpected opportunities.
Obstacle #5 (having good literature to give away to those interested) was one we had limited ability to address. We’d brought just a few copies of The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus with us, so we gave them away to those listeners who seemed to be truly seeking.
Fifteen years ago, when this experience took place, we had limited quantities with us and a very limited selection of books to choose from. While we still hand out copies of The Stranger when appropriate, we’re also thankful we have other options too. In addition to that book, we now have By This Name and All that the Prophets have Spoken, two similar books which address the post-modern and Islamic worldviews. In addition, we also have the option of leaving people with a copy of The Story that Matters. This short booklet gives a very concise explanation of the gospel and we hope it will whet their appetite for more.
Being able to hand someone a clear gospel explanation is perhaps the most useful option in those brief interactions. When interacting with the person at your door, the tow truck driver or your hairdresser, you can simply give away a book as a token of appreciation, in addition to whatever regular payments or tips you owe. Or you can ask if they like to read. If the answer is, “Yes! I love to!”, then consider giving away a more in-depth explanation of the gospel in the form of a book (for those who aren’t readers, The Story that Matters is a good option). Most will accept a copy simply out of politeness, but there will be those who will be effusive in their appreciation. You never know those who have already been hungrily searching for truth when you came along.
As you think about all the interactions you have on a regular basis, consider using the Worldview Survey as part of your conversation. You never know when you’ll find it handy to have a few questions to guide you through the process of planting, watering–and possibly–harvesting a soul for Christ.