Questioning Evangelism

Posted: April 11, 2011 by Brett Kunkle in Resources, Truth Matters

Christians talk too much.  At least, they feel the pressure to.

I have a talk entitled “Why I Am a Christian,” where I discuss the primary reason we ought to follow Christ:  because He’s the Truth. Christianity (in the sense of C.S. Lewis’ “mere Christianity”) is true and we have good reasons to think so.  But sometimes, when students hear this they feel pressure to have all the right answers for their non-believing friends.  I hear the stress in their voices when they ask, “So what should I say to my non-Christian friends?” Here’s my advice.

First, start with questions. Oftentimes, Christians think evangelism means we talk and others listen. So, the believer is supposed to have a polished “Gospel presentation” and a finely tuned response to all objections. But this approach is undignifying to non-Christians and it completely ignores the unique questions an individual might have. And it’s why some Christians are really good at answering questions no one is asking. Francis Schaeffer’s words are instructive here: “If I have only an hour with someone, I will spend the first 55 minutes asking questions and finding out what is troubling their heart and mind, and then the last 5 minutes I will share something of the truth.”

I encourage students to start with Stand to Reason’s first two “Columbo” questions:

#1 — What do you mean by that?
#2 — How did you come to that conclusion?

The first question gives you the opportunity to really get to know the other person.  They are not an evangelistic target.  They’re not a means to an end.  They’re a valuable human being made in the image of God and deserving of dignity and respect.  Plus, this question gives you more information about what they believe, rather than assuming you already know.

The second question takes the pressure off you by putting the burden-of-proof on them.  Everyone believes something and you’re simply asking why they believe what they believe.  It’s not just Christians who need to give reasons for their beliefs.

Notice something.  These two questions require absolutely no knowledge on your part.  You can use them in your very next conversation.  So, the pressure is off a bit.  You don’t have to have all the right answers or a slick presentation.  Just start with questions.

Second, have a modest goal for your conversations.  When an opportunity for a “God conversation” arises, don’t feel like you have to get that person to the Gospel in the next 10 minutes.  Instead, simply attempt to put a stone in their shoe.

Christians feel pressure to get to the cross in every conversation.  But that’s an unrealistic goal.  The cross is utter foolishness to an atheist in your first conversation.  Rather, a more realistic goal is to put a stone in their shoe.  It’s the idea that you give some information that bothers them, causes them to think (notice, it’s the information that bothers them, not you!).  And in the next conversation, they may want to know more.  If you put enough stones in, who knows, you may even get them to give up some of their false beliefs, moving them toward God’s truth.  Of course, if you get to the cross in the first conversation, great.  Go there.  But usually the soil of the heart needs time to be tilled before it’s receptive to Christ’s message of reconciliation.  Indeed, it may take years of tilling.

This advice is usually followed by an audible sigh of relief.  Pressure relieved.  Of course, some pressure is good but not when it’s paralyzing.  We don’t want Christians sitting on the bench, we want them in the game.  We need to be having deep, profound, meaningful conversations with non-believing friends and family.  Hopefully, good questions and a realistic goal will move us in that direction.


  1. This is SO good.

    We GOTTA get over the mentality that somebody MIGHT DIE in the next thirty seconds and we MUST get them saved RIGHT NOW just in case.

    Clearly, those well-intentioned folks don’t believe that God IS in control.

  2. Sorry – adding another comment so I can subscribe to comments.

  3. killingsin says:

    Hi Mr. Kunkle and Bernard,

    I think I understand the reasoning behind not getting to the Gospel immediately, but I think in talking with people who are fairly influenced by postmodern thinking, and are comfortable with thinking in a way that shows autonomy, I would hope I have the time to not only address the faulty thinking in their rejection of God by how they think, and point to the source of thinking and present Christ to them who can make sense of their worldview.

    If it’s someone we don’t know and probably wouldn’t see again, I would hope I leave the Gospel with them, and that that would be the stone left in their shoe. I’m glad Mr. Kunkle is for the Gospel being mentioned in the first conversation, should it head in that direction. =)

    Bernard, I wouldn’t argue people who believe they HAVE to share the Gospel with someone to be a denier of God’s sovereignty, but more of an emphasis that God calls us to make disciples, and seeking to be faithful in that by preaching the Gospel with those we don’t know and might not see again. It doesn’t sound like what you’re advocating would be an over-emphasis on God’s sovereignty to the point where we shouldn’t ever preach the Gospel, but much like what you would write of those who feel the need to tell people the Gospel they don’t fully trust in God’s sovereignty I think could be turned the other way.

    I would hope there’s a balance in what we write: yes, God is sovereign, and (not but) we are commanded to share the Gospel with those who don’t believe. I find what is written here helpful in practically talking with non-Christians (much like the book Tactics which I love and intend on reading again), but would like further clarification on this. Would there be agreement that the Gospel can be mentioned to a stranger we might not see again and let that be the stone in someone’s shoe? I’m sure talking with family members and friends would be a different issue, since chances are we will have extended periods of time to talk and also model godliness in our lives that would foster Gospel conversations with them. Help me out here.

    Thanks by the way for your faithful ministry to the youth, sir. It’s been a great blessing in my own life and very helpful in talking with high schoolers down here in SoCal.

    – Cesar Vigil-Ruiz

    • Michael says:

      Hey Brett, thanks for this post I thought it was great!
      I read Greg Koukl’s ‘Tactics’ a while ago and loved it, but it was super to have a refreshing reminder! 🙂

      I have a question, though. Often when the conversations get going, they are quite productive and we both leave the conversation quite content that we’ve both made each other think more deeply about the hardest questions in life.
      However, I find it hard to start conversations on the topic of God out of the blue, if you know what I mean, as a starting question rather them asking me.
      So I have a wrist band that I sometimes wear and whenever I do people seem to ask me what it means and then a conversation sometimes flows from that. They might say, “I used to go to church but I don’t anymore.” And then I ask them why not and the conversation develops.
      Aside from that, though, I’ve sometimes asked people just out of the blue, “what do you make of christianity” and they’ve found it to be a little bit contrived if you know what I mean?
      Is there a natural way that you find for starting conversations?
      Thanks, in advance, for your help. I appreciate it 🙂

  4. Bob Singer says:

    Faith comes from hearing the word preached, my bible says. It is the gift of God…to whom and when He desires. To say, “The cross is utter foolishness to an atheist in your first conversation” shows a lack of knowledge and trust in God and His ordained means. Besides the Word is ALWAYS working…either softening or hardening a heart…our job is to declare it and leave the results to God. We need to get the tactics of the world out and the WORD IN!

  5. Vince Jensen says:

    A tactical approach to sharing Christian truths with others is an extremely effective tool. I have learned from personal experience that it is much more effective than disagreeing with someone and asserting the opposite. Here’s why: 1) Having a tactical approach lets you guide the conversation. 2) A tactical approach invites the person to share their views and beliefs with you in a friendly and not defensive manner. 3) A tactical approach allows you to gently expose errors in their worldview which may in turn remove intellectual barriers that distract them from taking Christianity as a plausible worldview. Many times you will find people have already heard the gospel from a dogmatic and ignorant Christian. Now they already have stereotypes of Christians and they are automatically turned away when we jump straight into the gospel. A tactical approach allows the Christian to break such barriers and become a more effective evangelist. In my opinion the book Tactics by Greg Koukl is essential for the Christian evangelist/apologist in our secular culture.