Questioning Evangelism - Engaging People’s Hearts the Way Jesus Did
Randy Newman, Kregel Publications: 2004

When I became a new Christian I was taught to memorise a gospel presentation that I could share with my friends to explain the Christian message to them. I was enthusiastic and followed the advice …….and proceeded to spoil a few good friendships through my eagerness to convert them! In every conversation when there was the slightest hint of spiritual openness, I tried to ‘get them over the line’ and to pray ‘the sinners prayer’. There was nothing wrong with my motivation nor with my learning a gospel presentation but there was a good reason why it didn’t ‘work’ with most of my friends.

You see, we no longer live in a time or culture where a simple proposition of gospel truth will convince most people. The plausibility structures required to assent to the truth of the gospel: an acceptance of absolute truth, of reliable historical record, of trust in institutions like the church, of the existence of God - these have been dismantled. This means that our presentation isn’t immediately ‘plausible’ to them. In most cases, we need to do a lot more groundwork before we can present an invitation to faith. The summary style gospel presentation is ideal when a person is receptive and ready for it, but most people simply aren’t.  (Think of the ENGELS scale (see below) – it probably doesn’t go low enough in its scale when describing someone far from God but it still has lots to teach us about pitching our message and manner appropriately for where a person is at spiritually.)

Part of our ground work involves helping people to see that the ideas upon which they are building their lives are wrong. Ideas such as ‘I decide what’s true’, ‘all religions are the same’, ‘religion poisons everything’, ‘there’s no such thing as sin’, ‘God is dead’, ‘anything is ok as long as its not harmful’ – these are the ideas we need to dismantle to pave the way for genuine gospel conversations.

How do we do that? Well first we need to listen to our friends, to find out what they believe and to start to question why they believe what they do. Armed with simple questions such as ‘really?’, “why do you believe that?”, “Can you explain that for me? I don’t see how that can be true…” will help us to do this.
The next time you have a conversation with a friend, try to hold back from telling them what you think. Really. (I know this is hard for most of us!) Instead, listen well, reflect back what they are saying, ask probing questions and be happy to have gotten to know them a bit better and to have left the door open for another conversation the next time you meet with them. This way, sooner rather than later we may find that we are able to question what they think and at some point that they ask us what we believe and why….

The greatest encouragement for this approach comes from Jesus who so often used questions to nudge people further along towards the kingdom. Check out Mark 10:17-22 and ask yourself why Jesus didn’t simply tell the rich young ruler to put his faith in him or to follow him.

These ideas all come from a great book that explains how to ask probing questions in conversation with our friends. It’s called “Questioning Evangelism” by Randy Newman. Kregel Publications: 2004. It would be a great book to use in your parish in training people in personal evangelism using a questioning approach. Newman points out that questions aren’t everything, i.e. we still need to be able to explain our faith and to answer questions and to live out our faith visibly…but questions are a necessary and underused tool for evangelism.
Tracy Lauersen