About the Author

Heather Gemmen Wilson loves to laugh. She says, "Through all the circumstances of my life, I have gained more than I have lost ... and I'm not just talking weight." Heather is married to her best friend, Lawrence W. Wilson, a pastor, and they have a colorful blended family of...

Recent Posts

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. I love this question. Really love it. I grew up in the church thinking that “evangelizing” was giving people answers, getting them to see the truth, getting them to profess faith– at the altar call or when I took them to church or asked them straight-out. I was more interested in giving answers, and I think that led to arrogance and isolation from real people in the real world all too often.

    My friend Kelley taught me the most important thing I know about sharing faith. SHE ASKS GOOD QUESTIONS FIRST. Before she shares, she listens. She is intentional with learning about the other person’s story first– before she shares hers.

    It’s a beautiful way to engage others not in the faith community, and I am learning it leads to humility and connection, instead of the “holier-than-thou” mask I was sporting in my highschool years.

    • Laura – Asking good questions and listening are excellent ideas. Building relationship. But what are the good questions? I think it’s just about getting to knwo the person as a person, not as a project, or something you need to fix. But practically, what questions do you ask? This could be fodder for a whole series of articles but can you just give a few ideas?

      • Jesus didn’t “get to know” the woman at the well. He already knew her. We have Him who knows all men… and if we trust Him when approaching someone, asking a question is an excellent way to get started. Even Jesus asked… can I have a drink of water… he was leading her. We can do that too with appropriate and heart-felt questions. Not smart alek questions, but caring, meaningful questions.

        Heather could have used the girl’s appearance… or the very fact that she stepped out of such a place…. “did you find what you were looking for?” or, “so, was it good news?”, or “do you think she was accurate?”…

        You use the circumstance you’re in to start the conversation… and still be bold enough to bring it to a spiritual topic. My thoughts.

        • seriously. it really is that simple isn’t it? i mean someone walking out of a physic shop doesn’t get more ‘neon sign’ than that.

          i actually am trying to come up with a few questions for when i am IN church as well. during the brief meet and greet time. i want questions other than,
          -is it your first time here? (what does this accomplish really?)
          -are you new in town?
          -how are you?

          i want something personal, something deep that cuts right to it. i mean, just like the person coming out of the physic shop, the people in church are a big neon sign that they are there for something, and to find out what that is, to connect with them beyond name/marital status/children and what number visit this is for you.

          i passionately want to figure this one out. i’m stuck. please, if you could/want to, contact me with your thoughts/suggestions, if you’d like to continue digging deep on this as well.

          • You’re right, we have to be intentional about going directly to spiritual issues. (Sometimes this is difficult even with people we know well.) I’ll brainstorm here with you for a moment. Some possible initial conversation starters if you meet him/her at church (after a warm welcome, of course):
            – Is church a new experience for you? (Their answer can lead you all sorts of directions: was there something specific that kept you away, what brought you back, has church been a good experience for you, etc.)
            – What led you here?
            Anyone other suggestions?

      • Good idea, Kathy. I think I will blog some more about this. We have to ask ourselves these questions, but we can’t stop there. As Christians, we have to figure out how to be relevant.

      • Hi Ladies, just popped back over and read the fascinating comment thread. Heather, love the way you are leading this conversation– it’s an important one, for sure.

        And I know Kathy asked for specifics, but like so many people said, I think engaging with others, particularly outside of the faith community, means that we . . .
        pray
        slow down
        be a “there you are” person, instead of a “here I am” person
        and love well.

        I was teaching a class once a long time ago on “friendship evangelism.” And I was using a translator to all these older Spanish women in a church. And I was arrogantly talking about a system for “getting them to believe,” and the missionary who was translating asked me this question in the middle of my “teaching” session–

        “Doesn’t a Christian need friends, too? Do you really just want to pursue people to “win them?” Or is it possible that you could learn something from them? Don’t YOU need friends, maybe even more than you need to BE one?”

        Obviously, my cocky-self was really embarrassed– and rightly so, honestly. Because I think this guy was totally right-on. I was pursuing people with an agenda, instead of just pursuing people for love’s sake. And people can tell that, for sure. And, especially in American, oftentimes, “anti-church” culture, it’s not appealing.

        Anyway, long story, no real answers, just wanted to enter the conversation a bit more.

        Once again, Heather, thanks for starting it in the first place! Loved reading everyone’s thoughts.

  2. Heather…. You’re all up in my business today!!! Seriously, I’ve been wrestling with the same questions the last few weeks. I don’t have any answers yet, but I’m trying to figure it out with you!
    Thanks for an amazing post!
    Keri

  3. Good questions! Not sure I have all the answers! One thing to do is small acts of kindness for others & then perhaps present the gospel.

    You could just start a conversation and see where that leads.

  4. I love this post, and I love Laura’s answer. Sometimes people who don’t have Christ don’t even know they need Him until they see us navigate the world with Him. It’s the same world. The same problems. The same issues at work. Whatever. But it’s totally different with Christ than without Him. We just have to live in the same world, but show them that there’s a different way to be in it.

    I would also add that we can’t be afraid of the red-booted, spiky-haired people in our lives. So many Christians flee from people who aren’t like them without giving them a chance, but we have to remember that they deserve the opportunity to meet Jesus too. And the only way they are going to get that opportunity is if real believers befriend them.

      • that includes ppl IN the church as well. There is a young gal in the college SS we teach who is pierced and tattooed and dresses goth (none of which are “typical” in our congregation). God led me to hug her one day and she just melted. It was clearly not something she was used to. it was a powerful lesson for me!

      • Some of the sweetest people I run into out there have spiky hair, multiple piercings and eclectic clothes. And for some reason I’m always surprised when these type of young folks look me right in my eyes with a warm smile and ask me how I’m doing. Our culture imposes so many concepts of personal images on people that you really can’t judge a book by it’s cover IMO.

  5. It’s a secret. But I’ll tell. I wen t to VistaPrints and created a Personal Testimony Postcard from the postcards they offer for advertising your business. I include a short testimony, a few scriptures, a photo, and my email and phone number. It can be risky, but I will try to choose who I give them to. Just got them not too long ago, and I plan to pass them out to ladies I meet at grocery stores, shopping, wherever I go and find a heart tug like you did with t hat girl.

  6. I am still learning myself how to work through my hang-ups with talking with new people and knowing I have something great to offer them if they don’t already know Christ. I am in my 8th year in my journey with Christ – and He has brought me farther than I ever expected. So where I am at now, is thankfully where I haven’t been before – which is success. So I am taking this step by step, and making intentional steps to connect with people this coming year through volunteering at places where I know I can share God openly without being looked at with crossed-eyes. 🙂

  7. In keeping with the context of your post, the girl you don’t know who is walking out of a psychics “office”… you may not have an opportunity to get to know her. You could ask her a question to see if she’s open to hearing God’s truth. If she’s visiting a psychic- she’s probably seeking answers. You could ask her something to that point and then bring up how all our answers we need are found in Christ. You may not get far, but you don’t know till you try. Then hand her a good quality tract that explains the salvation message.

    I have handed out many tracts to strangers. That alone can be very hard at times (“what will they think of me?”) ! But you know, they need the message and if you only have 5 seconds with them, they have that to read later and it can be a seed planted. I think I’ve heard it can take 7 times for a person to be exposed to the gospel before they will accept. You can be part of the watering and sowing- we can’t all be reapers, all the time 😉

  8. Great food for thought, meditation and prayer. Personally, I am drawn to people that are different and my smile gives me away everytime. From my heart I would have to say ” your so beautiful ” or ” I love your boots” . A few weeks ago a lady was trying on a bright orange jacket in the store as I shopped nearby I told her ” that color looks amazing on you” she responded ” you think so? Thanks I’m geting it I was afraid it was to much for an old lady”. Anyway my point is look at others and see what God has made, and bridge the gap with a kind word. A sermon isn’t always appropriate, Jesus started many profound transformations in lives, with simple conversation. lonnie

    • Yes, we have to be authentic. People can see through false flattery, and we do more harm than good. So glad you are willing to share your beautiful personality with others simply to bless them!

  9. I love this post and all the comments. I don’t have any easy answers but I think half the battle is asking the questions. At least you noticed. That’s the first step. I’ve found God usually starts something in me with a question. 🙂

    • I love these comments too (including yours)! I was driving all day long, and kept seeing message after message, but I couldn’t answer!! It was killing me. 🙂 All the readers of this blog are so thoughtful and loving! What a great community!

  10. Well, for one thing, I know how I come across and try to overcome it. HA! Seriously, though, I look like a school marm, serious, all-business and can appear somewhat unapproachable. I often go out of my way to intentionally smile and take some initiative by complimenting (sincerely, of course) on a color worn or the child in hand, etc. in order to appear warm, which I really AM, but I don’t think that’s the first impression.

    As I get to know people, I trust the Holy Spirit to bring to my attention when and where to speak up and the words, and that involves, as others have said, a lot of listening to both the person and the Holy Spirit. Be in the Word. Trust. Give up notions of “I OUGHT to say this or that or hand them a tract or twist their arm.”

    Almost always the person will provide the lead in with a very natural comment or question.

    If only we could rid ourselves of the “us v. them” mentality and see how we all have the same need. Sorry for the rant….great post.

  11. Great conversation here. Some wonderful things to consider.

    I think it depends on who you are. You know if you’re the tract-giving type, or the one who compliments a great color choice, the one who asks pointed questions, or the one who takes note and prays fervently. Whatever our type, God wants to use us to let people know that He loves them. It’s the strangest and most humbling thing to me, that God would trust us to show His love to others.

  12. I’m thinking she’s not entering the doors of our churches because we haven’t been gutsy and courageous and compassionate enough to invite her. I’m thinking she’s not coming because she’s heard we’re judgemental. Unsafe. Pharasaic.

    Come to think of it, if I were her, I’d be very, very wary, and very, very scared of entering the doors of many of the communities where we worship.

    How sad is that …

    • I’m very interested in personal evangelism, as so many comments have been addressing; but I’m also interested in how we can be relevant as a church. This is an important conversation, and I’m glad to see so many Christians joining it. Let’s go beyond being sad, and press on to figure out how to make our churches more approachable.

      • When we were involved in a more inner-city type church without a church building it struck me how many people seemed turned off by a typical church building, but had no problem visiting a church that met in an unconventional location – like a theater or office building (or for youth group, our garage!). Being raised in the church all my life I guess I never thought about a church building being intimidating, but it definitely was for many of the people that attended our church at some point. Its funny – I now view empty buildings as awesome ministry opportunities.

  13. Heather, I love the way you help us see the beauty in everyone and everything. Thank you for this reminder that outside the familiar is often the best place to find it.

  14. I think some other reasons as to why some don’t come to church are that people don’t realize how much we’re loved, and that we believe satan’s lies. It’s tough to hear things we don’t believe ourselves (like God’s love for us)– we block it out. We continue to believe the lies of satan instead. And, when the world and our imperfect relationships tell us we’re not good enough… << when are telling each other “you’re not good enough”>>…. we miss the “you’re beautiful and you are LOVED!”

    It is incomprehensible just how much God loves us and sometimes we start hearing satan’s lies again, and, just like Peter, take our sights off God just a little and we start to lose faith and sink until we call out to Jesus and take His hand.

    I think, perhaps the best way to reach out to believers and non-believers, alike, is simply just to LOVE them. When our hearts are in love, our actions will follow. I think a sincerely caring smile will speak the love of Jesus all over them. Certainly, we must be bold when we feel it in our Spirit, but, sometimes, we don’t have to say anything, just open our hearts. But our hearts can’t be fully open to others until we fully hear it ourselves– just how much God loves us.

  15. Heather, I think you already know how to share Him with her.

    Given the opportunity to encounter you face to face at Mt. Hermon, possibly six long year ago, your love and vulnerability drew me to your heart. You so graciously sat in the coffe shop listening to the story of my own soul. Although a pew sitter with you, I was once the red boot girl, but I knew it didn’t matter to you either way. You were available just to hear me.

    The most important thing you said in this post was that you belong in both scenerios. I have found that to be the key. Through body language, complete authenticity, and unexpected warmth, those who walk elsewhere sense when you’re willing to still walk with them in that place.

    What I find to be frustrating is that as we choose to join them, for the purpose of sharing His unlimited answer, I fear the Christians who will judge why I don’t seem to be in the pew.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Kim. I’m so glad we were able to have that conversation together! God did give me a loving and accepting heart; I connect well with all types. The problem is that I’m not always very discerning: I once tried to set my best friend up with a homeless guy. He seemed so nice to me, but she freaked out at me for thinking he was good enough for her. haha!

  16. This may sound simple but I think it’s listening and obeying the Holy Spirit. I believe that God ordains divine appointments…all we have to do is be ready to notice them. Sometimes God may have you go the really direct approach (although make sure you have clarity from the Holy Spirit of you do), sometimes you will just listen, other times you will smile. We are the church and if we live it seven days a week…others will notice 🙂

    • You make an excellent point, Carrie. I’m reading Forgotten God by Francis Chan now, which is all about how today’s Body of Christ has largely neglected the Holy Spirit, and as a result people on the outside looking in aren’t terribly impressed with Christians. I totally agree that if we are allowing and actively seeking the Holy Spirit to be active in our lives–to bear fruit–other people will see that and it will have an impact on them.

    • after pondering this further in my bath just now, i too believe this is the answer as unspecific as it is, because with the HS it will be specific to that person. the biggest part is not when or how will we know, i know all right when i’m being prompted to do something, it’s us being obedient, even if it seems silly or too much, and acting on that HS prompting. it would be easy (for lack of a better word) to just have a one size fits all way of doing it, yet that is not how our Lord went about His ministry 🙂 very challenging, thus requiring my dependence on Him and my submitting to Him.

  17. Great post and a great question! We need to trust the Holy Spirit’s direction…and listen for His leading! Also, pleople learn by example. Are we shining Christ’s light every day everywhere we go? In the office? At the store? At the bus stop? We should be examples of Christ’s love to all around us. When others see the peace we have, they’ll want to know why and what it is. Let’s be ready to answer… =)

    Living for Him, Joan

  18. Funny you should ask!?! I used to ask people what church they went to. If they said they didn’t go to church, I’d ask them why not? Most of the time I found that folks would tell me about a church they used to go to. I’d take that as my opportunity to invite them to my church. Of course, no one ever accepted my invitation.

    Now I’m passing out the gospel of John ($0.67/gospel from CBD) along with a gospel tract. What’s more the Lord placed it in my heart to record a sermonette about salvation and burn that on multiple CDs. I’ll be passing those out with the other literature & my phone number, if they want to pray and/or talk.

    If someone refuses to take what I’m passing out, there are very few people who will refuse prayer. That may be the best way to share Christ!?!

  19. The biggest thing to remember is that being a part of an organized religion doesn’t make us better than those that don’t attend church. Knowing God comes in so many forms, church isn’t the only place to receive God. Church is to worship God, but can’t that be done in other group type settings as well. Just because that girl is going into a psychic doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have a relationship with God. Church seems to teach that if you behave enough you’ll know God. I assert that we already know God, we just have to want to know him, and have a real personal relationship with him. I think the rules of the bible are there, so that we know how to treat others, but inside we know that, church is just one way to help us remember that. Here’s a quote from something I’m pretty sure none of you have heard of. I will say that being one with everyone and everything is an amazing feeling. No judgement, just LOVE!!!

    This is from: http://www.worldonenesscommunity.com/notes/Sri_Bhagavan_Teaching_-_Grace_and_your_relationship_with_God

    Question: Bhagavan, God is one, then why the response of God varies from person to person?

    Answer: The amount of grace you receive or the form in which God manifests to you depends on the relationship you have with God. That is why it is important that you do not have an image of a punishing god or an indifferent god.

    If you thought, God would be angry with you for your thoughts or your life and therefore afraid, God would certainly punish you. If God to you were a lazy father, would answer after endless entities and petitions, that would be your reality. You create your God. You have made a mess of your lives, unaware of the power and freedom you hold in creating your God. One of the greatest curses you could lay on yourself is to create a wrong kind of God – a defective God who could sit over you in judgement and punish you. Remember when I say creating your God, I do not mean creating an non-existent God through your own imagination. God is your creator and how could you create God?
    Creating your own God means to awaken to the power you wield. God is powerful, but you too being a part of God, are quite powerful, hence the problem. You have the freedom to design the kind of God you want.
    It is like the potter, making use of the clay and creating master pieces. You are the potter and God the clay. Your God would then respond to you the way you want. That is why, we use the word …’Elokthakari’ – one who does as bidden.
    Do not think it is presumptuous to design God. You have all along being creating your God unconsciously, only now do it consciously and intelligently. God does not define himself or herself. Humanity defines God.
    Create a God who is powerful enough to awaken you and also fulfill your desires. If you relate to God as playful, powerful and a compassionate friend, who will respond to your needs instantaneously, that would be your God. If on the other hand, you define God as the unapproachable then the doors of heaven shall not open, because there is big board which would say, ‘no entry’.
    If you say God is indefinable that certainly would be your experience. You could choose to have a frowning God, or a smiling God or a laughing God or your playing God.

    • Linda,

      I just wanted to share the heart of (in)courage with you (this is also under the “Our Heart” tab at the top of the site)…

      More than anything, (in)courage is about relationships – with God and each other. We realize that our readers are in many different places in their journeys of faith. All of you are welcome.

      Our relationship with Jesus is the heart of who we are and all we do. It’s not about going to church or doing good things. And even if it were, that wouldn’t be enough because we’ve all messed up in life.

      For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
      Romans 3:23

      We know what it’s like to have distance in a relationship because we’ve hurt someone else. And with God, there’s only one way to close that gap. Jesus came to earth and died on the cross to make that happen.

      For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

      We believe when we pray, “Yes, Jesus—you are my Savior. I ask for your forgiveness, receive your grace, and give all of my life to you” then our relationship with God is made right and we become His forever.

      If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9

      We still mess up but we can always come to Him again and simply say, “Jesus, I’m already yours. I know I’ve hurt you…will you please forgive me?”

      If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. I John 1:9

      Our relationship with God keeps growing all of our lives and we hope (in)courage will be part of that journey for you. The (in) actually represents being in Christ and then in community with each other…this is our heart and prayer for all of us.

  20. I believe that the ‘church’ one should discover is where we have our personal relationship with Him. Be it anywhere as long we’re connected to Him.

  21. There is a GREAT book out called Just Walk Across the Room, by Bill Hybells. (a very easy read) It was eye opening and helpful. It is about relaxing and just making conversation and building relationships, but then being ready when God opens the door. One of the chapters was key in teaching people how to tell there story in a clear and conscise way so that the listener becomes engaged!

  22. In college, I was on a mission to evangelize to people under the guise of “caring” – which I truly thought I DID care until one guy called me out right as I started telling him about Christ and said, “wait, I thought you wanted to know about ME.” It radically changed my way of approaching people with the gospel. The greatest commands are to love God and to love others as ourselves. I think about how *I* feel when someone of another religion comes to me assuming that they know anything about me, what I believe, what my experiences with God may have been like. Although they may be loving their God in that moment, they are not loving ME. Everyone needs to do what they feel led to do, but I’ve found that more people ask me about my faith when I don’t *talk* about it as much as just let it show in my actions and genuine, unconditional acceptance of who they are. It may mean that they come to Christ on their own agenda and terms, but at the end of the day, they know that I loved them for who they were from the very beginning, which to me is more evidence and proof of God’s love than anything else I could say.

  23. Once, I went with a friend to an audition. When we got there, there were all kinds of “Thug” looking people. Tatoos. pirecings…I thought ‘What have I got myself into?
    Each of the bands played Christian Music and I just sat and thought about how as I Christian I can be so judgmental!!! and stereotype!

  24. 1 of my favorite reminders is:
    “Do you love your creator? Love your fellow-beings first”
    My feeling is that I need to set an example 4 others & me loving my neighbors as myself & treating them as I would want is more important than worrying about others. Working on myself to be my very best is very powerful & influential. It in turn creates positive ripples in the people around me. & so just by me showing kindness, compassion, & love to others, I can have a huge impact on my friends, family, & even strangers… & it is amazing to see.