Growing your skills in relational evangelism depends on authentic friendships with non-Christian friends.
Active involvement in the life of non-Christians will allow you to be in a place to give a personal invitation to church or listen for spiritual thirst or even share a part of your personal testimony.
Though those evangelism habits can be done with complete strangers, your influence will have a greater long term impact in the context of your relationships.
When you are actively involved in the life of non-Christians, you’ll begin to see connections between their needs and opportunities to share the gospel.
You might see places where a sermon series might connect with the life struggles of your friend.
Or you might find some wisdom in the Scripture that will allow you to speak the Bible’s wisdom directly into the life of your friend.
Do you have non-Christian friends?
Many Christians who want to start new personal growth in relational evangelism begin to realize they have a problem:
When I give relational evangelism training seminars around the US and Latin America, those who have walked with Christ for many years say things like:
- I don’t know anyone I can invite to my church.
- I don’t know anyone I can put on my prayer list of friends who need Christ.
- I’m surrounded by Christians all the time.
- I work for a church or Christian ministry full time, so I don’t have any non-Christian contacts.
- I work from home as a solo entrepreneur and have no co-workers to influence.
Are you in a Christian cocoon?
I recently did an evangelism workshop on personal evangelism with nearly 80 people in attendance. All had known the Lord for at least 15 or more years. There wasn’t a new believer within the last 15 years in their midst.
I once preached in a church and asked: Where are the new believers? The church members suddenly realized they didn’t have any non-Christian friendships.
This is a common description of many Christians who have been walking with the Lord for many years.
It is the outgrowth of an accidental drift into a Christian cocoon – away from non-Christians and into a Christian exclusive bubble.
A Christian without an unchurched friend is like a dash of salt in the ocean: it doesn’t do anyone any good and, frankly, no one even knows it’s there.
— Bill Tenny-Brittian, Hitchhiker’s Guide To Evangelism
Pastors drift too
When I served my local church as their pastor, I found myself spending way too much time in the office.
I was surrounded by church people, called on by church people, and calling on church people for visitation.
My time that I did not spend in the church office was spent in the car driving family members between church events, doing supply runs for church events.
Even much of my non-church time was spent doing life errands like grocery runs, car repairs, or stay at home activities.
This drift happens gradually
Adults and older teens who have a conversion experience usually have a sphere of influence with unreached or unchurched people.
Over the course of their Christian growth, change happens.
Their worldview changes with their newfound faith. New relationships form in the church. Personal values change through Christian maturity. Social networks change.
This a natural process of Christian growth and discipleship. It is a drifting away from the world and its influences and sinful tendencies.
The obvious downside is that one may forget to maintain the prior relationships with non-Christian friends and come to the realization of living in a Christian cocoon.
Intentional or accidental?
Some Christians hold that Christians are to separate ourselves from the influence of the world.
To avoid the spiritual contamination that could happen, they hold up the importance of surrounding ourselves only with Christian believers and Christian influences.
- Christian social networks,
- Christian business,
- see only Christian movies,
- listen to Christian radio, and
- attend the local coffee house when a Christian band is playing.
That’s intentional isolation.
There is also accidental isolation via the Christian activity treadmill.
It’s pretty easy to do over the course of time.
We get busy with activities in our highly programmed church, attending Bible studies, and choir practice.
If we are in church leadership, there are all the preparatory meetings for these events on top of the event themselves.
Our social calendars fill up by default, with good things to do, but the accidental result is all our friends are in our church.
Am I judging them?
At anytime one starts to take inventory of their non-Christian relationships, one question that often comes up during some thinking like this:
Are you making a claim on their private spirituality?
Here is what I do when I’m looking for names to add to my prayer list:
- I look for evidence of a relationship with Christ.
- I look for the spiritual fruit of living for God.
- I look for the transformation of the Spirit.
I simply evaluate criteria to determine if I might have a role to play in them finding faith and becoming a follower of Jesus Christ?
If there is no evidence, am I judging them? I think I am evaluating the evidence but not passing judgment on them.
You likely have some non-Christian friends
When first taking an inventory of non-Christian friends, you might think you have none.
But I have found that taking a moment every so often to do an intentional inventory reveals a list of people you can begin to influence.
I use a few different tools to help you develop a list of people you likely already know who may not have a relationship with Christ.
Here are two:
A practical exercise
Take a moment to look at your significant relationships. Think of people you choose to spend time with on somewhat of a regular basis.
Make a list of friends who immediately come to mind. Try to name as many as possible in the next 60 seconds.
Write those names down.
Now look over the list.
- Who goes to church with you? Cross them off this list.
- Who attends another church regularly? Cross them off.
- Who shows evidence of a relationship with Christ? Cross them off.
- Who is left?
- Do you have anyone left on the list?
Where you surprised by the results quick little exercise?
What will you do about it?
If you have plenty of non-Christian and unchurched friends, what do you do to maintain those relationships?
If you have few such relationships, what will you do this week that can start to change that?