In this series of articles about outreach, we’ve noted that the church has to break free of its inward focus in order to effectively reach out to the community. We’ve noted that Christians have to intentionally get involved in the lives of non-Christians. And we’ve looked some at the conversion process and the different evangelistic tasks involved.
Now I’d like to discuss those special times we have with people who are close to committing themselves to God. I call these times kairos conversations.
In New Testament Greek, there were two words commonly used to describe time. One was chronos, the objective description of time. This is time as a quantity: minutes, hours, days. The other word is kairos, a subjective description of time. This is time as a quality: the right time, the opportune time. We see this is Paul’s writing when he says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15–16)
“Time” in that sentence is kairos. It’s an opportunity, the correct time for doing something. So a kairos conversation is one that occurs at that time when a person is open to talking about deep, spiritual things. It’s the time for talking about the gospel and how to respond to it.
How do we recognize this kairos? We listen. Far and away, the most important skill in evangelism is listening. People worry about what they’re going to say; they should worry about how they’re going to listen.
What are some of the things we’re listening for?
- Life events that create opportunities. Change often opens a door. This can be a move to a new city or the end of a relationship. It can be finishing a degree or losing a loved one. Whatever it is, change often leads people to evaluate their spiritual lives. (As I said before, none of this is to be viewed in a manipulative way! We aren’t trying to sell anything.)
- Things in the past that need to be overcome. This could be ongoing sin or major issues that the person hasn’t been able to move past. Could be addictions. Could be bad relationships. Sometimes this has to do with bad experiences with religion or religious people.
- Felt spiritual needs. Some people are attracted to the gospel out of a need for meaning in their life. For others, it’s a need for community. Some feel a deep-seated need for forgiveness while others are merely wanting to channel the spiritual feelings they’ve always had.
Research has shown that people are far more likely to convert and remain faithful if the gospel is presented to them as part of an open dialog, rather than a manipulative conversation. In the same way, if they see the other person as a friend, their is a higher chance of a successful outcome than if they see that person as a teacher or a salesman. We need to listen and share, rather than seeking to impose our ideas on others. That’s why the emphasis is on listening, rather than talking.
We want to share what God has done for us, talking about our positive experiences with the gospel. And we look for the chance to move the relationship forward. We can ask a question like: “Where are you in your spiritual journey?” If the person seems to be open to it, we can follow up by asking: “Are you ready to take the next step?”
At that point, we need to talk about Jesus. That may seem obvious, but many are tempted to talk about the church or points of doctrine or something else. We don’t talk about ourselves. We don’t focus on the other person’s past mistakes. We talk about Jesus.
And if the person isn’t ready, we don’t try to pressure them into anything. This isn’t about making a sale or getting another notch on our belt. We aren’t just interested in getting more people for our church; our goal is to make disciples. We want people to give themselves to Jesus and commit themselves to him from now on. Many times, such a commitment requires more than one conversation.
But there’s no greater joy than seeing another person grasp the good news of Jesus and eagerly respond to it. I hope that you get to experience that joy many times through the course of your Christian life.
Tim has recently published Church Inside Out, a book and workbook that offer a practical primer for the congregation that wants to increase its impact on the community around it. Both book and workbook are available from 21st Century Christian.