Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Norman Geisler & David Geisler's new book, Conversational Evangelism: How to Listen and Speak So You Can Be Heard, (Harvest House Publishers, 2009).

Many people today reject moral absolutes, are deeply skeptical of religion, and know very little about the Bible. All of that makes evangelism in this new millennium more difficult than before. Often, people won’t be willing to listen to the Gospel message until you’ve first engaged them in spiritual conversations that prepare their hearts and minds to hear it.

Here’s how you can use conversations to help people get ready to respond to the Gospel:

View evangelism as a process rather than an event. Sharing your faith is a process that’s best done gradually through a series of conversations with people, building trusting relationships with them over time. Evangelism is helping your non-believing friends take one step closer to Christ every day and in every way. Try to make the most of every encounter with your non-believing friends to help them take steps toward Christ.

Pray for more passion. Ask God to give you more passion for lost people so you’ll be motivated every day to use your conversations strategically to help them find Christ.

Focus on availability rather than ability. Remember that it’s the Holy Spirit who ultimately draws people to Christ. You shouldn’t feel the pressure of being responsible for how people respond to the Gospel. Your job is simply to lead them to it and give them opportunities to respond. As you make yourself available to God every day, His Spirit will empower you to speak the truth to others in your conversations.

Be a musician. Listen carefully to what your non-believing friends have to say, and hear the sour notes – things that don’t sound right – that they’re singing to you. When you hear what people actually believe and detect discrepancies in their viewpoints, you’ll know better how to reach them for Christ. So listen well, giving people your full attention when they speak. Eliminate distractions and focus on what they’re saying rather than thinking of your response while they’re still talking. Make eye contact with them. Reflect back what you think you’ve heard them say, paraphrasing it to clarify whether or not you truly understand them. Notice the different types of sour notes that people may be singing to you: discrepancies between their worldview and their heart longings, inconsistencies between what they say they believe and how they live, two or more beliefs that are mutually contradictory, and illogical beliefs. When you understand people’s perspectives more clearly, you’re more likely to engage them in meaningful dialogue.

Be an artist. Paint a picture using questions to help your non-believing friends see themselves in a true light. Rather than telling them what they should believe, tactfully ask probing questions in ways that allow them to surface the truth for themselves and evaluate the strength of their beliefs. When they see for themselves the inadequacies and inconsistencies of what they believe, they’ll be curious to hear more about Christ. Phrase your questions in non-threatening ways to minimize people’s defensiveness. Ask questions that clarify the meaning of unclear terms they’re using (for example, if someone says, “I’m a pretty good person so I’m going to get into heaven,” you could ask, “What do you mean by ‘good’?”.). Ask questions that surface uncertainty and expose false beliefs to help people see the cracks in the foundation of their worldview (for example, you could ask, “Do you think that all religious beliefs basically teach the same thing?” and then follow up by asking, “How is it possible for all religions to be the same when some of them contradict each other’s key beliefs?”). To avoid overwhelming people with too many questions, pray for the wisdom to know which issues you should focus on.

Be an archaeologist. Dig up people’s history to find the real barriers that are standing between them and Christ. People often have unspoken issues that are getting in the way of them coming to faith in Christ. They may have intellectual issues that are keeping them from understanding why Christianity is true; in that case, they need answers from apologetics. They may have emotional issues that are preventing them from considering the truth; in that case, they need you to listen to their concerns, demonstrate compassion, and pray for them. They may have volitional issues in which they simply don’t want to consider Christianity because they’d rather run their own lives than let God guide them; in that case, they need love and prayer. Determine whether the questions people are asking are legitimate or a diversion designed to avoid the truth. Uncover the nature of their barriers and the concerns behind their questions. Find out what would motivate them to get answers to their questions about Christ.

Be a builder. Build bridges to the Gospel for people. Find the right balance in your approach between objective evidence (such as evidence for Christ’s resurrection) and subjective experience (such as how people see God at work in your own life as a role model to them). Find common ground with the people you’re trying to reach, and use those areas you have in common as the basis for meaningful dialogue. Earn the right to be heard. Then build a bridge from a point of shared beliefs toward the Gospel. Build “head bridges” by helping people come to understand the Christian faith better. Build “heart bridges” by showing people how Jesus satisfies the longings of their hearts and helps them realize their hopes. Then look for opportunities to transition from preparing people’s minds and hearts to actually sharing the Gospel message with them.

Deal well with different worldviews. Get to know people’s varying worldviews well, and help them work through worldview issues on their own timetable, not yours. Don’t pressure them to make immediate decisions; that will turn them off. Be patient and keep encouraging them to question for themselves whether or not the foundation of their worldview is adequate. Use these two key questions as measuring sticks: “Is your belief system consistently affirmable?” and “Is your belief system in fact livable?”. Focus your questions on the issues that stand out the most, regularly asking the Holy Spirit for the wisdom to discern what questions to ask and when.

Answer the questions behind the questions. Aim to not only answer people’s stated questions, but also the questions behind the questions they ask you. For each question they ask, consider: “What are the possible questions (or issues) behind each question (or issue) that needs to be addressed?”, “What terms that they use need to be clarified?”, “What truth do I want them to grasp about the question or issue raised?”, and “What questions and illustrations can I use to help them grasp this truth?”.  Then do your best to provide solid answers to their questions in ways that build bridges for them to cross to the Gospel. For example, if someone asks you, “Is it true that we’re all going to be judged after this life is over?” he or she may really be asking, “Is God really fair for sending some people to hell?” or “Should God be punishing me even when I do my very best?”. After answering the person’s stated question (“God is just because no person lives up to His standard of right and wrong,” you can add a statement that builds a bridge to the Gospel, such as: “But the good news is that God has provided an answer to our dilemma by sending Jesus …”.

Always be ready. Be prepared to answer people’s spiritual questions at any time. But beyond that, constantly anticipate people’s questions or objections as well, and be ready to respond to them through your conversations. Use every encounter you have with your non-believing friends to help them take steps closer to Christ.

Adapted from Conversational Evangelism: How to Listen and Speak So You Can Be Heard, copyright 2009 by Norman Geisler and David Geisler. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Or., www.harvesthousepublishers.com
Norman Geisler is author or coauthor of more than 68 books and hundreds of articles. He has taught at the university and graduate level for nearly 50 years and has spoken or debated in all 50 states and in 25 countries. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Loyola University and is the cofounder and long–time dean of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. 
David Geisler received his Th.M. and M.A.B.S. from Dallas Theological Seminary, and Doctor of Ministry in Apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary. He has been involved in church and para–church collge ministry for 15–plus years. He is currently the founder and President of Meekness and Truth Ministries located in Charlotte but he currently lives with his family in Singapore. Dave has taught his Conversational Evangelism approach at churches, ministries, and seminaries.

Original publication date: May 28, 2009